A Ph.D. in Leadership in Less Than 5 Minutes

Pepper de Callier

Have you ever been as busy as you have been lately? Chances are, if you are like most of us, you just rolled your eyes and thought, “You must be kidding! I am beyond being busy just trying to keep up with the increased load I have to carry!” So, as a community service, to all the over-worked leaders and leaders-to-be who want to advance their leadership education but haven’t got the time, I offer an entire Ph.D. course in today’s column, which takes less than 5 minutes to read.

Before I get into the weighty, deeply academic content of the course, let me give you some background. In my work with leaders I find that one of the most common deficits and inhibitors to growth for many executives is having a sense of appropriate behavior. These people are smart—very smart, they have risen to the top of their department, region, division, or company by knowing what needs to be done and getting it done.

Unfortunately, though, in many cases their behavior, or how they do what they do—how they interact with people—is what holds them back from even greater success as a leader. Put another way, their lack of soft skills has created some hard barriers to the further development of their career.

I was asked recently to put together a two-day leadership retreat for the executive committee of a well-known company with a market-dominant, high-quality product. Wanting to take his team to the next level of performance, and realizing that his team was very strong on all the technical aspects of their jobs, the CEO asked me to focus on the human elements of leadership—the behavioral aspects of being a good leader. Helping his team unlock the “human” potential in themselves, helping them to build relationships that go beyond the transactional and thereby inspiring employees and colleagues to deliver more than what is asked of them—happily and consistently—was my mandate. “I want to provide an opportunity for them to round-out their leadership skills,” was the concluding remark he made to me during a short phone call as he rushed into a meeting.

As I began to put together my plan for the retreat, I started going through my notes from past programs I had done, some of my favorite books on leadership and the blog sites of some of my favorite commentators to look for a creative spark that would ignite my thinking. Not feeling particularly inspired by what I was encountering, I thought I would try a resource I hadn’t used in a long time—YouTube.com

Tom Peters, the former McKinsey & Company consultant, is one of my favorite speakers on leadership because of his human perspective, common sense, and passion for telling a story, so I thought I’d check in with him on YouTube. What I found was a one minute and twenty-four second gem of a video clip titled, “Gain Respect by Giving It”. In his presentation, and as only he can do it, he paces back and forth speaking with a growing sense of urgency about excellence in leadership—his fifteen second blast about a meeting with “Mr. Big” is a great description of everybody’s favorite boss to hate and you should see it. Then he mentions Dee Hock, who was the founder of VISA credit card. Now, as he goes to the next slide in his presentation, which is a famous quote from Mr. Hock, he says with a great deal of enthusiastic sincerity, “This simplifies life and gives you all you need to know about leadership!” That’s when I saw (and heard) what I was looking for. Here is the quote from Dee Hock: “Ph.D. in Leadership. Short course: Make a short list of all things done to you that you abhorred. Don’t do them to others. Ever. Make another list of things done to you that you loved. Do them to others. Always.”

True, the course is only 35 words in length, but it’s packed with volumes of practical, down-to-earth, common sense wisdom. In the 21st century, the ability to apply the lessons of this short-course “Doctorate” in Leadership will be what separates the respected leaders, who are surrounded by loyal, hard-working followers, from the leaders who are in danger of being crushed in a stampede at quitting time every day if they happen to be in front of any of the exits as people escape the toxic environment created by Mr. Big for happier, more fulfilling surroundings (anywhere else). Or, as a friend of mine once said about his office colleagues, “If you’ve never seen the dead come back to life, you should be around here at quitting time.”