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(David McNew/David McNew/Getty Images)
(David McNew/David McNew/Getty Images)

Transcript: Building sustainable leadership Add to ...

Karl Moore: This is Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail. Today I am delighted to speak to David Ulrich, who is a senior professor at the University of Michigan and one of the top human resource people in the world.

Good morning, David.

David Ulrich: Good morning, Karl, it's great to talk to you.

KM: David, you've studied leadership for a long time now, what is your latest thinking now on today's leadership?

DU: When we Google the word "leader," what we find is 250 million hits, so there is nothing new that anybody can say, but we have two trends, from leader to leadership. Leader is about the individual, and we love these heroes, especially in this kind of Western culture: you are a hero, you are a great leader, let's do what you do so, we try to create iconic leaders. Leadership is not about the person but is about the process of building the next generation. Leadership is a little bit like parenting. I have a good friend who has two children, 12 and 14, he is a wonderful father and his commitment is to develop his children so they will have great opportunities - that's leadership, it's building the next generation.

KM: But you have to deliver results today, though.

DU: No question, if you don't deliver results today you'll fail, but if you deliver results today and take away from the future you will also fail. It is this tricky paradox because, how do you do both of those? Now the second shift is a fun one; it's from inside to outside. Lots of the leadership thinking is about who you are - do you have emotional intelligence, do you have good judgment, are you grounded ethically - but what we are discovering is that good leadership starts with the customer.

Here is an exercise. We go into a great company and they are saying, "We want to build greater leadership and better leadership." What I love to start with is, show me their commercials - General Electric has phenomenal commercials around their innovation, imagination, eco-imagination, eco-space and globalization - and then you hold up their leadership model. Are we training leaders inside to do what those customers outside need from us? When you do that, and you embedded it in deep leadership and not one person, then you've created what we call a leadership brand. But it begins with the customer, so as soon as somebody comes and says, "I am trying to build leadership models" I say, "Hey, have you looked at the commercials or media that you have going on and does your leadership model reflect those expectations?" When it does, leadership will be sustainable because it's not a quick fix, it's not tied to one person, but it's tied to the customer.

KM: You are effectively asking people to be unselfish and sacrifice part of what they are today to help the next generation of leaders. That seems to be, at times, contrary to human nature.

DU: At times it is and at other times it's not. Hopefully, human nature has the capacity to see some self-interest in other service. One of my pet peeves in the crisis that occurred a couple of years ago, in the economic crisis, is that the governments bailed companies out. What a mistake. Bail out is when you throw water out of a boat that has a hole - well what you have to do is fix the hole. If you bail out, and you haven't fixed the hole, then you will continue to have to bail out. I think the hole in the boat, back to your question, was quality of leadership. There were leadership narcissists; there were leaders who were interested in their own self-service and until you fix that - and that's not easy to fix, you can fix it with incentives but hopefully, over time, you can fix it with good parenting - then when you take the water out of the boat leaders worry about other people and not just themselves.

KM: This has been Karl Moore of the Desautels Faculty of Management at McGill University, Talking Management for The Globe and Mail.

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