Ron Carucci on Power, Leadership, and Persuasion [S02E03]

Ron Carucci on the SIA Business Podcast

Ever wondered what it takes to become a great leader?

We speak to Ron Carucci about…


Ron Carucci brings transformational change within organizations by working with their CEOs & other executives.

His company Navalent has worked with the likes of CitiBank, Gates Corporation, McDonald’s Corporation, Starbucks, Microsoft, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Johnson & Johnson, and the CIA.

Last but not least, Ron has authored 8 books (including Rising to Power), apart from being a HBR columnist, and a 2X TEDx speaker.


  • what power means
  • How to be a great leader
  • why technical prowess is NOT synonymous to great leadership
  • strategy versus tactics
  • persuasion and how it differs from manipulation
  • inspiring your team
  • why leaders need to let go (of the vine) and focus on the long term





2:44 Power is misunderstood and feared. We hear stories of how people abuse their power and use it for their own immoral choices (But I think they are in the minority though)

3:28 Power is not good nor bad. It’s what choices we make and how we apply it.

4:14 Leaders who abuse their power for self-interest and self gains are considered bad leaders.

5:36 Whether we are parenting or leading other people, it’s our job to disappoint people sometimes. That’s how they grow and change.

7:21 Differences and similarities in persuasion and influence with respect to power.

8:05 We have to persuade people that whatever they see and where they wanna go, is going to be best.

9:32 Ron explains how a leader must keep balance and maintain a blend of leading from the front, behind or side.

10:23 Why people wander off when a leader leads them from behind.

11:37 Ron describes in his book how people need a blend of intuition, emotion, and data (facts) and other voices in their decision making.

12:38 Too much data and information makes one impulsive.

14:38 What happens when leaders have too much data and duly fact-based data.

15:20 How empathy and emotional intelligence affects and why these qualities should always be present in a leader.

16:46 Why the team is not prepared when one of a team member, in a new startup, starts imposing decisions.

17:42 A leader must always teach his team and always be transparent in his decision making.

18:20 Ron’s book Rising to Power is relevant for new startups, leader of any maturity and any sized business.

19:45 Organization can make new leaders, by teaching them how to build bridges across the organizationteaching them how to make hard choices and build strong relationships.

21:25 Often times we promote people, keeping in mind their technical excellence only, thinking that they will become great leaders in the future which they don’t.

22:01 Leader have to prepare to let go sometimes.

24:15 A personal example: What happens when a leader teaches his team members a task (and giving them positive feedback, suggestions or critique) so that the leader can focus on other things.

25:00 How to achieve new ways to impact others and feel joy and gratitude in return.

26:35 Ron answers to what is the right time for a startup to make new leaders.

27: 25 What is the best gift of a leader to his people.

28:28 Find out the reward people wish to receive and reward them accordingly (this can be a sense of significance they want, sense of responsibility, leadership, advancement in career, etc)

29:05 Research shows that a leader must be a journalist with broader views and be able to fit all the pieces of an organization together.

30:40 You have to take a birds-eye view of the whole organization rather than just your function and context (these qualities are the ones that most leaders lack)

31:15 What one trait a new leader must not have.

A leader is one who is always asking questions and curious about things around him.

31:51 Context and connection and its relationship– causes people to fail fastest.

32:20 Asses people and understand why they are behaving the way they are. People can change their flaws. Everyone has the ability to change.

33:29 It’s important to manage reputation and personal branding.

34:00 Ron’s strategy to write for famous publications like Forbes and Harvard Business Review.


INTRO: (00:01) You’re the average of the 5 podcast shows you listen to the most. Learn to run your business well with the SIA Business Show where our host, Syed Irfan Ajmal, interviews entrepreneurs, marketers, and speakers of all colors and creeds, revealing their biggest secrets and lousiest mistakes.

Irfan: (00:24) Hi everyone. This is your host, Syed Irfan Ajmal, and in today’s episode of the SIA Business Show, we are going to speak to Ron Carucci. He is the co-founder of a management consulting company, Navalent, which focuses on working with CEOs and executives looking for transformational change within their organizations.

(00:49) Over the past 25 years, Navalent has worked with the likes of Citibank, Gates Corporation, McDonald’s, Starbucks and the CIA. Ron has authored or co-authored eight books and these include the best selling Rising To Power, which he graciously gifted me this month and I have already read about 75% of it.

