Unselfish Leadership at Lenovo

This is one story I absolutely love to be able to write about.  It is a gesture made by Lenovo CEO Yang Yuanqing who did something unprecedented.  After his company had its best fiscal year ever, he earned an additional $3 million dollars in bonus money.  What did he choose to do with it?  He distributed it to about 10,000 junior level employees in his name.

These employees were the receptionists, production line workers and assistants – people who don’t often get lots of consideration from people in the C-suite.   Each one of these people received $2,000 Yuan (about $314).

If you are not familiar with Lenovo, it is a tech giant with annual revenues of about $30 Billion.  They are well-known for being the firm that purchased IBM’s PC business when Big Blue concluded it was unable to compete in that challenging market segment.

Now I suppose the cynics out there could say – so what, after all Yang received $5.2 million in bonus money, bringing his total compensation to about $14 million.    On the other hand, even the cynics would have to agree, it was a gesture he didn’t have to make.

To me, it was an act that made an amazingly powerful statement about how he personally values the employees whose work helped produce the success that Lenovo experienced.

I am privileged to work with many groups of emerging leaders during the innovation and leadership programs I deliver.   We often talk about the challenges that their organizations face . . . about the roadblocks they see to encouraging the best from employees in their organizations.   I am struck by just how often people mention the lack of trust in senior level executives as a main factor that they believe saps energy creativity and productivity from their work forces.

If so, then the act by CEO Yang speaks volumes.  It says that he personally respects and appreciates the people who make things happen at Lenovo.  He says that he recognizes that he alone is not responsible for anything.  It is an act of great humility – one leadership trait that I think is important.

I remember AG Lafley commenting that in reality he could do very little as P&G’s CEO.    He could make suggestions, and try to encourage some people and certain ideas, but the many other people throughout his company were the ones that actually made things happen.   What a refreshingly realistic perspective!   We don’t really need a big ego to be a successful leader.   In fact, I think it gets in the way.

In crisis, sometimes a strong authoritative, action-oriented leader is someone we can all appreciate.   But I believe leaders who achieve results not by executing their own visions, but helping inspire people in their organizations to develop one that all can share.  Such leaders don’t have all the answers.  They don’t need to.  They operate by creating circumstances within which their colleagues can discover on their own the best solutions.

For my money, the frame of mind that allows this kind of leadership style demonstrates a humility that I believe we all respond to.  This is an important trait that we all WISH our leaders could have.

Perhaps Yang is a student of ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu who said: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

So hats off to Yang Yuanqing and his unselfish, humble act.    We can only hope his example will inspire others.   If you think about it, your own gesture need not be as dramatic as his, but you NEED to make one.   How is it you can let your employees know that you value and appreciate them?

Be Humble.  Be Generous.


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