Real Leaders

Navigating The Challenges Of Leadership

Navigating the corporate world today is more of an art than a skill. It requires you to balance being aggressive and inclusive, assertive and diplomatic, passionate and composed, and often simultaneously.

There’s no real “how-to manual,” and each organization and team have its own unique way of doing things. Learning how to plot a course through all the complexities takes a great deal of drive, flexibility and endurance.

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“There is no dearth of smart, talented executives, but many of them lack the ability, willingness and fortitude to endure,” says Chairman and CEO of Full Circle Africa and YPO member Vishal Agarwal.

As a former Global Top Senior Executive for General Electric as well as a senior deals partner at PwC, Agarwal learned that succeeding at the highest levels is about much more than making your numbers. It’s about managing emotions, understanding the culture-within-a-culture, mapping out stakeholders, leading by actions, overcoming underwhelm and more.

Agarwal discusses how to navigate the challenges of business leadership roles and his new book, “Give to Get.”

How do you define “give to get?”

Giving has been the soul of how I’ve been successful as a commercial negotiator. What I learned is that by giving first in a negotiation, I always got. I’d make a proposal first and it really helped me. Whether navigating a culture or dealing with burnout or getting trust from teams, it really benefited me when I applied that negotiation value to my everyday career life.

What should leaders focus on in order to get?

Everybody wants something. They want better pricing, bigger bonuses, quicker products, great quality. They just want, want, want. What more must I give? The answer is trust and relationships. If we focus on building trust and deepening our relationships, the taking from us will stop. And if you want trust and relationships with your team, then you have to give them the trust and the relationship.

What is the role of leaders today?

My job is to shine the torch on my teams, elevate them, build great teams, empower them and find, nurture and create safe zones for talent. I’ve been saying to my teams for many years, “I work for you. What can I do for you?” That’s the only job of leaders today.

How can leaders get more from their teams?

If we pay attention to the realities of the culture-within-a-culture, we will do better with our talent. We hire these great people, spend a lot of money on them and then discount them every day in our business. We isolate them, we don’t make it a safe environment, we question their background or we don’t empower them sufficiently. We also tend to favor the ambassadors, employees who sign up for our program right away. We give more work to the shining stars and we forget about our skeptics. We completely discount our detractors and wish they would go away. If you go and stand with those detractors, the value to your business will be enormous.

How can leaders overcome underwhelm?

It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO of a family business or the CEO of Merck, you go to work no doubt feeling underwhelmed some days. What you thought was your career calling versus what you’re doing every day could be misaligned. Rather than be disillusioned by it, supplement that underwhelm. Try recrafting your role at the office and finding stuff that’s a good supplement to your mundane life. Whether you like art, song, philanthropy, mentoring people or sport, finding that outlet for yourself that creates balance is really important.

Why must we navigate all these challenges?

All this stuff I talk about in the book is actually stuff we wish we didn’t have in our businesses. You need a simplified workplace that you build as a leader where people have each other’s backs, learn, grow and do great work together, don’t feel underwhelmed and save each other from burnout. You have to stamp it out of your corporate culture because this relentless corporate culture of yesteryears no longer belongs.

How should a leader be a lion?

Every visitor wants to see a lion on a safari. Why is the lion important? I spent time watching the lion’s body language and understanding the DNA. People feel like the lion is ferocious, loud and aggressive. Everyone wants to be the lion, but I see goat body language around me all the time — in teams, in executives, in juniors, in executive assistants. This vivid picture of two very different types of behavior, and how we all are either goats or lions at work is what I try to paint in the book. Watch a goat being slaughtered and notice how the head goes down.

Watch a lion being tranquilized and you’ll see how the lion’s natural body language is to rise. When you’re cornered, when things are tough, it’s how you carry yourself that matters. The regality of the lion, the body language of the lion, the confidence of the lion really matters. It’s not the aggressive part but the confidence, the way we carry ourselves and how we conduct our careers is what I call on leaders to mentor their teams and expect from our own selves.

By Melissa Fleming 

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