(01:13) Ron is also a regular contributor to Harvard Business Review and Forbes. And last but not least, he has been a two time TEDx speaker and one of these talks, which was also about power, has actually got over 100,000 views on youtube.

(01:31) We are going to talk to Ron about what power means, how to use it for good deeds, how to be a great leader, what is strategy and how to differentiate it from tactics, storytelling as it relates to inspiring your team and much more. So Ron, welcome to the show.

Ron Carucci: (01:50) Syed, it’s great to be with you. Thanks for having me.

Irfan: (01:52) My pleasure. So Ron, tell us if I missed anything in that intro and feel free to tell us a bit about your personal life and where you are based.

Ron: (02:00) No, you got everything in there. That’s all of me. I live in Seattle, Washington these days with my family and spend my days with my firm, Navalent, roaming around the globe, trying to help leaders be stronger and lead change for good.

Irfan: (02:16) Perfect. Sounds good. So, Ron, I can see that power is something that you feel very passionate about and it seems like you are quite a bit of an authority when it comes to power and how leaders can ascend. Right? So, tell me what is power and what are some of the common misconceptions associated with the word power?

Ron: (02:35) Well, largely I think, power is very misunderstood and it’s feared. Most of us are drawn to stories of leaders who abused their power, who misuse it for personal gain or for their own immoral choices. And certainly those leaders out there, they do give power a bad name, but I think they’re the minority.

(02:55) I don’t think that that’s the vast majority of leaders today. And regardless of what capacity you’re leading, whether it’s organizations or government or community, in our research study that you mentioned earlier, one of the greatest surprises we found about power was that its greatest abuse was the abandonment of it.

(03:14) People too afraid to use it at all. People too afraid to even try to extend the influence that comes with their leadership. Power is neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s the choices we make around how we apply it that turn it for good or for bad.

(03:30) But I think, so many leaders fear that influence. They fear their own agency in the world and so they put it down, they put the power aside and rely heavily on interpersonal relationships, or buying popularity with using their influence to make people happy, or saying yes to people to support projects, whether they’re good or bad, just to make sure people don’t get upset.

(03:54) And I think those leaders are weaker leaders. I think, we too often excuse that abuse of power as a leader’s lack of confidence or a leader’s lack of courage or a leader’s inability to be assertive. And we dismiss those things as if they’re somehow leadership gaps, but the leader who abuses their power for self-interest and self-gain, those leaders we vilify as horrible, evil leaders and many times they are.

(04:19) But the truth is we have to see both abuses of power as equally destructive because it’s the leaders, far more of them, that set their power aside and don’t use their power at all, that make the way for those leaders that abuse their power for their own good.

(04:36) And so, if more of us would simply find ways to be comfortable using the power we have, we could disincline those who had abused their power from doing so.

Irfan: (04:46) That’s a very good explanation. And the specific finding that you spoke about, how so many leaders try to avoid using their power. I mean, I can see that. Maybe I have done that in the past as well, maybe even in today’s stage of my life in some areas.

(05:01) But do you think that the reason for that hesitance to use power is because we want to be seen as nice and not to be blamed for using our power or forcing our way to get what we want? Like, if a parent has to stop his kid, at what stage does he has to make sure that his use of power is neither lesser than necessary nor more than necessary?

Ron: (05:24) I say, I think, that’s the exactly the reason why most people set it aside. They’re afraid of being seen as the power monger or the abusive leader or the controlling leader. And whether you’re parenting or you’re leading other people, it’s our job to disappoint people sometimes. It’s our job to make people uncomfortable sometimes.

(05:41) That’s how they grow and change, and that’s our responsibility. And when we forfeit that responsibility, we set people up to fail. I think we are living in a whole generation now, all over the world, of parents too uncomfortable to assert themselves, to set boundaries for their children or to set healthy limitations for their children.

(05:58) And we’re setting them up to fail. We’ve taught them that what doesn’t kill them makes them weaker, not stronger. We’ve told them a bit of, they shouldn’t suffer, that they shouldn’t have to prevail, but they shouldn’t struggle.

(06:08) Same as leaders. When we rescue the people we lead by giving them answers, by giving them hall passes, by excusing them from not performing to their commitments, we make them weaker. We set them up to not thrive or be their best selves. And that’s a disappointment.

