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Paul Dupuis’s fascination with leadership started as a child growing up in Canada. Serving as president of the high school student council taught him the “hard knocks of leadership”, and as a keen ice-hockey player, he spent time both as a team captain and as a team member – so, in his own words, he “learnt about following as well as leading”.
In adult life, Dupuis’s interests led him to work in management consulting and recruitment. His philosophy in life is “always choose the biggest mountain” – an approach that has stood him in good stead through a number of challenging leadership roles in Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. In 2013, he took on the role of managing director of the recruitment and staffing firm Randstad in Japan, where his mission was to lead the globalisation and aggressive growth of a domestic firm that the company had acquired there.
Two years ago Dupuis tackled another mountain, moving to Randstad India as managing director and chief executive officer – the first non-Indian in the role. In a firm that has 22 offices across the country spanning different industries, geographies and multiple local languages, it’s a role, he says, that calls for a “high level of agility.”
That rich experience of leading different organisations in a number of countries has enabled Dupuis to reflect on the qualities that make a good leader. Now he is putting that knowledge into a book called The E-Five, designed to introduce a “fresh new model of effective leadership”.
The model, which Dupuis uses to underpin his own leadership, consists of five E’s that leaders need to be able to embody if they are to succeed: envision, express, excite, enable and execute.
A leader has to have a vision for their team or organisation; articulate that vision; inspire other people to achieve the vision; create the conditions (such as tools and training) that make achieving it possible; and, finally, carry that vision through to measurable results. These five E’s apply to leadership in any situation, from running a country to captaining a five-a-side football team.
An avid sportsman himself, one of Dupuis’s many sporting examples relates to the Japanese women’s soccer team. In 2011, the shock of their country’s recent tsunami gave them a “fierce sense of purpose” that propelled a team of medicore talent to World Cup victory. The Es even apply to parenting, says Dupuis, who admits using them when helping his teenage and adult children make their life choices.
So how did the five E’s come about? Their genesis dates back to Dupuis’ time in Singapore, when he was working across several Southeast Asian countries, launching operations and making acquisitions for his firm. The more he worked across borders, he began to recognise that, when it comes to leadership, the similarities between countries were bigger than the differences. It was that realisation that led him to develop a model that works “regardless of culture or border”.
When he then took on the senior leadership role at Randstad in Japan, the model became his “North Star” – a guiding principle that has stood him in good stead. He has shared the model with his own leadership teams and it’s now a core part of his mentoring, coaching and succession planning.
It is a rare leader who is good at all aspects of leadership, says Dupuis – and few leaders perform well at all five Es. Some will fail at the very first hurdle – formulating a clear vision from which everything else flows. A good vision needs to capture people’s imagination: a vision to be the “most trusted and admired company in our industry” is more likely to inspire people than one that aims at increasing profits by 5%.
“A person who is highly educated will come up with the most amazing vision, which is complex, well-thought out, may even include rubrics and even a formula or eloquent words and so on,” says Dupuis. “And that looks good at first glance, but because it is so eloquent, it’s difficult to digest.”
One CEO in India explained a “vision” over 10 PowerPoint slides. “The chances of the people who you present it to being able to recollect and really have it become part of their DNA are slim to none,” says Dupuis. “So I think that’s the first mistake a lot of leaders make – the grand vision simply becomes too grand.”
Other leaders can be good at formulating a vision, but be poor at expressing it. The important quality a leader needs is to be self-aware, so that they understand their own strengths and limitations. Game-changing leaders are not afraid to ask for help from colleagues who can fill in the gaps. Steve Jobs, Dupuis points out, needed help with creating a vision that the average person in Apple could understand. “Once his marketing team helped him craft this, then they just sent him out on stage into the world and immediately he knocked it out of the park.”
The biggest test of the E-Five model came with Dupuis’ move to Randstad India. After many years in Japan, he was comfortable with the culture and fluent in Japanese. Stepping into his new role, he knew he was a fish out of water and that it was important “not to make assumptions about what would work here because it worked somewhere else. I first needed to learn the lay of the land, including the key motivators of the local team.”
Exciting people around a compelling vision “comes easily in the fastest growing economy in the world, and there is an abundance of tools available to enable the team to succeed.” His vision for Randstad India is three-fold. First, he says, the company must “honour the past, focus on the future”. In other words, it’s important not to neglect or disregard what’s happened in the company’s history, but it’s also important to look ahead. Secondly, it must “look in the mirror, raise the bar”. Dupuis explains: “Instead of pointing at others and coming up with reasons externally why we can't achieve our goals, you need to look in the mirror and create a culture of, ‘It starts with me, what can I do better?’” And then raise the bar, be ambitious.” The third and final element is a unifying one: “One Randstad – we win together.”
Dupuis’ long experience has enabled him to identify his own strengths and the areas that need work: “Each experience has helped me improve on each of these. When I went back to Japan after Singapore and joined Randstad in 2013, it put me in a very different environment. I was able to come up with a vision that was clear and I could express it but the enabling piece was a challenge. I just didn’t know how to enable people to be successful and I had to really work on that one. And of course, if you don’t enable, you’re not going to execute.”
He adds: “It always comes down to execution. It’s just a wonderful story unless you execute. Four out of five is not going to cut it.” The flip side of working in a “land of abundance can also be a land of distraction”, he says. So it requires a “laser-sharp focus on execution.”
Sometimes an organisation needs someone who is particularly strong in one of the five Es at any one moment – and a good leader has to recognise that, Dupuis argues. A sports coach might excel at rebuilding an under-performing team, but less so at leading the team once it’s filled with superstars. “Maybe right now Randstad India needs a tough, focused, visionary inspirational leader, but perhaps after that the organisation will need somebody who is very strong on execution or on enabling,” he reflects.
Dupuis’s long career has been filled with successes and hurdles to overcome, but one suspects he may still have a few mountains left to climb. As he says: “If the challenge makes me nervous, afraid, scared, excited, then I’m in…and I bring the E-Five wherever I go!”