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A Good Leader Is Also a Good Friend

By Mireia Las Heras and Esther Jiménez

We live in a fast-moving and ephemeral culture. It’s fashionable to invent new terms without thinking too deeply about their meaning. In this respect, leadership is described variously as visionary, transactional, lateral, situational, autocratic, emotional, resonant and charismatic─with more to come when these don’t deliver. In popular and academic literature, a leader is a winner and someone who enjoys power. 

Friendship is relegated to the world beyond work. In the workplace, it is a word with negative connotations, associated with influence peddling, string pulling, and, of course, nepotism. Sometimes this is based in reality. One only need look at the so-called “positions of trust” in the social and political life of many countries.

Let us look at the essence of leadership and friendship. Leading means, to paraphrase Salinas, bringing out the best in others. And friendship is, in essence, a disinterested relationship based on trust and affection between people, which is borne out of and strengthened by sharing common goals. As it was put in the title of a book written by one of our professors: to lead is to educate.

In every human enterprise, even one as important as a football team, it is essential that there are friendly relations between the various components in order to increase the chance of achieving one’s goal. It’s vital that everyone participates and contributes to achieve the mission. It’s not enough for everyone to score a goal, however useful that might be. What’s needed is for everyone to want to win the game even if that means not being the one who scores the goal. 

To be a leader who gives orders also means being a collaborator who obeys. And this mandate, if it’s going to be developed and perfected and bring out the best, is at the same time a service. And it only functions when someone is considered a friend, someone who shares a common interest. It’s a long way from the leadership of the list of the 500 most powerful men─or women, if only it was the same thing!─in the world. Leadership and power are not synonymous and, although they aren’t mutually exclusive, neither do they go hand in hand. Magnates and dictators have power without being leaders, while a mother or a teacher may be a stupendous leader without wielding power. 

Leadership and service require each other; they are manifestations of the same thing and are sustained by friendship. “When he pours, he reigns,” ran the slogan in the Tom Cruise film Cocktail. It’s a good phrase: a person is at the same time someone who serves and someone who governs, without seeking their own self-interest. 

A leader has to know how to see and evaluate. And this doesn’t just mean assessing qualities and defects, but developing and bringing out people’s full potential. In the current climate, where products have a short life cycle and where change is the norm rather than the exception, and knowledge rather than experience is what is valued, leaders need to promote friendship to foster the development of their fellow workers. That way, leaders and their colleagues will be able to make clear decisions and face challenges through constant evolution.

Mireia Las Heras is Assistant Professor of Managing People in Organizations, IESE Business School.
Esther Jiménez is Manager of the International Center for Work and Family, IESE Business School.
This essay was first published in the Alumni Magazine IESE, July-September 2011.


Isolation is Never the Answer

By Teresa Carale, MHI President

Frozen, which won the Best Animated Feature film award at both the Oscar and Golden Globe, was certainly an enjoyable respite from the prolonged winter chill. In the movie, Elsa, princess of Arendelle, lives in fear and has isolated herself, trying to suppress her growing power to create ice and snow, which nearly killed her younger sister Anna. Yes, it is a movie for children. But adults should heed some of the messages the movie delivers, one of which is: that isolation is never a good response to threats or fear.

Aside from the purely pragmatic perspective of the world being so interconnected through social communications, trade, finance, etc., making isolation practically impossible, resorting to isolation from others does not make sense. It is true that relationships, which involve opening up to another or several persons (family, friends, business partners), bring a certain level of vulnerability. One can get hurt when one opens up to another. But it is a risk that a person simply has to take in order to survive, and ultimately, to be happy. Success in any endeavor hinges heavily on relationships that are built and cultivated—building teams of individuals whose talents complement each other, finding friends who are not afraid of offering different perspectives on an issue, growing in wisdom and understanding from contrary opinions from family members and others. The most enduring and successful relationships are those which involve mutual giving and a shared long-term vision of the future, resulting in the individuals’ fulfillment and happiness.

We learned a lot from the seminar “Self-Image and Purpose” that Kim Millman gave in January. Self-image could refer to how one sees herself, but often it refers to how she perceives others see her. A negative self-image can push a person towards isolation, a black hole of sorts that is almost impossible to escape. On the other hand, a positive self-image gives a person tremendous potential to do good. One is better able to be a protagonist in making the world a better place if one is aware of and comfortable with her talents, capabilities, and yes, her limitations. It is precisely the awareness of these talents and limitations that opens her up to relationships—others can supply what she does not have, and together, they can do so much.

At the end of the movie Frozen, Elsa abandons her self-imposed isolation and opens herself up to a relationship with her sister. Furthermore, she promises Anna she will never shut the castle gates again, being open to everyone. And they all lived happily ever after. May this become true for us as well.

Working Towards Unity

By Teresa Carale

John Thorton, the cotton mill owner in Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic novel North and South, had a tempestuous relationship with Nicholas Higgins, an industrial worker and union leader. But they were both courageous, honorable men who confronted their conflict, a conflict that resulted in a crippling strike that meant greater poverty for Higgins and bankruptcy for Thornton. They developed a deep friendship, each learning from the other, respecting and trusting the other. Each was a leader in his own respective “class.”

As we survey the world we live in, we long for leaders like Thornton and Higgins, leaders who are agents of unity. From a purely anthropological standpoint, unity is superior to conflict; rather than avoiding conflict, we need to confront it in an effort to resolve and move beyond it, to make it a link in a chain, as part of a progress towards unity (Pope Francis, Lumen Fidei, n. 55). These words are worthy of reflection—we need to confront conflict in an effort to resolve it and thus achieve unity.

There are conflicts that have existed for centuries and which flare up at different times in history. In many instances, these conflicts were never properly confronted since they were often resolved through violence. The "resolution" did not address the root of the conflict, i.e. the victor in the confrontation dictated the terms of the resolution.

We often have the tendency to run away from disagreements to "avoid confrontation."  We may think we lack the skills or confidence to have a reasonable discussion, or we fear that the opposing party might lack those skills. Sometimes one is afraid of not being able to keep one's emotions in check as well. Despite all of these fears and misgivings, we need the courage to confront conflict, to seek and address the root cause of the conflict, to seek solutions that make unity possible.

Towards the end of the novel, after his cotton mill was closed, Thornton was speaking with a rising member of parliament at a dinner party. He openly acknowledged that he was unsuccessful in business and was seeking an employer that would allow him to continue his “experiment”—where “master” and “laborer” are brought together into actual personal contact, so that they are more aware of what each side is doing, resulting in greater understanding. His leadership was not a result of his owning a mill. He remained a leader despite his apparent financial ruin. His leadership came from within. His vision of the world had changed: he had become an agent of unity.