(06:24) Sure, in the moment you feel close to that person, you feel like their regard for you is very high, but in the long-term, you will ultimately end up setting them up to fail. Sometimes, the momentary pinch or estrangement of somebody, whether it’s a child or a direct report is disappointed because you had to say something hard to them or you’ve had to hold them accountable or you had to challenge them.

(06:49) Sometimes, that momentary pinch, a feeling… that distance is the best thing for your relationship and the best thing for them because ultimately they’re going to respect you. And sometimes, they may not like you in that moment, but they may like you when they realize it was for their good.

Irfan: (07:03) Right. I believe, in the TEDx talk that I saw, How To Be More Powerful Than Powerless. A couple of words which you use that caught my attention were, I believe, persuasion and influence. So, how do you think these two concepts are similar and or different than power?

Ron: (07:21) I think, persuasion and influence are… I mean, it’s a leader’s job to have a sense of direction for the organization. It’s a leader’s job to have a vision for, and I know the word vision is painfully overused, but it’s their job to have a sense for where does the team need to go, what does success look like? What is the destination by which we’ll meet our commitments to our organization?

(07:43) And corralling a lot of people, whether it’s a team of 10, or a team a thousand, or however many you’re leading, is very difficult. And so, you have to assert your will. You have to assert and convince people and persuade people that what you see and where you want to go is best.

(07:59) It may not be what they want to go. It may be hard, but that’s still your responsibility. And too often people fear that persuasion or influence is the same as manipulation? Well, once again, the word manipulation… it is generic sense is neither good nor bad.

(08:14) But the reality is, if you’re manipulating them deceitfully or if you’re telling them things that are not true or you’re making promises or you’re implying commitments to them that if you do this, then I’ll do that and it’s a quid pro quo, then that’s not good. That is manipulative.

(08:30) If the merits of your vision don’t stand on their own, if your beliefs in the destination or your beliefs in your targets don’t stand on their own, through your convictions or the data you have to support them, then maybe there’s something wrong with them.

(08:45) But if you have to truly manipulate people with inferred bribes, or inferred coercion, or inferred fear to get them to go where you want to go, once again, you may reach a short term result, but you’re going to weaken the organization because the next time you really have to compel them, they’re probably not going to want to go.

Irfan: (09:04) Great. And this leads me to another question. Does a good leader always has to lead from the front or does he has to sometimes stay behind and let the team do the work? And be the next generation of leaders.

Ron: (09:19) I think that’s a great point, Syed. I think the leaders have the blend and a nice balance of leading from the front, leading from the back, and leading from the side. Sometimes, you have to accompany your people as a peer. And I think, different situations require different senses of where you need to be relative to your team.

(09:35) But certainly leading from behind as a way to strengthen their leadership, their influence, to help them build their voice and to help strengthen their decision making is very important. If you’re always leading from the front, you’re making people dependent on you, right?

(09:47) You become the answer ATM, I call it. You become the person that always has to have the direction. They always come to you with questions that they already know the answer to, but they want to get… they check-in. So, the sense of security or the sense of strength, or the sense of confidence you might get from leading from the front isn’t always healthy.

(10:04) But the same is true for the leader who leads from behind too much. That’s a leader too afraid to use their power, right? So, if you’re always sitting from behind, people are going to wander off, right? They still require some cohesion and some sense of coming together from the front or they need some guidance and some coaching from the side.

(10:21) So, too much of any one of those positions, the front, the back, and the side is not good. I think the strongest leaders have the ability to adapt to all three of those and also they know which is best when.

Irfan: (10:34) Got it. In your book, Rising To Power, you talk about how leaders need to use facts rather than their emotions during decision making. And this kind of reminds me of how important the role of IQ is within decision making and leadership and also EQ, right? So Intelligence Quotient versus Emotional Quotient.

(10:57) Now, you talk about how they have to ensure that their decisions are based on facts. I guess that means data and everything, but what do you think about at least some researchers talking about how humans make decisions based on their emotions and then they justify it using logic?

Ron: (11:15) I think, that’s very true. I think Daniel Kahneman taught us that in his book, on how our brains get in the way of decision making. I actually think, in the book, what I say is that you need a blend of all of it. You need a blend of intuition, emotion and data and other voices, right? It’s not just your own voice.

