The other day, on the sidelines of a conference, a bright young manager sought my advice. “I’ve tried using different leadership styles, but I can’t seem to dispel my team’s sense of disengagement,” he confessed. “I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong.”
“Why don’t you ask your team?” I asked him.
One of the first lessons in geometry I learnt in school was Pythagoras’ Theorem, which mesmerized me with its simple yet compelling logic. It was Pythagoras who also taught me one of my first lessons as a manager. I still remember the profound wisdom of his statement: “The oldest, shortest words — “yes” and “no” — are those which require the most thought.”
When I was a kid, the children in our neighborhood would play in a nearby park every evening. Our undisputed leader was a boy barely a year older than I was, I think. He introduced the new kids to everyone, taught them the rules of games we played, and made sure no one felt left out. We also trusted him blindly because he had our backs whenever we messed up.
I was recently having a long conversation with a colleague, who was passionately outlining a new solution to an old problem, when my cellphone died. I was traveling, and to continue our discussion, I had to walk across the airport to a public pay phone. I kept adding coins to keep the call going.