Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry.
Leadership is inspiring others to believe and enabling that belief to become reality. To do so, you have to make sure your message is authentic and, as importantly, the audience is listening.
Allow to me to share a tale of two shoppers on my weekend trip to the grocery store.
Yesterday morning, as my wife, Leslie, and I entered the store, we saw someone speaking with the manager and gesturing frantically. As we got closer, we heard the woman say, “What are you going to do about all these people getting so close to me!”
The manager tried to reason with her—pointing out sanitizing wipes for her shopping cart, explaining how the store was deep cleaned every night. None of it made any difference to her—anymore than it would if I had talked to this shopper about COVID-19 command centers, supply chains, or company liquidity. All of it would have fallen on deaf ears because none of it answered what mattered most to her. She was frightened, and her fear was all she could understand.
Leading means meeting people where they are. It is the only way to convert self-interest to shared interest.
Here are some practical tips:
Now let’s go back to the grocery store. That same day, we were in the checkout line behind an elderly woman with six cans of Progresso minestrone soup in her cart—and nothing else.
“I’m sorry,” the cashier said. “We have a limit. You can only get four.”
Overhearing the conversation, my wife, Leslie, spoke up: “Don’t worry, I’ll buy the other two for her.”
Immediately, the man behind us said loudly, “Count me in for four more!”
Leslie pointed to the woman’s nearly empty shopping cart. “Are you sure that’s all you need? We can help.”
As a group of us made our way to the paper goods aisle, another shopper was just taking the last packages of toilet paper.
“Could we have one of those?” Leslie asked.
“I’m sorry,” the shopper said. “I need this for my family.”
“It’s not for us.” Leslie pointed to the elderly woman standing at the end of the aisle. “It’s for her.”
Immediately, the shopper reached into her cart. “Of course. Take both—I have enough at home.”
Stories like this are being played out all over the world—shared interest defeating self-interest.
As we come together, we recognize that knowledge is what we know; wisdom is acknowledging what we don’t know. The bridge between the known and the unknown is not the leader’s intellect—it is the collective genius of others.
Over the centuries, humans have conquered so many things through science and innovation. In that same spirit, it’s inspiring today to read about biopharmaceutical companies racing to develop vaccines and treatments. If humans can invent a car that can drive itself, people must have hope and confidence in others. It’s good for all of us to remember—rockets didn’t take us to the moon; the dreamers and the engineers did. The internet didn’t create a globally networked economy; it was the innovators and creators. Since the beginning of time, people have been the ultimate differentiator.
Mission first, people always.