(11:30) That great decision-maker, those who construct great choices, first of all, know the trade-offs, right? So, they know what they’re choosing between. They avoid binaries. So, they really stay away from “either-or'” choices because those are typically very, very sub-optimal choices.

(11:45) But I do think a leader’s intuition is based on their pattern recognition, it’s based on their experience. It’s based on some calibration of threat or risk and it does have validity. Data, a set of fact bases also help grounded decision in external realities besides your own. The voices of others, meaning other people’s perspectives, other people’s needs, those who are going to be affected by the decision or who have to live with it.

(12:11) It’s a great combination of inputs. And it depends on the risk of the decision. It depends on the urgency of the decision and it depends on the ambiguity or the longer-term effects of their decision.

(12:21) Again, great leaders know how to blend because too much emotion makes you impulsive. Too much data makes you paralyzed and too much consensus makes you unable to move because everybody’s getting in your way. So, it’s the right blend of all of those for the right situation and the right decision.

Irfan: (12:39) Right. But do you think that when there is little or no data, the leader needs to use his intuition alone? I mean, I guess the answer is yes, right? Because there is little or no data. Right?

Ron: (12:51) Well, it’s interesting. I would wonder what situation for which there was no data. I mean, it may not be numerical data, but there’s always… I think it depends on what types of data the leader is inclined to see. Sometimes… a lot of times people will sort of amplify one anecdote as data, and I tell my clients all the time, the plural of anecdote is not data. Right?

(13:15) So, I’m hearing, “Everybody says they’re upset,” when it was two people. But sometimes, patterns and anecdotes, where you are hearing multiple concerns expressed verbally. That is data. It might be data that you Google. I mean, again, I would wonder what decision today for which you couldn’t go to Google and just type in a question and get at least some plethora about the perspectives on it. Right?

(13:40) So, there’s always some sort of data. I think, too often, Syed, that people don’t have the time to examine the data. They don’t take the time or allow the time that a decision requires to examine available data. Because today, I don’t know that there’s ever an issue where there’s a shortage of data. I think, more often there’s too much data.

(13:57) And very often the data conflicts. So, you have dueling fact bases between them and leaders get paralyzed by that. But actually, dueling fact bases are great. The fact that you have conflicting data actually makes for a richer discussion when you can bring those dueling fact bases into the room with your team and debate them.

(14:16) That’s when you will ultimately going to allow the best decision because you really will have gleaned all the merits of both perspectives. The merits of your intuition will get refined and the team will build ownership for the choice you eventually make.

Irfan: (14:29) Yeah. But I mean, it also goes on to show how, when you talk about someone saying, “Oh, everyone is upset.” And later on, you find out that it was just because two people showed discomfort. Right? So, it goes on to show, I think, some of that need to improve your EQ muscle as well. Right? To not jump to conclusions just because someone said something or just because of your own biases or your own misconceptions or something are getting in the way. Right?

Ron: (14:56) Exactly. And I do think that empathy… and that has to be when emotional intelligence becomes very important because a lot of times leaders don’t make decisions based on their own fears, their own insecurities, and they’re not thinking about how will this decision affect other people.

(15:09) Even a decision to say, “Hey, we’re going to hold this meeting on this day,” not to realize that that day was a holiday for some people. Right? And not even, to say to people, “Hey, sorry you had to travel on your holiday,” or the decision to… you fired somebody. But the people who should have known before that, like the people for whom that was their boss, finding out when everybody else found out and realizing, “Oh my gosh, I didn’t think that through.”

(15:33) These little moments where you’re not thinking through how might others metabolize this decision, and what should I do about that? It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make the decision. It doesn’t mean you should alter the decision.

(15:43) But you certainly have to have the empathy to understand, if that decision is going to land particularly difficult with other people, you have to say something. You have to communicate well. You have to acknowledge that because your own credibility will take a hit if you don’t.

Irfan: (15:57) Right. You spoke a bit earlier about how, when it’s trying to get a consensus, it can lead to too much time taken and too much resources taken in reaching to a consensus and reaching to a decision. Right? So, does that mean that the fact that at least in some startups there is no hierarchy and they try to discourage that kind of thing, do you think that that’s not a good thing or do you think that for those startups based on where they are in their journey, it’s a necessary nuisance?

