August 13, 2009

The Gates Foundation CEO (Jeff Raikes) on Being a Leader

Every human life has equal value. So what are we doing about it? Well, I had the opportunity to sit front row last week at a breakfast and listen to the Gates Foundation CEO Jeff Raikes speak on what the the Foundation is doing with their $30+ billion endowment to bring equality to society. He also spoke to the type of leader he is striving to be.

(For those who are not aware, the Gates Foundation primarily focuses on poverty, hunger, health, and education. No small feat. That's pretty much everything.)

Jeff started off by talking about the role of the nonprofit and where it sits in society. And it is helpful to think of it in terms of a triangle with each sector playing a critical role in progressing society forward.

The profit sector is motivated by profit. The government sector should be motivated by providing basic needs for its people. The philanthropy sector should be motivated by doing good. The reason why the philanthropy sector exists is because it can take risks with capital and explore innovative solutions where other sectors are either constrained or not motivated in that manner. (On a personal note, imagine the power when a for profit organization is able to blur the lines appropriately and start thinking of its impact in ways like the triple bottom line.)

Jeff then sharing his thoughts on what it takes to be a great leader to lead one of those organizations and truly have great impact on society. A good leader is one who LISTENS. Who connects with PEOPLE, who coaches and supports and makes his or her people be greater than they otherwise would have been. A leader distills complex issues down to its essence and simplifies the complex. That leader then rolls-up their sleeves and adds value. A leader does not just delegate or sit by the wayside. He or she goes to WORK.

For a quick, and inspirational take on leadership check out Harvard Business School's slideshow:

Jeff then went on to talk about an experience he had with Lou Piniella when Lou was manager of the Seattle Mariners. The two of them were having dinner when Jeff asked Lou what makes a great baseball manager. Without hesitation, Lou listed the following:

(1) a great leader cannot rule as an autocrat - you must engage with people
(2) help people perform at their peak - you are only as good as your team
(3) understand public relations - people on the outside need to like you and what the organization is doing
(4) Be accountable - when the team is losing, you take the brunt
(5) Get along with the front office -

Finally, put people in the position where they are most likely to succeed.

Notice how much being a leader is associated with how you are able to work with people. No grades, no test scores, no accolades, no degree will make you the leader you want to be. You have to understand and CARE about people. And empower them to do great things. Think of a great leader and why they are so great and it is probably because they were able to do great things with their teams.

I would love to hear of any great leadership stories or videos, or slideshows and I will add them here. Thanks for reading!

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