This fall, I had the honor of taking part in the Xi’an Student Leadership Forum. The forum was organised by the English Language Institute of China. For this forum, a couple hundred students were interviewed and eighty finalists selected to join the forum. These students were leaders or people who show leadership potential in their universities.
After an incredible lunch at the Westin Xi’an, we heard from three business leaders. The first to speak was Simon Lee. Mr. Lee said that when business is done well it can change the world. He is involved in two businesses at the moment. Fifty percent of the profit from one of his businesses goes to charity while one-hundred percent of the profit from his second business goes towards ending human trafficking.
Mr. Lee spoke at length about the importance of branding. He said branding is not a logo, company name or business name but it is a story. Some factors to be taken into consideration when selecting a brand are:
- Who are we?
- What are we?
- How does the customer feel about us?
- What is the relationship between us and the brand?
Mr. Lee also believes that marriage is the foundation of every company. He said our public life and private life are very much connected. There are three parts of our lives: the first only we know, the second only our family know and the third our co-workers know. According to Mr. Lee, great leaders have homogeneous character both privately and publicly. “Personal branding is crucial to leadership.”
We should practice self-leadership by asking others what they think about us. Be an authentic leader by sharing your struggles; be a consistent leader by doing what you say. Don’t work on being a great leader later; work on it now. Personal branding should come first, then company branding, then the logo and all the rest.
The next speaker was Mike Jorgensen. Mike leads the team at I Am Second. This is a website that creates short videos and books that document transformations in peoples’ lives. Mike graduated from Duke where he studied law and practiced for twelve years following graduation.
He shared three principals for creating and leading a great team:
- Get the right people on the bus and get them in the right seats.
- Be clear about the direction the team is going. Get everybody going in the same direction.
- Serve the team as they implement the vision.
To sum up Mr. Jorgensen’s message, I would say he was saying that being a leader is all about making those who you lead succeed and become more successful than yourself. He used the story of how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet and told them to serve others. This also resonates with the work of Peter Senge in his book, The Fifth Discipline. Senge believes everyone on the team should strive for personal mastery and that, when this is achieved, the organisation as a whole becomes better.
The final speaker at the forum was Joe Foster. Mr. Foster leads Foster Financial Group, a finance management organisation. He believes that losing his job was one of the best things that ever happened to him and that he learned some of the most valuable lessons from it.
Mr. Foster shared six keys to leadership with us:
- Invest time, energy, and money on relationships.
- Ask great questions to focus on serving others.
- Find the good in others and acknowledge it.
- Be customer-centred, not just product-centred.
- Be a people person and attract others.
- Hire slow but fire fast.
The forum was an incredible learning experience for me and reminded me what being a true leader is all about!