Ron: (16:26) I think that it is more common in startups where you have excessive consensus. I think, the problem is you create this false sense of egalitarianism like we’re all equal. And then the moment you have to start imposing decision making or starting to differentiate decision making, people are not prepared for it.

(16:41) So I think, early on you have to teach, even if it’s a small startup of 10 people, you have to teach people about how choices are going to get made and tell people, “Sometimes, it’s going to be choices where I make the call and I tell you what needs to be done. Sometimes, they’ll be choices where we make the decision together.”

(16:56) “Sometimes, they’ll be choices for which I asked some of you to bring the data and debate it in front of me. Sometimes, there’d be choices where I’ll say, ‘I’m going to give you my input but I want you to make the decision.’ And sometimes, they’ll be decisions where I want you to make it. I don’t even want to know what it is because it’s your decision to make.”

(17:08) Right? There’s a continuum of levels of participation and levels of control. And I think, every decision requires some thoughtfulness on not just what is the decision we’re making, but how and who by is it going to be made.

(17:21) And I think, if we just come on to talk about that, when you’re making decisions and be transparent about what mechanisms they’re using, what purchase they using and why, and teach people to decode them. That’s one of the greatest gifts you can give your organization.

(17:34) Because even when you screw up and you misuse an approach where you are overly consensus-driven or you are overly directive, people can forgive that because they knew what happened. But if they have to wonder how is he or she making this choice and who are involved and “what’s my role and do I get to have a say?”

(17:51) That confusion regardless of… even if you end up with a great decision, the confusion over the “how” can be very destructive for an organization. And if you build in the norm of confusion or uncertainty, you really weaken everybody’s decision-making abilities.

Irfan: (18:06) Got It. So, speaking about startups, how relevant is the Writing To Power study, the 10-year study, how relevant is it for small companies and startups?

Ron: (18:19) Well, I think, it’s very relevant because I think, leaders at all phases of an organization, need to understand their own influence. They need to understand how their leadership is being experienced, how they’re building the organization, how they’re studying context. I think that the findings are relevant for any size of [an] organization or any leader of any maturity.

Irfan: (18:37) Right. So, would it be correct to say that one of the main themes of the book… and feel free to tell us more about it. Would it be correct to say that it’s about making sure that succession management takes place in the right manner, in the sense that someone who is coming from a managerial role to an executive position, that they can understand that now they have a different set of responsibilities and are [a] different set of challenges?

Ron: (19:04) I do think that succession in the broadest sense of how we preparing leaders is a really important thing. I think, most organizations do it way too late. Most leaders, by our research, arrive into leadership roles unprepared and uncertain and with expectations that are different than what the role actually requires.

(19:23) So I do think, our findings of what makes a leader great, the dimensions of effective leaders, you can start learning those very early. And I think organizations who spend time preparing leaders very early on… even before their first-line supervisor or their first team leadership assignment.

(19:39) Even then, you can start teaching people to read [the] context and ask questions. Teaching them to build bridges across the organization, teaching them how to make hard choices and teaching them how to build great relationships that they contribute to. Those are the dimensions.

(19:53) I think you can learn those early on so that as you arrive into positions of increasing responsibility, you’re more prepared to be successful. I think when we wait too long and we say, “Okay, now this person is a director or vice president, or they’re an executive or they’re a big leader, now we’ll start coaching them to be prepared for it.” It’s too late.

Irfan: (20:11) Right. And would it be correct to say that one of the main themes of the book is that leaders in an executive position or leaders, I mean obviously, leadership position, they have to let go of the tactics and the execution and focus more on the strategy and the long-term vision? Can you tell us a bit more about that?

Ron: (20:32) I do think, as leaders rise up in organizations, depending on whatever the size of your organization is, when you get to the highest levels of that organization, one of the most difficult challenges we saw in our research was that leaders struggle to not let go.

(20:45) They come from the middle parts of an organization, whatever size that is. And they’re used to doing nearer-term work and they’re very gratified by the near term contributions they make to get results. And in higher levels of an organization, there’s more ambiguity, there’s more uncertainty. Decisions are a little bit more murky and they’re uncomfortable with that.

