Q: Why did you write The Leadership Journey?
- Gary Burnison: So many leadership books written—some theoretical, others inspirational. In that flurry of texts, it’s easy to overlook what may seem obvious, but nonetheless deserves some contemplation: The first word in leadership is, literally, “lead.” But before you can lead others, you must, first, lead yourself. That isn’t something that happens once. As a leader, you must orient yourself to that every day. That’s why it’s a journey.
Q: To illustrate The Leadership Journey you ask readers to imagine leading 4,000 people on a trek from New York to Los Angeles over five years. Why did you pick that analogy?
- Gary Burnison: The job of every leader is to move people from here to there—intellectually, emotionally, and sometimes physically. To illustrate that concept, I decided on a coast-to-coast journey. But instead of imagining a dedicated, solitary walker who, putting in10 hours a day, could make the journey in 90 days, I set the time frame of five years, which is a typical tenure of a CEO. Over that time, some people would leave the journey, while others would join. Through all this time, people are being challenged, learning, and growing, as they set their sights on a faraway destination.
Q: What must every leader possess to be successful on their leadership journey?
- Gary Burnison: When people think of leadership, they automatically go to the “left-brain” technical skills—frameworks, theories, decision-making models, and so forth. These elements of leadership are important; in fact, they are non-negotiable. But “right-brain leadership” skills really differentiate great leaders. It starts with self-awareness—to know yourself. Right-brain leadership also means being humble, curious, authentic, and courageous. With these skills, leaders can inspire and empower others.
Q: You map out The Leadership Journey through four crucial areas. Can you explain each of them?
- Gary Burnison: The first is “Look in the Mirror.” Every morning, you start your day looking in the mirror for washing and grooming. In the same way, you “look in the mirror” to see how you are leading yourself and leading others. Are you radiating purposeful passion? Are you enthusiastic and authentic? Are you making a genuine connection with others? As I stated earlier, self-awareness is crucial to the leadership journey.
Q: The next area is “Embody Purpose.” What is the essence of this aspect of leadership?
- Gary Burnison: I think of purpose as the “True North”—the fixed point by which a leader navigates at all times. Purpose is the “why” of the journey—the mission and the vision, which create alignment for everyone. When people know the “why” of the journey (the purpose to be achieved) they will commit body, mind, and spirit.
Q: The third, “Don’t Walk Alone,” sounds like both a reminder and an invitation.
- Gary Burnison: That’s right. The leader must remember that a journey is always undertaken with others. In fact, it’s all about the others—helping them realize all that they are capable of achieving. It’s also an invitation to share the journey because without followership, there can be no leadership. The leader should think shepherd: sometimes walking in in front, sometimes behind, and sometimes beside—but always journeying with others.
Q: The fourth is “Navigate beyond the Horizon.” What does that mean to you?
- Gary Burnison: A leader must set the course: anticipating how to move from here to there. The leader’s vision, however, is not only to the horizon, meaning what everyone else can see, but beyond the horizon and what the leader can foresee. That means learning from the past, applying lessons to the future, and being nimble and agile to course-correct in real time when the unexpected arises.
Q: What happens when these four areas are brought to bear in someone’s leadership?
- Gary Burnison: By looking in the mirror, embodying purpose, not walking alone, and navigating beyond the horizon you will have an amazing journey with others. Your leadership journey will not only be effective in terms of your organization, it will be transformational for all involved—you as the leader and those with whom you travel. Through your journey you will have the opportunity to become the change you wish to see in the world. What more could anyone hope to achieve?
Q&A WITH GARY BURNISON