Making people stronger and more capable

Leadership author, speaker and consultant, Emmanuel Gobillot, speaks with former BBC interviewer, Nisha Pillai, about ways for leaders to listen so that they understand before they talk, and ways to make people stronger and more capable.

Emmanuel Gobillot short biography
Emmanuel Gobillot
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The Agenda Podcasts

The Agenda brought to you by Sherpany uncovers the journey leaders take from facing challenges to making decisions. In this unique series of podcasts, leaders talk candidly with former BBC World Service interviewer, Nisha Pillai. #Leading together

In this podcast episode, you will hear:

Leadership author, speaker, and consultant, Emmanuel Gobillot, as he discusses the value of having different perspectives, of trying new things, and of exploring these new things collaboratively. Emmanuel believes there is a better way for leaders to lead, and for teams to work together, which is why - for the last 15 years - he has been on a quest to help leaders and their teams improve. Here are some of the topics covered in his podcast that will make you pause for a moment, and consider a different way of thinking:

  • The value of having different perspectives
  • The act of co-creation and how it spreads throughout an organisation
  • The key qualities of leaders today: Compassion, understanding, and enablement.


On making people stronger and more capable with Emmanuel Gobillot

The value of having different perspectives

"My wife and I, we got married and decided to go on honeymoon like people do. So we've never been to Japan. I've been pretty much all over the world for my job, but we've never been to Japan. Neither of us had been to Japan. So, we thought, OK, well then let's go somewhere. We've never been on a honeymoon, you know, hopefully there'll be only one. You know, it's kind of like you want to make it special. 

So, we thought about Japan and then we started to think, why? But I don't I don't know. What about if it doesn't work out because we've never been we don't know. How about if it's a flop, if we don't enjoy Japan? Let's go to New York now. We met in New York, and we got engaged. We love New York. Okay, so we know 100 percent we're going to stay at the same place. We're going to love every minute of it, but it's boring because we've been before. So now if you're an executive of New York, Japan, you probably end up in Istanbul. Right? 

Not a bad place, but it doesn't fulfill anything. It's just the ultimate compromise. So now the interesting point in business is how do you break that line and don't make it a straight line by saying: How do I get to Japan or New York? How do I work that out? 

Now I'll tell you what we did. OK, so. We went to New York on the Queen Mary. We've never been on a boat, so that's a new experience. We can enjoy Japanese food if we want to on the boat because you can have pretty much whatever you want. It's brand new experience for both of us, but we knew that at the end of those seven days, we were in New York anyway. 

So if everything goes wrong, if we were seasick because we'd never been on the boat, we would have been OK. So what we try to do is you think, OK, what can we do? Which fulfills both the need of being new, something completely different that we'd never done and the need of being guaranteed enjoyment? I'm not saying this is the perfect answer, but it's a different way of thinking than thinking, OK, how do I get a bit of both and end up nowhere?"

And do you think that way of thinking where you're trying to include both points of view on many points of view in decision making in leadership is something that these times need. Business leaders could do with more of that thinking right now.

"I think, yes, just because we just don't have the answer. There is no answer. The future is uncertain, but that's the future. It has always been that way. And to think that me, with my point of view, with my experience, actually have the right answer is unlikely. 

There are generational differences, there are gender differences. There's all sorts of things going on in the world which I have no experience of. So at some stage, you're going to have to get my point of view. Now, of course, not everything is a dilemma. 

As a leader, you have to make a choice. Sometimes you have to make a decision. Sometimes you have to think, Well, look, this is not optimal, but this is where we're going to go with it. And you have to learn to live with the outcome. But starting a position by saying, I know I'm right, I think is sure, you know, it has to lead you to failure because there is something somewhere which you won't have taken into account. So the more you can see, the more point of views you can bring in, the more you can deal with those dilemmas in a different way, the more likely you are to succeed."


The act of co-creation, and how it spreads throughout an organisation

"So, what I'm talking about when I talk about this thing [co-creation] is how do I make you stronger and more capable? Now, if you know that I'm capable, that I've been working hard, that I'm devoted, and I come to you with a question, the likelihood is I've thought about it quite a bit already and am unlikely to have the answer. 

