Leadership is one of those tangible-and-intangible skill that has become a lifelong learning process for me. I attend courses, I read books and I try to learn from successful leaders around me.
But today I discovered that far greater lessons in leadership live closer to home than I expected. My brother, who up until recently worked as a manager at a big telco, has since left the company.
During his last week, this beautiful heartfelt message was left on his Facebook wall:
“Last shift working with my Kuya Mikey! this guy has taught me so much, and never fails to make me smile on the worst of days. Always had my back since day one. No matter where you are, or what you do, you'll always succeed. Much love Kuya, salamat!”
The word “kuya” translates to “older brother” in English so one of his workmates treat him as an older brother, someone who looks out for you. That’s lesson number one: real leadership is not just about looking after the company or yourself but the people you work with.
In response to the best wishes, my brother wrote:
“Thanks to all my Penrith crew of course I got yo back all the way "way of the ninja"....I love everyone of you guys and will miss you all very very much...I'll see the rest of you tomorrow for my last shift @ VODAFONE be good and always be honest to your crew...”
This is lesson number two: real leaders break the rules around keeping an arm’s length between themselves and their staff. How many in the financial services industry would share parting words that include “love” and about missing the people that you work with? This happens very rarely, and probably only within the lower tiers of the organisation than the higher tiers, which is where it should start from.
Finally, my brother also taught me that real leaders are selfless. In his farewell note, he made a point to tell his organisation to look after those who will remain with the business. Most importantly, he shared advice that encourages honesty and transparency when he said, “@ Vodafone, be good and always be honest to your crew.”
In a way, I think there are two types of leaders: conscious and natural. Some leaders are taught how to lead. Others, like my brother, are just naturally so.
They say that leadership is like a pyramid and that it gets lonely as you go further up the top. But what I believe my brother just demonstrated is that real leaders are not at the top of the pyramid but the foundation near the ground. A good business is not a pyramid built on masses of employees at the bottom and the leaders at the top.
On the contrary, a good business is a pyramid underpinned by leadership muscle at the bottom that everyone can then build their success on, including the smallest cog of the business or the pointy end at the top.
In a way, too, my brother taught me that being a leader doesn't just mean delivering outcomes, short or long-term, to the company you work for. His impact on his fellow staff, especially if they 'pay it forward', means positive outcomes further on. Even if he never gets to witness it.
I've made mistakes and still have a lot to learn. But I'm so proud that some of the best learnings I've had did not come from a stranger: it came from the same kid, now a man, who share my family photo album.
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