We admire the digital nomads who roam the world in pursuit of broadening their horizons. But Gianpiero Petriglieri, professor at INSEAD, reminds us that the peripatetic lifestyle must be reconciled with demonstrated commitment to a community in order to qualify as legitimate leadership. This new category of global elite must put people first if they are to provide and sustain meaningful value to the businesses they serve—especially after the novelty of their techno-bohemianism wears thin.
DateOctober 10, 2014TitleHBR Ideacast: Nomadic Leaders Need RootsSegment00:11:01 – 00:15:24GIANPIERO PETRIGLIERI:
The double bind is the following: while becoming a leader may require you to demonstrate flexibility and mobility and all that, being a leader requires you to demonstrate commitment. And flexibility and commitment are relatively strange bedfellows.
In every way that matters, leadership is about commitment. You know, how can I trust you if I don’t know that you are really committed to our shared enterprise in a sustained way? How can I trust you if your whole history is about moving around?
It really boils down to this: Being flexible may be well and good for you in your career. But if you can’t commit, you don’t belong. And if you don’t belong, you cannot lead.
It’s become commonplace today to complain about leaders that are insensitive and selfish, especially in corporations. But what often appears to be selfishness from the outside is really just commitment to a different group. Which, in the case of a nomadic professional, is a group of similarly mobile, like-minded people who live in a different kind of place, one not defined by traditional boundaries.
So their psychological defense becomes, “OK, if people are not going to trust me, well, at least I have this community of people who have experiences and histories and skills similar to mine. And I’ll be dedicated to that.” And then what happens is that the psychological way of dealing with the disconnection fuels the interpersonal disconnection we were talking about earlier, and vice versa.
Be very clear about whose leader you want to be, who can claim you, where you aspire to lead, what you are committed to. It’s only bleak if you try to be a leader, rather than someone’s leader or the leader of a group or an organization or a cause. Then you end up being no one’s leader.
I’ll go a little bit further and perhaps a little bit against the grain here. I’d say, put people before purpose. You know, I have a sense, these days, that there is all this talk about purpose because leaders are very lonely and isolated. And so they take refuge in this very kind of abstract, existential lucubration, if you wish.
It’s a little bit like meaning. We all seek meaning. But we only find it when we’re so busy doing something meaningful that we no longer think about it. I think when you cultivate very close, sustained connections with people who matter to you, with a place that matters to you—when you care about those people and those places—a shared purpose emerges out of that. So put people before purpose.