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Every Monday in July and August, the Globe and Mail published interviews conducted by Desautels Faculty of Management Prof. Karl Moore with Canada's top business leaders as part of the faculty's CEO Speaker Series. After speaking with these senior established leaders Moore wanted to hear from the younger generation. So he held a conversation in his living room with three up-and-coming managers: Noah Billick, a recent MBA law graduate and Graduate Student Association president; Lindsay Ho, Management Undergraduate Society (MUS) president; and Josh Lebovic, last year's MUS president. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
Karl Moore: So Josh, what is a leader?
Josh Lebovic: What is a leader? Wow. There is no direct definition but for me a leader is an action-taker.
Lindsay Ho: I agree but it is also someone who has the ability to influence. There are people who can tell you to do something and people don't listen and there are others who can make the same request but it is translated into action and not just words.
Noah Billick: I would pick up on what Lindsay said about listening. Leadership involves listening and reacting and trying to craft the input the leader gets from his or her people and turn that into some kind of meaningful option.
KM: Noah, when did you realize that you were a leader?
NB: I remember debating in Grade 7 —standing up there and speaking and getting people to listen and I just knew it was for me. It took me until I got to McGill to really have all of the elements come together.
KM: Lindsay, when did you see that you were a leader?
LH: Probably when I was about 12. I started helping out my parents at their restaurants. When you are 12 and you have people working for your parents who are about 24 and you have to tell them what to do, you have to start honing your leadership skills and just being able to manage that kind of situation.
JL: There was no particular age when I said, "Oh this is it, I am a leader," [but] when I was about 13 or 14, I played a lot of golf I was always paired up with older individuals and during the summer when I played at eight in the morning, nine in the morning, I was playing with many people who, you know, retired early, people with clients on the field. I was just this random kid tagging along. So I learned from them and I adopted mannerisms, I adopted speech, I adopted how to talk and how to act and how to socialize at a much higher level than my age.
KM: A number of the CEOs I talked with, when I asked if they were charismatic, they said "No." Maybe they are just being modest. I know people with charisma, but a number of senior CEOs don't have charisma. They have ability, they have talent, they have driven results but they don't light up a room.
JL: From my experience with MUS — and I have seen three presidents and Lindsay will be the fourth president — I found that there are two types of leaders. The extroverted leader and the introverted leader. One manages the people and the daily operations and the internal running of a business, whereas the other leader is out in the community kissing babies, shaking hands, making business connections. A lot of leaders out there work their way from the bottom of the business and you hear the story "I started in the mail room and now I'm the CEO."
NB: I had an experience when I was working with PGSS [Post-Graduate Students' Society] where I had much too much on my plate, I couldn't handle it all. I did a lot of delegation. Often I began by delegating to the most charismatic, the most outgoing people. More often than not they somehow dropped the ball but there were people who were very quiet, who I never would have tapped, never would have picked as leaders, who were just so incredibly effective, took on so much, went beyond the call of duty and did it. They were introverts, if anything. So I think that charisma is a great quality for a leader to have but it certainly isn't a necessary quality for a leader.
KM: The generation above you are the boomers. What have the boomers got wrong in terms of leading your generation and providing direction?
NB: This is a generalization but they don't have a good sense of balance in their lives. It is possible to be a high achiever but also to make time for things like family and community involvement. I think many boomers tend to be a little bit selfish actually and are not good at finding a balance between the things they want for themselves and the things that are important for the people around them.
JL: I would even go further and say they don't have their priorities straight or they put too much value on other priorities. They really just care — and this is a general statement as well — they really just care about the money. You hear people working 90-, 100-hour workweeks and you say, "Do you enjoy your job?" "No but it pays a $100,000. I could work 40 hours a week and make $40,000 doing something I love but it is not $100,000 and I would really rather drive a Ferrari." That is where they screw up and that is where things like corporate social responsibility and caring for the environment really go out the window.
LH: I completely agree with Josh — and they also forget about the people right underneath them doing all the grunt work. They just look at the bottom line and what are the profits and how do we reduce our costs, but forget about just communicating with their employees about the vision of the company.
KM: Companies would like to hire people like you, ambitious, achievement-orientated young people. What should they do to be attractive to you guys?
LH: One of the biggest differences for our generation is it is not the paycheck at the end of the day but the company culture and the fit that is really important. That goes back to our need for balance in our lives. We are not willing to work an awful job to make a lot of money.
KM: I was talking earlier to two vice-presidents at a big, global multinational and one of their comments for you guys was, "You come and stay a few years, you leave." They invest time and energy in you and you just go off to another company. How would you answer that?
LH: For us it is all about the challenge, we always want to be learning.
KM: Some day you guys will be CEOs. How do you build a great organization when there is this constant turmoil of people? Doesn't someone have to settle down and grab the oars and row for a while?
NB: Isn't that the role of the leader? Here we are, we are back to the leader who sets the tone of the organization. We can't prevent people from leaving. We can try and provide incentives to get them to stay. But at the end of the day, there is going to be a certain amount of attrition no matter what we do.
KM: So the challenge is to design organizations that see this as a fact of life and are successful.
LH: If you take a look at the MUS, there is a different president every year. Every single position changes. Yet the overall function of the MUS and the brand always stay the same.
KM: One last question. My kids are 10 and 8. They are the next generation so you will be the old fogies for them. What advice do you have for really young people?
NB: Don't be afraid to make mistakes. So many people go through their lives afraid to get anything wrong, afraid to look foolish, afraid to say, "I wish hadn't done that." But when you do that, you cut yourself off from so many great opportunities
JL: I would also suggest that they live in the moment. I guess it is similar to "don't worry about making mistakes," but in fact [you should] make mistakes, learn from your mistakes but live in the moment. Numbers and information can lie. Trust your gut.
LH: All three of us, our parents always pushed us to try out new things. Always challenge yourself and try to experience as many things because you will always learn a lot more than just sitting there and playing video games.
If you'd like to read the entire unedited conversation, please go to Canada's first management faculty blog.