‘Experience of Elsewhere’ a Valuable Leadership Lesson

After spending a week immersed in developing my leadership skills, I’m taking any opportunity to keep the lessons learned at the front of my thinking. I read a great interview with Tachi Yamada, M.D., president of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program in The New York Times that reinforced some of those lessons.

In it Yamada talks about learning how to delegate. I’m not a micromanager, but I stay involved, which he calls taking a microinterest. I like that term because while I need to know the details and whether deadlines are going to be met, I don’t need to tell people how to do their jobs.

One of my bosses once told me, “At the end of the day, I need you to get me to 5. I don’t care if you get there by 2+3 or 4+1, just get me to 5.” That’s microinterest in its simplest form.

In my last position, I carried a BlackBerry 24/7. I set up various alerts so that when I was with someone – whether in the office or at lunch – I wasn’t constantly checking it. All my friends knew that a triple beep meant I would be leaving them to respond to a call-out; otherwise I didn’t touch the BlackBerry because I wanted to be in the moment.

Yamada stressed the importance of making the person you are with feel like nobody else in the world matters. If someone on my team comes into my office, I stop typing, fold my hands and listen to what they have to say. That keeps me from shuffling papers or reading my emails. They have my undivided attention.

When I was hired for my current position, I had not worked overseas, but I had traveled to several countries and had moved a few times in my adult life. This was important because they wanted someone who could embrace change given that I would be involved with a name change, rebranding and launching a new Web site.  

Of course, there also are individuals who have grown up, been educated and are now employed in the same town. That might be good for them, but as a manager I’m looking for to hire those who have had the “experience of being elsewhere” as Yamada describes it.

I’ve been thinking about that more, especially because I have not lived overseas. Living outside my comfort zone could be a good thing. My leadership course was held in Bangkok — which I absolutely loved — and, as a result, I’ve suggested that at some point I could perhaps do an exchange with a staff member from our Thailand office. Of course, I’ll also volunteer for any assignments in London.

I’m all about the “experience of being elsewhere!”