Barry Salzberg is the global CEO of consulting major Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited. Salzberg leads and manages the the $31 billion company that consists of 47 member firms operating in 150 countries and employs around 200,000 people worldwide. Excerpts from an interview:
How do you define leadership?
The concept of leadership has changed over the years. It used to be about the person in charge of an organisation, a business or an operation. It is now more about the team.
It consists of picking the right team that maximises the performance of a diverse group of individuals and being able to lead the team. Leadership is all about playing together to drive organisational goals.
What are three key attributes of a leader?
Effective leaders are great listeners. They know how to ask the right questions, gather inputs and distil the best information from many sources. Leaders have loads of experience and so they should have the ability to share experiences and mentor others.
I think there should be something unique about a leader — subject expertise or personality trait — that makes him unusually appealing. I call it ‘branding’. Good leaders tend to brand themselves.
As the leader of a global organisation, how do you cultivate leaders?
It is about providing an environment of learning. So, it is important to create the mindset that learning matters, and to create an environment that encourages individuals with high potential and high performance to take advantage of that mindset. I spent time with my direct reportees all the time.
When I am in another country, I spent time with the individual CEO and other leaders of that country. There isn’t anything that I am doing to teach.
There isn’t anything that I am doing to provide leadership development right there. It is the interaction to share best practices and to engage in a dialogue that matter in strategy and execution.
To develop and cultivate leaders, a CEO has to spend time with individuals one-on-one and in groups.
Can leadership be learnt? How can a manager become a leader?
I think it can be both. I think there are natural born leaders. I don’t know whether it is DNA, upbringing, value system or environment that made natural leaders. Nothing you need to put that person into a leadership position. On the other hand, I think many people are born with attributes that can be further developed.
There are attributes of leadership that can be groomed. There are elements of leadership that can be enhanced. Therefore leadership development is important. If everybody is born with leadership skills you don’t need to do anything. But that is not the case.
What has been the biggest leadership challenge you’ve faced?
There are many. The biggest one I faced as a leader was during the economic crisis of 2007-08 — leading an organization through an economic crisis as well as what was really a crisis in capital markets.
It was a challenge to retain confidence and optimism that this isn’t the end and to create the roadmap for the future and manage our way through the internally difficult operations because if we don’t produce our partners won’t take anything home.
At that time I was heading the US operations and we were significantly off our revenue target. And, my challenge was how best we can produce results, how best we can maintain our quality and commitment.
How did you deal with the challenge?
First, I was properly planned. We did a lot of work previously. We had some foresight US might go through an economic difficulty. Preparation was the key.
Secondly, what helped was what I call tunnel vision — you are not distracted by anything and work relentlessly to drive a solution.
Thirdly, communication — the best thing to do is openly share challenges. We have done well. Deloitte today is performing better today compared to economic crisis five years ago. We have made some very difficult decision along the way to produce some very good results.
Since September 2008, the world has fallen into a maelstrom of serial crises. What is the role of a leader in these times?
It is to provide a sense of optimism, ‘can-do’ and progress. To create that comfort in people that they need. Typically, when going through a crisis, people are nervous.
They are concerned about their jobs and about the ability of the organisation to help them. Leader needs to steer the ship and provide calm and optimism.
Do you think the role of business leaders has come under cloud of late?
Definitely, there is a need of business leaders to stand out and create a higher level of trust and credibility. I think in this uncertain environment it is extremely important to create a further commitment to trust among all stakeholders, whether regulators, shareholders or public at large. The fundamental responsibility of a leader is to restore that trust.
What’s your one-line leadership mantra?
I’ve coined a phrase: ‘five Ps’. Proper planning prevents poor performance.
Who are the leaders that’ve inspired you?
Jack Welch is a big inspiration. I created Deloitte University for leadership and training, under his influence. Collin Powell, an African American political leader, has inspired me with books and speeches on leadership.
What is your best leadership decision?
To build Deloitte University — The Leadership Center — which opened October 2011 in Westlake, Texas. We were going through a difficult phase economically and so not many were convinced about it. It required an investment of $300 million to build a 700,000+ square foot campus that provides enriching experiences for our people and to ensure Deloitte remains a place where leaders thrive and ideas prosper. Deloitte is committed to growing leadership skills at every level of the organisation and to this day I have partners writing back to me saying we actually do what we promised to deliver through this center. It was an investment in people, leadership and building the right culture for Deloitte.
...and the worst?
To have appointed a few wrong people in leadership positions and not acting on it quickly was a wrong decision.