For many years now, I’ve been lucky enough to be teaching leadership at the HEC in Paris. This is a real opportunity for a manager. It allows me to stay in contact with young people and more broadly, with all those women and men, who decide to go back to school to improve their knowledge or simply for a personal challenge. It’s also an effective way of keeping up-to-date on the latest theories and trends in ideas and practices in this field of study that has always fascinated me.
A few months ago, a student, having learned much from his first professional experience, asked me the following question: “I have perfectly understood what makes a leader. You particularly insisted on the importance of courage. Is this the most important quality you take into consideration before making a nomination?”
I replied in a synthetic way: “First of all, a leader is the one who has a vision and who decides the speed it is to be implemented. He (or she) will therefore set the pace and give rhythm to the action. He believes in himself and in the future. He is reasonably optimistic. He sets ambitious objectives for everyone and helps those who follow him to believe in themselves. He is a team player and develops an extraordinary ability to listen. In reality, he has many, many intrinsic qualities. He has a sense of reality, is genuine, controls his emotions without curbing them, has a highly developed relational intelligence, and shows great humility and an irreproachable code of ethics in all circumstances. He is also and above all courageous. Nowadays, cowardice is not acceptable. So, yes, I regard courage as a determining factor. However, managerial ability is first measured through another characteristic …”
A leader must have convictions and moral values
I have always been utterly convinced that ambitious people must not be confused with careerists. The former generally wants to move things forward, while the latter thinks only of themselves and never work as part of a team. I have esteem for the former, and reservations — to put it mildly — about the latter. A leader must have convictions and moral values. This is often incompatible with a hardline careerist agenda: moral values could be sacrificed for recognition or even better, for a promotion. This is why I have always taken “loyalty” into account. This is the characteristic that I mentioned earlier and which is, in my opinion, a condition that is necessary, although not sufficient, when considering making changes.
In loyalty, there is the desire to honor one’s commitments, whether this serves one’s own interests or not. You can talk about faithfulness or a sense of responsibility, although these notions are not exactly equivalent. Loyalty also goes hand in hand with consistency and duration. In fact, it’s easy to be loyal for a while, but more difficult over a very long period.
Loyalty — a moral quality — consists in not betraying those you are supposed to be serving, those who once placed their trust in us. If there is disagreement, a sense of honor should dictate that we express this and accept our responsibilities. Otherwise, it is advisable to remain aligned and join forces with the others.
Being loyal is to have a sense of honor and a sense of the group
However, it’s not a question of accepting everything. It is never a question of doing what could be judged as unacceptable. The fact of being committed to saying or doing something does not justify being compromised in any way. You must hold on to your critical sense and your free will, and make your positions known. But advisedly and in the right way.
Loyalty allows the wildest dreams
In a management team — whether in business or in politics, lack of loyalty has a high cost. It can lead to terrible disasters. It can create an ill-feeling in the team, can cause problems, and is never well-received. Employees expect their managers to behave differently. It’s the same for citizens confronted with ambiguous politicians. Conversely, when loyalty is present, it generates confidence and adhesion, it enables the greatest difficulties to be faced, and can bring the wildest dreams to life.
Gérald Karsenti is the President of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) – France, and the Vice President – Global Sales for Europe, Middle East and Africa at HPE. He has served in Board, CEO and General Manager roles with Hewlett Packard, in addition to similar positions with IBM and Capgemini earlier in his career. Follow him on Twitter.