I’ve been working at Schneider Electric for over 35 years now, and have been leading the company for close to two decades. Very often, I’m asked about leadership, about how to succeed in business.
Looking back on these 35 years, the thing I’m always most proud of is the impact I’ve been able to have on people.
Because the reality is that no matter what industry or field you work in, people are the foundation of everything. They’re also your allies to drive change.
Think about it: our world needs to change. It needs to quickly become both prosperous and sustainable for everyone. And the only way we can do this is by involving everyone in the journey.
So, to those of you starting your careers now, who’ll be leaders one day, to those responsible for bringing about this change in the years ahead, here’s my advice:
Leadership lesson: See yourself not only as a leader, but as a coach
Companies need to perform at the best possible level. As a coach, your responsibility is to bring your team, your business division, and the company as a whole, to success.
It starts with the difficult art of building a team. A good coach celebrates diversity — gender, background, age, personality – and brings it into his or her team. Diversity makes a team perform better because people complement and learn from each other.
Then, it’s about making sure the team wins collectively. Once you’ve put together a group of brilliant individuals, you need to ensure they’re cohesive and work together. You yourself need to be invested in the success of your team. You’ll learn, if you haven’t yet, how proud it can make you to develop others and make them successful.
It also means building clear directions with your team that help provide a vision beyond the day-to-day.
Finally, good coaches care about people. They understand their colleagues personally beyond work. And they try to make work fun. Life is tough enough, work is often complicated. So create a positive vibe in the workplace: it’ll motivate everyone to do their best.
If you want to assess a leader, look at their team. The quality and energy of the team speaks the greatest truth about their leadership ability.
Leadership lesson: Never underestimate the social and human dimension
Now you have a great team. Brilliant people, very cohesive, very entrepreneurial. Together, you want to make a positive impact on the world. Great! Because performance is never just about technology and business. It’s also about the social and human ability to drive innovation and positive change.
I know this because I’ve failed on this front before.
In the late 1990s, I was in charge of Schneider Electric’s South and Sub-Saharan Africa operations. We decided to work with a solar panel company to provide local villages with solar panels and inverters to give people access to electricity. What happened is that people dismantled the panels and sold them for short-term profit.
Six years later, we revisited the project, this time engaging with the local community leaders who knew all about the human dynamics on the ground. From that, we learned three things.
First, that to develop the right solution, we’d have to involve the people who’ll actually use it. That meant working with them to build the social model to access these communities. Second, that we needed to train people to maintain the equipment we were putting in place. Third, that we needed to help them to build an income and business model, so that they would be motivated to keep the systems working.
Technology, society, and business are intertwined. You can’t develop one without thinking carefully about the others. So never lose track of how what you do on the ground will affect people there – and vice versa.
Success more often comes down to truly understanding micro-problems and social behaviors, rather than macroeconomic theories. People on the ground, not economists, make things happen.
Leadership lesson: Ride the wave of digital transformation
History has seen many revolutions: the iron and then the steam revolution, the electrical revolution, the IT revolution, the internet revolution.
And now, we’re at the beginning of the next major revolution, that of the internet of things, or IoT, where everything is connected, and where new technologies like Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, and Virtual / Extended Reality will combine to digitize the world all around us.
Look back at the past 30 years. The internet has revolutionized how we interact people-to-people. The next decade will revolutionize how we interact with our environment.
And this is critical, because we’re facing the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The IoT – with its massive potential for greater efficiencies and resilience — is one answer to this existential challenge. Clean energy generation and electrification – by allowing us to decarbonize and be more efficient with the energy we consume and produce – is another.
So ride this wave of transformation. Bring together all these technologies. The opportunity is sitting there for you and your generation of future leaders.
Leadership lesson: Again, never forget the human dimension
Never forget that the decisions you make every day will impact people, whether you intend to or not. So whatever you do, make sure to put people — your own team, your customers, the communities you impact — at the center of all your decisions, and understand what makes them tick
That will ensure that the world we’re building is more human, more equitable – that it reconciles sustainability and progress for all.
It will also make you a better human being, reconciling your professional path with your own personal journey.