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Envisioning Leadership

“Are you a leader?”

The question hangs out over a hushed crowd, as 150 students ponder their future careers. Several hands go up. Then a tougher question: “Why do you want to be a leader?”. The room reflects on the question.

It is a cold Friday, as Ross Pellizzari, President of Avaya Canada, and Taimour Zaman, owner of the Access Group, lead the Rotman School of Business students through a discussion on leadership at the University of Toronto 2011 Envision Conference.

Several answers begin to emerge: “To take advantage of my leadership skills” and “Career growth”. And then an answer perfectly summarizes the discussion: “To enable others to maximize their potential”.

Ross and Taimour run with this answer and continue to discuss the truth behind leadership. Leadership is not complicated – it is about working for something greater than yourself – working to make something that benefits everyone in your organization, and in the process empowering the people around you. But how to start being a leader?

Ross turns to the audience with pragmatic advice:

– Find something that you are passionate about
– Have a plan
– Surround yourself with the right team
– Start today
– Everyone has what it takes to be a leader, you just need to find it within yourself to start

The last point strikes a chord with the audience, and leads to a lively debate. Later in the evening, we join the students for a networking session and discuss the day’s conversation. The students are worldly, intelligent and driven – the energy in the room is plapable. There is a sense in this space that anything is possible – of businesses yet to be started and stories yet to be written.

I leave refreshed, thinking on how, on Monday, I’m going to take a different tact on tackling some difficult challenges that have come up lately. Then it strikes me – the students have exercised their leadership on me – their energy and optimism is infectious. This is the truth behind leadership – by being true to what you believe, you will inspire others around you, regardless of your title, affiliation, age or position within an organization.

I smile to myself as I reflect on how 150 students have helped me clarify my answer to the the question of the day.

Are you a leader?

Rob Daleman is the former National Marketing Manager for Avaya Canada. Before joining Avaya, Rob led midmarket strategy for Dell Canada. Rob holds an MBA from the Schulich School of Business. more

One Response to “Envisioning Leadership”

  1. Rob,

    Hello. As an ex Avayian (class of 2002), I check out the blog from time to time and pleased to see an Avaya Kanuck contributing.

    Leadership is a tough subject for many in corporate America to preach about these days give the very high level of employee disengagement and chronic lower levels of “spontaneous” innovation. (even more challenging for Canadian subsids of US tech firms to practice (imho).

    Gary Hamels article on the subject..

    Leadership is frequently circumstantial but generally comes down to examining the “followers” at any given time. I think Ross hit it accurately when he said find “the” passion – most time the passion finds you- and you rise to the occaision. Perhaps finding the “collective crowd’s” passion at the time is the key. (this can get too political in most companies, but an example would be the VARs telling AVAYA to support the channel back in 2001.)

    (this is exemplified in FDR’s ability to overcome polio, connect with a poor sharecropper in the Depression AND still remain buddies with the Astors and Vanderbuilts). However, as Conrad Black points out in his bio- FDR remained a mystery to his family, friends, always friendly, courteous but somewhat “remote”. (16 yrs continual Presidency = a great following).

    Followers surveyed will accept many leadership styles, if the integrity of the leader stays true to the common cause.

    Although MBA schools can train students to practice “solid leadership” skills (as one student mentioned), I would say he/she meant to say “expected behaviours”- as 95% of all MBA schools are preparing their students for work in large companies- who can pay their $90k start-up salaries. (however the GenY ‘web2.0/Facebook weaned” group is starting to show how a “flat meritocracy” can “elect” digital leaders (ie the Google exec in Egypt). AVAYA UC tools start to come into this equation.

    The traits and “out of box actions” (not thinking), that a business leader must practice in a SMB start-up OR large public enterprise, OR turn around/downsize etc are all very distinct and MANY managers can’t make the transition in styles.

    (ie AVAYA 1999 to 2004 $8bil to $4bil, 30,000 employees to 15,000 etc. a test of leadership at many levels!)

    And real leadership survives the leader as demonstrated by Digital Equipment founder Ken Olsen’s recent passing. The number of ex DEC alumni’s that expressed grief was quite astounding when you realize they had not worked at DEC in 20-25 yrs. AND his insistance that the PC was a toy and salesmen should work on 100% salaries bankrupted the company.

    Leadership? – ask the followers…


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