My New Understanding of Leadership

“Leadership” has undoubtedly become the keyword that has been mostly mentioned in my life over the past three years — from my MBA application, to all the business-related classes, and to my current job. No one has ever given a clear definition of “leadership”, making it difficult to be “taught” and “learned”.

I have been discussing this topic with one of my closest friends recently. When I looked back and tried to collect some examples from my experience at OurCrowd and Plug and Play, I suddenly realized that leadership was all about “empathy” — putting yourself into your team member’s shoes first and then trying to find an alignment between the individuals and the team.

The first example was from my job with OurCrowd, a renowned Israeli VC firm. I was starting as an intern last summer and arrived at Jerusalem just one day before my starting date after flying 10 hours from Hong Kong. When I went to the firm for the first day, my manager Josh Liggett showed me to all the people at the office (two floors of people from different teams). This was something new to me since I was usually only introduced to the people working on the same team during my previous jobs. Josh’s introductions helped me a lot since it made me feel much easier to start conversations with the entire team.

After I set everything done, Josh invited me for a one-on-one meeting and spent about two hours teaching me the really basic VC concepts from valuation, cap, dilution, to term sheet. I was almost falling asleep due to the jet lag, while I really appreciated this training as it was the first VC course in my life, which opened a totally new door for my career.

Being an intern with limited experience and little chance to come back to the country, I got a lot of opportunities from Josh and the firm: from networking to new initiatives.

I was always wondering what incentivized Josh to do so: spending so much time on onboarding an intern and training an intern who’s very unlikely to come back after the short internship. I think the only answer will be the “empathy” embedded in his leadership.

The second example comes from my current company Plug and Play. When I joined the firm for the first week, I also had a one-on-one meeting with my mentor and team leader Tarek Elessawi. He asked me what I would like to do after five years. I was totally being transparent to him and shared with him that I might want to have my own VC fund or wanted to join a startup — this is also my answer during my interview. Tarek then started writing some bullet points on the whiteboard and spent one hour on helping me figure out three things: (1) what skills/resources that I need to have to achieve my 5-year career goal, (2) what skills/resources I already have and do not have, and (3) how should I strategically allocate my time in my job to acquire the skills and resources that I am still missing.

I was quite surprised by Tarek’s transparency and “empathy” — in my previous jobs, people usually told me what I needed to do for the company but few asked what I needed for myself. It suddenly seemed like my relationship with the company changed — it changed from an employment to a collaboration.

There are more examples that I could think of from my jobs. For example, when I was traveling to LA for a business trip, we got our water cut off for the first day due to some construction works. Adam Jansen, one of my colleagues, took the responsibility and booked a nearby hotel room for the entire team to have showers before any of us realized this solution. For another example, Marc Bouchet, one of my best friends at Plug and Play, would always try to chat with the newly-joined coworkers — be it new employees or people exchanging from our global offices. This “chat” really helps the new people to feel included in the team and avoids any potential embarrassment, which I felt often when I did not know any people in a group.

With all of these examples, I suddenly understand what a good leader means to me. It means he/she cares about his/her people — people come before business.

I think now I can make my own definition of good leadership: putting yourself into your colleagues’ shoes, showing empathy to your colleagues, and helping your people grow first before asking them to help you with the business.

By starting sharing my knowledge, skills, and time resources with my teammates, I also feel this is the most important soft skill that I learned in 2019: how to be a good leader by helping others and growing everyone with the team.

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