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3 leadership lessons from a CEO

March 7, 2014

Borst_GeorgeGeorge Borst, CEO of Toyota Financial Services (TFS), received the “Outstanding CEO Award” at our 2013 Women in Leadership Institute. In September, he retired after 16 years at the helm of TFS. George recently shared what he has learned about leadership and employee engagement throughout the course of his career. This is the first of two posts where he offers insights and advice on being an effective leader.—Ed

There are three elements to effective leadership.                                           

Everyone has his or her own individual style—no one brand of leadership works all the time for everyone. But, I’ve found there are three key elements to effective leadership. The first is authenticity. Organizations have finely tuned BS meters and can tell when a leader isn’t being authentic. When you are at the podium, you should be—at most—one degree of separation from the real you.

The second element is self-awareness. When a leader—any type of leader, not just a CEO—walks into a room, the dynamic of the room changes. You need acute self-awareness and need to know when your message is veering off course. For example, I like to use humor and sarcasm in my conversations with people. Occasionally I’ll say something that gets a laugh from the room, but the person I directed it at feels a little uncomfortable even though it was intended to be good-natured. At that point, I try to find a way to send a signal that I regard that individual highly. Self-awareness can be exhausting if you do it right!

The third element is vulnerability. You need to show it. Too many people think that leaders can’t show weakness. But people need to know you’re human and they can relate to you. I get the best responses when I tell stories about me not as the hero, but as fallible.

Avoid talent gaps: build a pipeline.

Years ago at our company, I set up a talent review process. This involves bringing our most senior staff together and discussing the broader management team. We spend half the day reviewing the people, their positives, negatives, and where they need to grow. We then spend the second half of the day talking about key roles in the organization and identifying the three best candidates for each. We have rules—for example, no one person can be listed for more than three jobs. Then we look at the list from a diversity perspective and seek a balance. We also identify what each person needs to succeed in that potential role. Do they require some coaching, mentoring, public speaking training, or something else? Before we started doing this, we had talent gaps in the organization. But with this process, we now have a talent pipeline.

Leadership advice for young professionals: Mind your Qs.

I love talking to young people about leadership. A lot of people believe that if they come into an organization and do a great job for their boss, they’ll be magically lifted up and promoted. But the reality is that some bosses don’t advocate for their people. Others are selfish and don’t want to lose good people to promotions. So I always tell young people that the first thing you need to do is network. The second thing is what I call “three Qs”: IQ, EQ, and PQ. IQ is about intelligence, and we like to think that we hire intelligent people. But I’ve noticed that a lot of young people who are really intelligent believe that it trumps everything. They think that if they just show how smart they are, they’ll be whisked to the top.

Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Because how effective you are is a matter of how you combine that intelligence with emotional intelligence or EQ. You need EQ to help people feel that you are working with them. And finally, you need to be able to read the room. You need to know the reaction you are creating. You need to be aware when you are in political territory. That’s political intelligence—PQ. It’s not about being a backstabber. It’s about understanding the political dynamic of the organization. You need to find the balance between IQ, EQ, and PQ—you can’t expect just one of those to skyrocket you to the top.

Do the leaders in your organization share George’s passion for developing talent? How does that affect the culture? Let us know in the comments section below.

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