Following is the full transcript of leadership expert Lars Sudmann’s TEDx Talk: Great Leadership Starts With Self-Leadership at TEDxUCLouvain conference.
Lars Sudmann – Leadership expert
Good afternoon. Today I want to share with you my leadership utopia. And when I was discussing this with a friend of mine, he was asking: Leadership in Utopia? Would we need leadership in Utopia? Isn’t Utopia finally the place and the moment where we can get rid of all of these leaders and live free? Well, I don’t know.
I think in a Utopia there will be humans hopefully, and if they’re humans, they will hopefully still be social beings as well. And whenever there are social beings they come together as well and form sometimes groups, sometimes organizations as well. And when they are these organizations, then I think the words of Peter Drucker are true:
“Only three things happen naturally in organizations: Friction, confusion, and underperformance. Therefore you don’t need anything but everything else requires leadership.”
So I do think also in Utopia, we should look at the leadership but the question is: what kind of leadership? Should we look at the hero model of leadership where the shining star is the ideal person? I don’t know. Today I want to explore with your different kind of leadership, and for this I want you to do a little thought experiment.
Think about the best leader you have ever worked with. Take a couple of seconds. Think about that person. What did he or she do say and so on? Now all of you will have experience other people but I would dare to say I don’t think you will have things like well, you know, the way that person yelled at me in the morning that was excellent, that was — that was just brilliant, the way — and I wanted always have more. Probably not. Probably that person would have done different things. And I want to explore that together with you.
Now I do think leadership is an interesting thing, and sometimes it’s over glorified. But whenever you become a leader and I have the chance to lead small teams, large organizations, non-profit, profit organizations. Whenever you become a leader you have like a rendezvous with reality. Leadership is a bit like parenting, and you have all these visions and ideas what you will do and then you’re in the moment, and then what I would call the leadership problem formula kicks in. And probably the people you have thought about just a second ago have mass of this formula.
What does that formula look like? Every leader when every of you who has ever been in a leadership position might have faced these challenges. I think every leader faces the leadership problem formula and that goes: TLT times people times power.
Leadership problem formula: TLT x People x Power
First one is TLT which for me stands for too little time. There’s just not enough time to do things and you can’t pass it around or somebody will take care of it. No, it’s you and then you need to do something. And what many people then fall back in is what I would call the headless chicken syndrome. They run around and say I don’t know, you do that, you do that, you do that, you do that. And that might then not be the greatest leadership.
Then comes as well people. All leaders have to deal with people and for me, I’m always reminded of my very first official leadership position more than 10 years ago. So I would have my first direct reports and the first direct report was coming into the room. And I had it all lined up. I had the vision; I had the team spirit. I had the story to tell basically. And that was a very assertive young gentleman who came to me and said:
“Lars, it’s all nice but I have a question for you. Actually I studied the email policy of the company and you know, I have a motto I live by. And I always include this, and I have this for the past five years. I always include this in my email signature. Can I do this as well in this company?”
And there was with all my stories and with all my vision and so on, it was like what? Is that what leadership is all about? So I was studying the manuals for two hours and so on. Finally we said okay let’s go ahead with this one. But everybody who’s ever led would see like it’s not always about the glorious and shiny things; that’s all about the little things, the little discussion that we have to do.
The last element is power and that’s an interesting one. There’s a very interesting study done at University of Berkeley in ‘98 and they brought in random students and selected them randomly in groups of three. And from these groups of three, two of them had to do a two-hour assignment. And one of them was randomly assigned to be the supervisor and then a social science experiments goes.
There was a special twist to it; at half an hour the researchers then brought in cookies. And of course, it was videotaped and then they observed what happens actually there. They had some hypothesis and sure enough the people who were randomly assigned to be supervisors significantly had more of the cookies but not only this: they actually left significantly more of the bread crumbs as well on the table, like I’m there… and it was very visually measurable.
And that it shows after 30 minutes of random states of higher status, this power thing kicks in – it’s something within us in humans — and I think that is also something that we need to take care of.
Now I do think these are the classic leadership problems that are not very often taken care of. But I think in a Utopia we need to address those. So how do we do that? What is the way out? For this one I think we need to travel back in time actually almost 1800-1900 years to Rome, to a person called Marcus Aurelius.
Now some of you might know Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is one of the predominant figures of the stoic school of philosophy. Stoics like the Zen of the West almost. But Marcus Aurelius is interesting for leadership because he was running a little like you know little side business also on the side. He had a little side job in moonlighting.
He was — and that’s why on the statue he’s also, you see, in there on a horse as well. He was at the time as well on top of being a philosopher, he had the side job of being the emperor of Rome at the time. And the historian William Irvine called him actually the true beacon of Enlighted leadership. He was supposed to be one of the last — of the five good kings of Rome.