(21:06) And so, they struggle to let go of the work that they used to do it because that was more gratifying. They were the best at it. Often times, we mistakenly promote people because of their technical excellence, thinking that they’ll make great leaders. And of course, we know they don’t.

(21:19) And so, letting go of that technical gratification and being that technical expert becomes very difficult for them. And so they take that work with them. And when they do that, they sort of compress the whole organization. They create a bottleneck because people can’t get their work done.

(21:34) And so, leaders have to prepare for the ability to let go. They have to prepare to put the baton of responsibilities and decision making authority and expertise that they’ve enjoyed into the hands of other people. Even when those people are not as good as they were. Right?

(21:50) They have to remember that when you first started in that role, you weren’t that good either. Right? So, judging the people you’re handing things off to by that level of expertise you’ve acquired is not fair. They’re not there yet and they’re going to have to struggle to learn the way you did.

(22:04) And you don’t have to let go in one fell swoop. You can gradually, over a couple of months, you can gradually pass the reins, but you have to do it. So many leaders I hear tell me, “Well, they’re not ready yet, so I’ve got to take the time to let go. And then they never let go.

(22:20) You have to set or put a line in the sand and say, “Over the next three months or over the next six months, I will pass off gradually as you become more prepared for it, all of these responsibilities.” And measure whether or not you’re actually doing it.

(22:31) But leaders, they have to recognize that some of the hesitance has nothing to do with the people you’re passing it off to and has everything to do with your discomfort of letting go.

Irfan: (22:40) Yeah. And this reminds me of two things. First of all, I was interviewing Liam Martin in the previous season of this podcast show. He runs and Time Doctor. So, he was mentioning how he has about 80-ish people working for him and he mentioned that he spends about two or three hours a day doing nothing.

(23:01) So, when I discussed more with him, I figured out that he was basically taking that time to come up with new ideas, things that could 10x their growth and strategizing and laying out [the] foundation for the next 10 years or five years or something.

(23:16) So, I found that very interesting. One thing, when you mentioned that it’s very hard to let go of that more immediate gratification because [of] the operational, the tactical things, usually they have a more immediate ROI in terms of gratification. Right?

(23:31) So, recently I started doing something very different in our marketing agency and it was a strategy that worked, but I was really enjoying the work and then I trained three of our team members in doing that work and later on, I stopped doing it because they were doing it.

(23:46) I was working on other things then, for the future. But then, I started feeling a bit guilty that I was not doing it anymore. But then again, I realized that me doing it is not as good as the team members doing it. And so now, I’m more focused on giving them feedback and suggestions.

(24:03) Of course, a lot of positive feedback. What I was doing earlier was a lot of critiques. But like you mentioned, if I took a good few years to reach at this stage. My colleagues, if they’re junior than me, then they will probably take some time, right?

(24:16) Yup. I think, leaders, when they’re gratified by being the best expert or what we call the smartest kid in the class, it’s very difficult to get gratified by having other people be the smartest kid in the class. But when you realize that you’re responsible to help them become the smartest kids, more plural, in the class…

(24:33) …once you learn how gratifying that is and how much joy there is in helping others become their best selves, you forget that you had your years of being the expert and you enjoy those years, but now you have a new way to be gratified, a new way to feel significant in the world, a new way to have impact on others, but that’s an acquired taste, right?

(24:53) You’re so used to being reinforced by being a deep expert and being respected and regarded for your expertise that when that stops happening, you feel uncertain, you feel imbalanced, you feel unseen and you feel questioning of your own value and worth. And so, you reach back to grab that reins of that expertise.

(25:12) But when you begin to realize that your expertise has other value, like helping others find their expertise or helping others get better in their careers because they’re 10 or 15 years behind you and you realize that your booted to share that expertise, to help them become better, to help them find their own ideas and passions, to help them discover unique gifts of theirs that you don’t have and you realize that impact is happening.

(25:34) And because of it, the entire organization is getting better. You begin to realize, “Wow, this is really gratifying and this is special and this is something I can do that they can’t.” And you eventually learn how wonderful that is. But that takes some time to figure out.

Irfan: (25:47) Absolutely. I mean, as the saying goes, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” Right?

Ron: (25:53) Yup. And again, you have to learn that the followers of the other leaders are different things and require different things from you. And sometimes, you feel uncomfortable and it’s that you have to learn to enjoy that, but you have to work at it. But if you don’t work at it, you will ultimately make your organization weaker.