So if you want to make me stronger and more capable, then give me the answer. You know, it's not a one size fits all. So I think the act of co-creation is really one where we sit down and think, OK, what do I need to inject here? You know what? What is it? I'm constantly thinking about what I need to do in order to make you stronger and more capable? 

Now the problem with leaders is we tend to see organisations as hierarchies with one person at the top, and that person's voice tends to be quite loud and resonate. But actually, that person's influence is tiny. If you think of organisation as an ice cream cone, the action is at the top. The thousands and thousands of people we interact every day with thousands and thousands of customers or whatever it might be, now that voice of the CEO at the bottom, it's actually quite a small voice. So you know why it resonates? 

Its impact is relatively small, so the thing for the CEO is to say, OK, how do I make the 10-14 people alongside me stronger and more capable so they can make the 10-15 people alongside them stronger and more capable and so on and so forth? 

So co-creation really starts with a different way of working at the very top, which then automatically starts to filter through the organisation…"


The more you see, the more point of views you bring in, the more you deal with dilemmas in a different way, the more likely you are to succeed.

The key qualities of leaders today

"[...] I think the problem with empathy is that empathy is an intellectual exercise. It's about me understanding how you feel. Now, that can be either me dismissing it. It can be leading to me abusing that because I understand how you feel, therefore, I may be able to manipulate it. But it certainly doesn't construct anything positive. 

So, I prefer to talk about compassion. And compassion for me is a kind of active empathy that says, look, I really get where you're coming from, and I'm happy to help you do something with that. [...] The act of compassion is one to say, OK, let's deal with what's on the table together, not me influencing you enough, me trying to have one over you, not me trying to ignore you, but me trying to think, OK, how do we move? What do we do? [...] 

There is a fundamental issue for any business, which is more than 14 people, which is at some stage you're going to get into intimacy. Let's have those conversations to get somewhere. Efficiency, how do I make it happen at scale? And you know, we have a lot more technology now which can help us to have conversations at scale. We have different ways of working, so there's a big job to do. But, what's the alternative? [...] 

Listen and talk, and I separate the two because I think both of them have a different role to play. One of the things we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, which is going to cause great difficulties for most leaders, is that leaders had a tendency to over communicate in a good way. CEOs would do little videos on their way back home. You know, this is what I've done today. And there was a lot of communication over communication all the time to try to reassure people to try to get them onside. 

I'm starting to see them pulling back and saying, OK, we've done that for two years now, we need to move to something else. And, I think that's going to create difficulties because people are saying, this is quite cool. This other communication stuff is quite useful and it's engaging. I'm seeing more and learning more about the organisation MO. So I think there's a communication role. There's something about speaking more broadcasting messages, being able to bring some narratives into the organisation. 

The second quality is one of listening. It's one of saying actually what is going on? Most leaders don't listen, they reload [...] they stay quiet because they're just thinking about the next thing they're going to say. Not because they're listening to what you're saying. They're just thinking, OK, how do I know where I'm going? Here's the issue. If I listen to understand rather than listen to argue or listen to be right, then we get into a conversation, and that act of listening is really hard again. [...]

We want our leaders to be like us, but kind of better, you know? [...] We want somebody who is accurate. So we push people to give us answers they don't have. So a strong leader would be somebody who says 'OK, this is the truth. And if the truth is, I don't know', then you have to find a way of saying 'I don't know, and that's how we're going to find out'. [...]

If you can answer by the affirmative the question of 'Have I made them feel stronger and more capable?', and if the answer is yes, then I think people will follow you because they will trust you because they will see something in you. [...] And I think it's our duty as leaders to make them feel stronger. But it's also the reward that if we make people feel stronger, they will give us everything they've got."

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Emmanuel Gobillot short biography
Emmanuel Gobillot
About the author
Described as ‘the first leadership guru for the digital generation’, Emmanuel is one of Europe’s most sought after leadership speakers, and has worked around the globe with organisations including Astra Zeneca, Google, and the UN. He is the author of seven UK and US bestselling books on leadership.