Jamie Dimon is one of the most highly respected CEOs in the world today. He steered one of the world’s largest banks, JP Morgan, through the 2008-2009 financial crisis and was commended for his leadership during that challenging period.
At the 2009 HBS Commencement, Dimon shared tremendous insights into how he thinks about management and leadership. The 40-minute speech produced several lessons that have stuck in my mind since I watched a recording in 2013 for the first time. I highly recommend you check out the whole speech (video on YouTube or at the end of this post), but here are some of the key takeaways I had:
1. “The job of a leader is not to make the decision, but to make sure the best decision is made.”
This statement had a significant impact on me, as it changed the model I had of what makes a good leader. Previously, I had thought a good leader takes the insights and recommendations from different advisors, then makes the best decision possible.
However, Dimon’s view of leadership is subtly, yet powerfully, different. In his model, leaders are responsible for getting the best decision from the group as a whole. For you as a leader, this is liberating in a sense – the final decision is not solely on you. However, you do have the responsibility to make sure that the group is a high functioning one capable of arriving at the “best decision” possible.
2. “Signs of politics at a company: ‘I didn’t want to say this in the meeting…’ – That’s politics. You have to say it politely and reasonably in the meeting.”
This point expands on the previous one. To ensure that your group makes the best decision possible, it is critical for leaders to create an environment in which individuals feel comfortable providing a dissenting view in front of the entire group. If someone is not comfortable saying something in the meeting, then the leader has not created an environment conducive to making the best decision possible. Dissent and respecting the viewpoints of those who do not agree with the majority view are essential elements of a high functioning team.
3. “Teamwork sometimes means standing alone and having the courage to speak up.”
Being in the minority, or even the only person, that speaks up for a certain view is tough for most of us. It is far easier to be agreeable, end a debate, and move on. However, there are times when speaking up, even when it is unpopular at the moment, is what the group needs. Dimon’s point here is that being a team player is not incongruous with speaking up if you believe strongly in something. In reality, it is essential to being a great leader.
4. “It’s ok to get depressed and blame others when you fail. But you have to get over it.”
Dimon has not always been at the top of the business world. He was fired in 1998 and talks about the impact that had on him in the speech. Dimon’s comments are compelling to me because so few leaders discuss their personal emotions and disappointments in an honest way. Dimon is realistic – feeling down after a setback is normal – but the key is to make it temporary and bounce back up.
5. “Take care of yourself, family, and friends. You have to take care of the emotional aspects of your life. Exercise is a good thing, and you need vacations and family time all the time.”
Finding the optimal work/life balance can be hard in some leadership roles. It’s refreshing to hear Dimon say that having a balanced life is not only good for your personal well-being but is also critical to be an effective leader. If he can do it, none of us have an excuse!