Irfan: (26:11) And when is the right time for a leader to start creating new leaders? I’m especially talking about in the concept of small businesses, startups and things like that.

Ron: (26:22) Yesterday is the best time.

Irfan: (26:24) Right. So you start delegating right away.

Ron: (26:27) Absolutely. Even in little things. The more you can do to give people a sense of responsibility and ownership. Even if it’s for your job every day is to have stacked that shelf or check the website for messages or some important aspect of the business.

(26:41) Make sure everybody has something that they own, that’s theirs to be responsible for and get good at from the very beginning. If you have employees or people with you, if you make them all reliant on you to call all the shots and direct all of the activities and set all the priorities, you are just, from the very beginning, institutionalizing weakness into the organization.

(27:02) From the very beginning, make sure everybody has some sense of ownership of something and see how they do with that. And over time, as the organization grows, as you add more complexity and more tasks, increase their level of ownership and responsibility for things and that helps them broaden their impact. That’s the best gift you can give them.

Irfan: (27:19) How do you reward someone like that who is keen on taking more responsibility? Who seems to have those genes for leadership? Is it just about the money? Is it more about the feedback that you give? How do you reward someone like that?

Ron: (27:33) Well, I mean, it’s rarely about the money and sometimes that people… we have plenty of research that says people are not entirely motivated by money in the workplace. It’s a factor, but a sense of meaning and purpose, a sense of significance, a sense of advancement, all those are important to people.

(27:48) They want to know that they’re getting better and they’re growing their earning potential and growing their career and the work they do is meaningful and they’re making a difference for somebody. So, helping people understand which of those as most important to them and then rewarding them accordingly.

(28:00) If some people want a greater sense of significance or what to contribute or time off to go volunteer things. If it’s, they want more of a voice, they want to try and learn new things. Whatever meaning for them is derived from increasing levels of responsibility, find out and then reward them accordingly.

Irfan: (28:19) Right. And what type of a leader is better, in your opinion, a generalist who knows a little about all departments and all the various tasks, or a specialist who specializes in one skill set?

Ron: (28:32) I think, the higher up the reach you go, you have to be a generalist. You have to know about the entire organization. That was one of our greatest findings, that leaders who were too narrow as they rose up tend to miss important data, right?

(28:44) So if you grew up in finance, at some point, you can’t see the world economically. If you grew up in marketing, at some point, you can’t see the world through consumers or brands. You have to see all the pieces of the organization and how they fit together.

(28:55) You have to see how sales, marketing, and customer service together create the customer experience and build the scene together. If you see the world through innovation, you have to understand how marketing R&D and consumer insights, for example, create innovation together.

(29:11) So, you have to see the world through capabilities, not functions, and how different functions come together to strengthen that muscle. And at the scenes, you have to build bridges. But if you’re too narrow in your focus or your discipline is too well-developed and you don’t know how all those pieces fit together, you’ll make the division or the silos more fragmented rather than more cohesive.

Irfan: (29:31) Right. So, does that mean that someone like me who gets bored from doing the same thing and has sort of diverse interests, does that mean that someone like that, all things being equal, would be a better leader as compared to a specialist who is, let’s say, really good at graphic design or programming or something?

Ron: (29:50) I think, I don’t know whether or not people… I tend to bore easily as well. I think those of us who bore easily can become very impulsive. And move from thing to thing without really mastering it. So, we have to learn to slow down and master things.

(30:05) People who are stuck in one discipline have to learn to get out of their comfort zone and learn new things. I think both have requirements. But I think, ultimately, context matters. You have to know your organization, you have to know how the pieces of your organization fit together and how they combine to help you compete and win, whatever that is. That’s what you have to learn.

Irfan: (30:24) So, basically you have to be able to look at the whole organization rather than just your function and take a bird’s eye view of the whole context and situation. Right?

Ron: (30:33) Exactly.Irfan: (30:34) Okay, got it.

(30:36) And what I want to say is, most leaders don’t know to do that. They don’t realize how important the adjacent spaces to their function are. They just get so focused on the space they’re in and they don’t realize how critical it is that they think about those alongside them.

