Marcelino Elosua left his job as CEO of Spanish olive oil producer Carbonell to set up LID Publishing in 1993. Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the business book publisher has produced titles with over 2,500 authors and employs 75 staff in seven different countries. Here Elosua shares his thoughts on the past, present and future of leadership.
1. How has the thinking around leadership changed in the past 25 years?
“I believe that leadership has changed with society. There used to be a top-down approach where the leader was always right. Now it’s more of a team approach where the leader empowers others. Also, companies don’t just rely on employees anymore; they increasingly use freelancers and partners as well. So leaders have to make sure that all these different parties are pulling together. Ultimately, I think it’s up to each of us, at our own level, to manage the situations for which we are responsible, which is not the same as telling others what to do.”
2. Do you think leaders are more or less influential today compared with 25 years ago?
“Before there were fewer organizations so there were fewer leaders. Since there were only a few of them, they had loud voices and they could issue orders, but they had less ability to influence because they could only access a few communication channels. Today there are many more leaders because there are more organizations and leaders at all levels within them. Leaders also have a greater ability to influence through their personal and social networks.”
3. How have you personally changed as a leader over that time?
“My emotional intelligence has really developed. My business is not really about books; it is about authors. You have to be able to manage their egos and help them to turn their dreams into reality.”
4. What’s the most important leadership lesson that you’ve learned?
“I’ve learned the importance of building long-term relationships with authors. Choosing the authors, keeping them, and helping them to develop their ideas, requires long-term corporate and personal investment.”
5. I edit Edge, the magazine of the Institute of Leadership & Management, which is published by LID so I am familiar with many of your authors. Who is your favorite leadership author and why?
“I can’t name one because I have enjoyed working with many people. When you are trying to develop original ideas that bring value to readers, you need to have many points of view. It’s like a painting where you introduce lots of different colors.”
6. What do you think about people who sneer at leadership books and say leadership can’t be taught?
“They are right and they are wrong. They are right in the sense that it is difficult to teach leadership. You have to learn it and practice it in many different situations. They are wrong in that leadership books give people ideas. More, importantly, leadership books build people’s willingness to try out those ideas and to know which ideas to apply to become a better leader.
“Where books differ from articles, seminars and videos is that they establish communication with the reader over a long period of time – at least two or three hours. Good authors give readers practical tips and examples of success and the readers really learn throughout that process.
“If you read an article, listen to a speaker or watch a video, you may think you have understood what you have to do, but that knowledge will not be deeply embedded. Suddenly you will be in a situation where you won’t remember what you need to do because you haven’t gone through the process of having the information repeated over and over, but with the use of different words.”
7. Which leadership trends do you expect to see in future?
“We need leaders and we will have leaders. But as the rate of change is going to get even faster, it’s going to be very difficult to be the best leader for an organization over an extended period of time unless you change yourself. We need different leaders for different situations. We cannot rely on a ‘big leader’ who knows everything. That would be more of a threat than an opportunity.”
8. What’s the best piece of leadership advice you’ve ever been given?
“My uncle, a missionary in Thailand, helped me to understand the need to keep calm. He taught me that it is important to be able to assess a situation, know yourself and understand what you can and can’t do, and what each person in your team can and can’t do, before you decide on a course of action.”
9. Who is your real-life leadership inspiration and why?
“It was my father, until he died when I was 29 years old. Now I’m really impressed by my mother. She’s 83, but she’s great at leading the family. The way she manages expectations and information is incredible – I’m thinking about writing a book about her leadership style at that age when I retire!”
10. People say that the world is having a leadership crisis right now. How can we manage that crisis?
“I don’t believe that it is a leadership crisis. Rather, it is the anxiety derived from two different forces – one is the ageing population and the other is the fast pace of change, especially technological change. There is a problem with people living longer but giving up earlier, partly because they feel daunted by technology.
“The solution to this issue, in my view, is life-long learning, especially collaborative learning. Our leaders need to bring hope to people and give them training so that they can stay useful in terms of intellectual output over many more years. I’m devoting my life to this endeavor.”