Monday, August 17, 2009

The 6th E of leadership?

I've been thinking recently about leadership, success, and my current standing in life. What do I need to do to get myself to the next level? How do I improve myself, as a leader, as a person? You'll probably see more blog entries around this theme, but for the time being, this entry will talk about leadership, particularly the 5 Es of leadership.

The 5 Es of leadership is a leadership framework used in places like P&G. Jack Welch has his 4 Es, but I won't talk about that.

In a nutshell, the 5 Es are (lifted from this source):
ENVISION - This generally means creating a future for your organization, setting the direction for everyone to follow.
ENGAGE - Building relationships and collaborating with others inside or outside your team would fall under this E.
ENERGIZE - Energizing is inspiring your team and creating a positive climate for everyone to work in.
ENABLE - Building capability in the team to better equip them for success. This may also mean organizing everyone into a tight-knit group.
EXECUTE - This means operating with excellence, and delivering breakthrough results. All the preceding 4 Es boil down to execution.

You can refer to this site for more information, or do a Google search.
Read more.

It is a very good framework for becoming better leaders, and it's going to be a lifelong journey of improving and learning. After all, P&G has been very successful in business following this leadership model. I also think that majority of the 5 Es model are also applicable for personal success, but that will be for a different blog entry in the future.

But I'm thinking that while the 5 Es work, it leaves something very important out of the model. Another E - a 6th E - comes to my mind.

The 6th E is Endure, or what would be more appropriately called "grit." I termed it Endure because it starts with the letter E. :)

Let me first define grit, obtained from an excellent article in "Grit isn’t simply about the willingness to work hard. Instead, it’s about setting a specific long-term goal and doing whatever it takes until the goal has been reached. It’s always much easier to give up, but people with grit can keep going."

Why grit or endurance?

One, even when we plan excellently, inevitably something will happen not according to plan. And when things go wrong big time, it takes an enduring leader to weather all the storms. It takes an enduring leader to stand up from failures, and give it another go. Compare it to a bloody, swollen-eye boxer standing up and say, "one more round."

Two, success rarely pops up as a "sudden epiphany" or "stroke of genius." Hard work, failures, and discouragement often precede a single big success. Some examples:
  • According to Psychology Today, "Plucker frequently asks highly successful people about the moment that made them decide that they wanted to pursue, and excel in, their chosen field. "Half of them say that someone told them, 'You can never do this. It can never be done.'" Many talented kids simply shut down under such conditions."
  • Boni Comandante, a Filipino entrepreneur who invented a way of transporting fish without water (leading to ~50% decrease in logistics cost) spent a lot of time experimenting with fish, and for a different purpose altogether! After many failures, he stopped his research for more than a decade. He tried again after a decade, and eventually struck gold. After yet another day of failed experimentation, the fish assumed a tripod position after being left overnight on an empty dish, still alive the next day. This is one lucky guy, but as you can see, a lot of work also had to be poured in.
  • continues, "Even if Newton started thinking about gravity in 1666, it took him years of painstaking work before he understood it. He filled entire vellum notebooks with his scribbles... The discovery of gravity, in other words, wasn’t a flash of insight - it required decades of effort..."
I have to admit that I am fixated on success. I think that overall as humans, we are fixated on success. We are so fixated on success that we ignore the sometimes inhuman effort that precedes success. Even the 5 Es show that in a subtle way.

Maybe that's how we're bred. As I take a look back, in school, children are praised for successes which is primarily due to being "intelligent." Rarely are children praised for their efforts, even rarer for failing and trying again. This does not make us grittier - it makes us less equipped to respond to failure, and less equipped to work hard. We tend to think we are more successful if we are more intelligent, talented, or just lucky. That's how I think too. (and I'm trying to change that mindset.)

Similarly, even as leaders, we are fixated on success. People celebrate success! And people (I admit to be one of them) sweep failures under the rug. But the true test of leadership is owning up to failures, and enduring beyond road blocks.

That's why the moments I treasure most in my life as a student leader (in DLSU) are the difficult times - I feel they've taught me more than the successes.

In closing, I'd like to pick my favorite snippet from that Boston article: "Nobody is talented enough to not have to work hard, and that’s what grit allows you to do."

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