Irfan: (30:53) Got It. So, while looking for a leader, what would be the one trait that a prospective leader should never have? So like if I’m looking for… moving someone up in my organization to a leadership role, what would be the one trait that he or she should never have?

Ron: (31:09) Being overly self-promotional, overly self-involved. I think, when leaders focus too much on themselves, that’s an indication that their “booted to be other-oriented” is limited and that’s going to really hurt them. Or they’re never curious. They only speak in sentences, they don’t ask questions. They’re not open to learning.

(31:26) I want to be sure people are not only open to feedback, but they’re soliciting feedback about themselves. They’re always wondering how others experienced them and they’re always curious and asking questions about why things are.

(31:36) Those are the first two dimensions of our research were context and connection, how they build relationships. And I think those are the two that caused people to fail [the] fastest. So, if you’re going to take on broader leadership roles, you need to be contextually curious and you need to make sure you’re wanting to help other people succeed and how you build relationships. And if those are missing, those should be red flags.

Irfan: (31:57) Got It. So, let me ask you another question about power. Can a superior who has [the] power within his organization… I mean, do you think that it is possible for him or her to help someone change a toxic behavior, which was not apparent previously?

(32:15) Like, if I can see that someone in my team is prone to lies. Okay. He lies a lot, or she lies a lot. So, is it possible for human beings to change with the help of a superior with the help of a powerful leader?

Ron: (32:28) Well, I think, it depends on if we’re talking about a deep character flaw or what the problem is. I think it’s important to… you have to be able to assess why is the person behaving the way they are. I think everybody is able to change. I think it depends on what… you have to sort of assess what the problem behavior is at first. So I think, leaders have to do some digging around and some diagnosis before they can make that decision.

Irfan: (32:48) Right. And how important is the personal brand of a leader in terms of inspiring his or her team, and how does a leader make sure that it is not interpreted as self-promotion?

Ron: (33:00) I think, reputation. How others have seen you is important. I don’t think it’s bad to be self-promotional. I don’t think it’s bad to promote your ideas or your expertise. It’s just how you do it. Right? And so, how much do you include other people? How much are you including their ideas as well?

(33:17) I think it’s important that you manage [your] reputation so that you know that people are experiencing you the way you want to be experienced. You know that people are regarding you as credible, as honest, as caring, even in the face of you trying to shape an agenda for the organization. And I’m watching our time, Syed, so let’s… why don’t we go ahead and think about winding down soon.

Irfan: (33:37) Sure. We are almost done. So, I know that you have been writing regularly for both Forbes and Harvard Business Review. How has been the experience and secondly, what was your process for getting into these publications?

Ron: (33:51) So, about 3 and half years ago, I hired a coach for me to help me expand my thinking and my thought leadership. And so, she was able to help me connect to the editors of Forbes and HBR and places where I wanted to contribute, where my voice matched the content.

(34:05) And I have a discipline of… I have a certain amount of content I try to produce and write every week as a way to share my ideas and as a way to share my thinking with the world and hopefully find people that I can help.

Irfan: (34:17) Perfect. Sounds great. Well, that’s it for today’s episode. I really enjoyed our conversation, Ron, and I will make sure that I complete the book and I plan on ordering a few copies because you are so gracious to give me a copy and I will be gifting it to some friends as well.

(34:33) So, that’s it for today. If you have any final message before leaving the episode or if you want to share where the listeners can know more about you, please go ahead.

Ron: (34:43) Absolutely. I hope your listeners will come to visit us navalent, N-A-V-A-L-E-N-T, .com. We have a free eBook there. We have free videos, we have lots of great contents. You’ll learn about leadership and our work, so come visit us. I’m also at Twitter at @roncarucci and on LinkedIn as well.

Irfan: (34:58) Sounds great, Ron. Thank you so much.

OUTRO: (35:02) Thank you for listening. For show notes and other resources, please refer to the description of the show.




If you have any questions or if you would like me to interview any entrepreneurs or digital marketers, please contact me here


Syed Irfan Ajmal is an award-winning serial entrepreneur and a seasoned digital marketer. He is an international speaker, and speaks and conducts trainings at various organizations and events of Pakistan and UAE. Moreover, he also writes about entrepreneurship and digital marketing for various large publications of the USA, UK, Canada, and Pakistan including Forbes ME, the World Bank, Huff Post,, Virgin, and others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *