For all the wisdom about leadership I’ve heard from “experts,” the best leaders I’ve met were often those who never took a class or read a book on the subject. They inherently possessed and honed innate qualities, which translated into every facet of their leadership style. They exemplified integrity, self-awareness and meaningful communication.
As Tina Fey writes in “Bossypants,” “In most cases being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way… Contrary to what I believed as a little girl, being the boss almost never involves marching around, waving your arms, and chanting, ‘I am the boss! I am the boss!’”
Warren Buffett extolls the virtues of hiring people with integrity. I’ve learned, however, it’s just as vital to possess it yourself. If you don’t have it, it’s impossible to believe in your vision. And if your team doesn’t believe in your vision, how will they ever achieve it?
Unfortunately, integrity is a term people use loosely. You can’t read a book and magically develop it, but you can strive to live up to your integrity by asking tough questions:
- Have I delivered on my promises?
- Have I been transparent, honest and consistent with my employees?
- Have I given credit where credit was due?
- Have I treated my clients and employees fairly?
Backseat your ego
With no experience running a business or leading a team prior to starting Resource International Inc., I learned every step of the way.
I learned to put ego aside and lean on my team — being forthright about where my expertise ended and theirs was needed. Self-awareness helped me understand I couldn’t do it alone, so I asked questions, sought feedback and developed the courage to correct myself when someone advised me we could do something better.
Empowering individuals to design and shape their roles maximized their respective talents. I discovered we were at our best when I took a step back. Treating each other with respect and trust encouraged employees to be an integral part of the company’s vision, not just a means to an end.
How you sound
I learned to listen, not just to others, but also to myself. I prided myself on being accessible and open to feedback, but early on, I never considered the importance of how I sounded to them.
As CEO, my words were powerful, often far more powerful than I intended. I developed new habits — one of the most vital being to use “we” instead of “I” when speaking about the company, our past successes and our future. This simple modification fostered emotional connections with my team by focusing on what we could achieve as we worked toward a shared vision.
Admittedly, after 40 years as a CEO, I do read articles on leadership, perhaps only because the basic principles of my leadership style taught me it needs to evolve, and I’m always able to improve. But ultimately, I ask one simple question every day: “Why would someone want to be a part of my vision?”
Farah B. Majidzadeh is the CEO and chairwoman of the board of Resource International Inc. Farah has received numerous awards for her 43 years in business, including 15 years as an unprecedented chairwoman of an International Joint Venture (Highway Maintenance Associates) in Saudi Arabia.