Learning from Leaders: Performance & Growth

Any book in the art of management clearly states that there is a difference between managers and leaders. As per Introduction to Management by John R. Schermerhorn, management is the process of planning, organizing, leading and controlling the use of resources to accomplish performance goals. On the other hand, leadership is the process of ‘inspiring’ others to work hard to accomplish important tasks.

So what lies behind a leader’s ‘inspiration’ skills? What really makes the difference between a manager and a leader? The most commonly stated answers are drive, self-confidence, smarts, job-relevant knowledge, flexibility and credibility. Well, all that is fine, but what I have noticed really makes the difference is that leaders pass the ‘You’ll learn a lot being around me’ test, while managers don’t.

Leaders possess and can share valuable knowledge; not only job-related knowledge but more importantly life-related knowledge, what is more commonly called ‘wisdom’. A leader inspires employees because he/she gives them shortcuts to long roads; simple answers to seemingly complex questions. A leader is the guide in a corporate world where nobody has the time to show you the way.

Therefore, I have long held a motto that I can identify a leader from a single speech they give or a single meeting they conduct, because of the intensity of life-related knowledge they demonstrate. In their very short interactions, leaders have the ability to give lifetime lessons with no real effort from their ends. Managers, on the other hand, may spend years managing people without giving any valuable lessons at all.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learnt from some of the world’s greatest corporate leaders in their own words:

  • ‘My advice to you is to do more than what we ask you to do.’ – A lifetime lesson I’ve learnt from Hansraj Nailwal, Sr. Business Director in Sutherland Global Services India. I received this advice in a conversation with him while I was explaining that I was looking towards more career growth. To my amazement, he declared that he had never thought that I had any desires for growth, although I was under the impression that my job performance made that evident. And voila – there came that good piece of advice, and suddenly I knew what was stalling my career. Meeting my responsibilities with excellence was not enough; I needed to proactively offer to take on new responsibilities.
  • ‘Say yes!’ – A lifetime lesson I’ve learnt from Daisy Caiso, Associate Director in United Health Group Philippines & former Business Director in Sutherland Global Services Egypt. I was asked by a performance manager, in her presence, if I’d like to be a training manager one day (at that point of time, I was a senior training specialist). My answer was, ‘I don’t know. Let’s see what happens’ with a smile. And then Daisy Casio jumped in with this valuable piece of advice, ‘say yes!’
  • ‘We’re in a world now where we’re looking for ways to make things simpler. If you can give me two excel sheets instead of seven giving me the same information, this would be great. People think simplifying things is easy; it is not. It is a skill, and if you have it these days, then you’re relevant. That’s what we’re looking for.’ – A lifetime lesson I’ve learnt from the Director of Unilever Egypt.
  • ‘Why are you giving me Miss Universe answers? Is this a beauty pageant?’ – A rhetoric and hilarious question, but very good lesson from Tobey Kwe, Senior Training Director in Sutherland Global Services Philippines. In other words, it’s corporate; you don’t have to be perfect, but you have to be real. You’ve got to admit you make mistakes but be ready with a plan to fix them.
  • ‘Am I going to collect your sweat in buckets and sell it to customers by the end of the day?’ – A rhetoric and hilarious question by Dr. Sherif Delawar, former CEO of P&G Egypt & Professor of Management in the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport. What he was telling us is how much effort you put in a job does not matter; how much outcome you get does.
  • ‘Always be curious, ask questions.’ – A lifetime lesson I’ve learnt from the Director of Unilever Egypt while attending the graduation party of the Finance & Accounting department in the Arab Academy for Science, Technology & Maritime Transport. I remember I started my training career in Sutherland Global Services by asking questions to a lot of team managers, account managers, quality analysts…etc. Believe it or not, the collective knowledge of people with a touch of my training skills helped me develop a successful training program for the company. The magic that happened was that this curiosity not only helped me do my job, but, by time, it built up my reputation as a reliable trainer.
  • ‘My advice to you as you’re graduating is to never stop learning; and I don’t mean the kind of learning you get from college, but all kinds of learning.’ – A lifetime lesson I’ve learnt from the Director of KPMG. The kind of learning he means is exposure; exposure to books, people, places and experiences. ‘Exposure makes character’ is a similar lesson I’ve learnt from Dr. Sahar Hamouda, professor of Classical Heritage in the Faculty of Arts, English Department. And don’t get me wrong, exposure is not easy. It is going to make you vulnerable, only to make you stronger later. I remember the feedback I got from the very first class I ever trained; it was hurtful, but natural and necessary. Now, I know what I am doing.

These are a few lessons I’ve learnt being surrounded by some leaders. You, too, will learn your own lessons. Probably, what you need to learn now is that it is important, in your work environment, to have people on your same level of expertise with whom you can share and cooperate, people who are from a lower level of expertise whom you can mentor, and leaders who are of a superior level from which you can learn. Observe them, snatch opportunities to attend their meetings, ask them for feedback, and, most importantly, learn from them.

By: Nagat Abdel Kader

 Photography: Mahmoud Mansi


  • Johny

    Nicely written Nagat

  • Johny

    Nicely written Nagat