The Bregman Leadership Podcast
Episode 112

Rajeev Peshawaria

Open Source Leadership

In a fast-paced, technological world, what is the best kind of leader? The research Rajeev Peshawaria—Fortune 500 business consultant and author of Open Source Leadership—conducted shocked him. Discover the merits of autocratic leadership versus democratic leadership, what it means to have “leadership energy,” and the value of emotional integrity.


Book: Open Source Leadership
Bio: CEO of the Iclif Leadership and Governance Centre, author of the Wall Street Journal and Amazon best seller Open Source Leadership (McGraw Hill 2017), Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders (Simon & Schuster 2011), co-author of Be the Change (McGraw Hill 2014) and a regular writer for Forbes, Rajeev is an out-of-the-box thought leader on leadership, management and corporate governance. He has extensive global experience in leadership and organizational consulting, with a particular focus on uncovering personal and organizational “leadership energy.”



Peter: Welcome to the Bregman Leadership Podcast. I’m Peter Bregman, your host and CEO of Bregman Partners. This podcast is part of my mission to help you to get massive traction on the things that matter most.

With us today is Rajeev Peshawaria. He is the writer most recently of Open-Source Leadership: Reinventing Management When There’s No More Business as Usual. That’s the book that we’re going to be talking about. Rajeev and I go way back. Rajeev and I knew each other back in his Goldman days when I was doing a lot of work with Goldman and then when he was at Morgan Stanley and we did work together.t’s just a delight to see the work that Rajeev has been doing since our days when we played together. He’s now the CEO of Iclif Leadership and Governance Center. It’s a business leadership and strategy consultancy who works with fortune 500 companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations globally.

He was with Coca-Cola before he was with Goldman,actually, it was after Goldman and before Morgan, if I’m remembering your curricular correctly and it’s just a pleasure to have you with us. Thank you so much for being on the Bregman Leadership Podcast, Rajeev.

Rajeev: Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure.

Peter: Rajeev, I love the book and let’s ground this conversation and the research that you did with 16,000 people in 28 countries. Can you describe how you did the research, what you were looking for and then we’ll talk about some of the things that you found.

Rajeev: Sure. Typically, how I describe this is if I had a room full of people, I ask them raise your hand if you believe that just in the last five to seven years the world in which we live has changed dramatically because of technology. Of course everybody raises their hand, right? Then I follow up with the question, raise your hand this time if you believe management practice in large organizations has kept pace with that rapid pace of change and of course nobody raises their hand the second time. That’s what this book is all about. How profoundly has technology changed the way we live and work and how far behind traditional management practice is.

We went out to 16,000 people in 28 countries with some very specific questions to bring out the fact that management practice needs to change.

Peter: Maybe give us the shorthand version of here are some of the ways that the world has changed that impact management practice and management practice hasn’t been responsive to.

Rajeev: Okay. We live … The title, Open-Source Leadership, right? We live in the open-source era and what is the open-source era? Well, first of all everything is open, everything is transparent. Second, speed is everything. When everything is transparent, everything is open and speed is everything, you’ve got to innovate very, very quickly otherwise you die. The days of creating in-house incubators where you need a separate pass to go into that building and secretive world and take two years to come up with a new product, I think those days are over. You have to innovate much faster and therefore the biggest challenge is to find that innovation quickly and more frequently.

Peter: It’s interesting because when I think about the various campuses that I’ve been on and I think about Apple for example, my sense is Apple and maybe this is an example of what you’re saying, Apple still operates in a very secretive way, there’s lots of closed doors and private swipe cards that allow you to get in and I think Amazon does the same … when you think about the four big one’s, right? I guess it’s Amazon, Facebook, Google and Apple. They all still operate with a lot of faith in a very private non open-source methodology and I might argue it served them very well. Maybe you’re saying it won’t serve them well in the future? How do you explain that discrepancy?

Rajeev: Exactly the way you said it. It has served companies very well to be like that. Absolutely, no question about that but as the open-source era unfolds more, today you have a computer, you have a good internet connection and everybody is everywhere. Going forward, they’re going to have to speed up that rate of innovation because otherwise somebody else will do it cheaper, better, faster. Barriers of entry have gone pretty much.

Peter: Let me take Apple’s perspective, for a second. Apple would say, “we’re going to innovate because we’re going to get the best people that we can find who are willing to live in Cupertino.I we actually really go open-source then people are going to innovate past us faster because you’ve got a lot of good people out there who are going to take our ideas and move forward and so we don’t want to let out everything we know about Face ID because we want it to come on the iPhone X before it comes out anywhere else in as effective a way as we can put it out.”

I think the open-source era, you could argue, would drive companies to be even more secretive so that they don’t put out their ideas in an environment that anybody can take them and run with.

Rajeev: Yeah. When it comes to business leadership, everything is about striking the right balance, isn’t it?

Peter: Right.

Rajeev: I’m not talking about absolutes here but the fact is that the world has changed and we live and work incredible differently compared to what we did before weapons of mass destruction were in everybody’s pocket, I’m talking smartphone. That’s the issue that we have to understand.

Peter: Great. What is open-source leadership?

Rajeev: Open-source leadership then is about operating in the open-source era. Now, coming back to this question that you asked, I got very curious about the fact that you buy any literature on leadership or pick or reference any literature on leadership either online or in the bookstore and chances are that it sings the praises of democratic all inclusive kind of leadership, isn’t it? Autocratic leadership is frowned upon. Yet you see people like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and they rock the history of the planet by doing just the opposite. They are all autocrats.

Peter: Let’s define autocrat.

Rajeev: An autocrat is somebody who … The simplest way of thinking about it is my way or the highway. I don’t care, we’re going to do it this way. On the one hand, you have all the leadership literature that sings glories of the democratic all inclusive, I love you all style of leadership, yet you look at the most successful leaders in business and politics and they have changed the history of the world by doing the exact opposite. I was curious as to which one of the two is true. All that literature or the reality and the names that I just mentioned. This is where it was one of the few things that we asked the 16,000 people, what do you think?

28 countries, every single country overwhelmingly agreed that we needed … in today’s day and age of speed, autocratic leadership is required. There is no time to build consensus and that’s not going to get us anywhere, it’s going to slow us down. We were incredibly surprised that there was no exception. All 28 countries returned the same data.

Peter: It makes sense when you think about it that with the amount of anarchic approach to innovation, you need a unifying principle and you need a collective aligned focus that will bring everybody on the same page so that anarchy doesn’t beget more anarchy but it actually results in a product or a service or some way of coming into the marketplace with the organization.

Rajeev: You bet. Leaders by definition are dreamers of the future. If you dreamt up a future that doesn’t exist right now, others are not necessarily with you at that at time because you’ve seen a picture of a better tomorrow that you want to build that others haven’t seen. The question is, are you going to wait until the last person jumps onto the bandwagon and then get started or are you going to try and accelerate that pace?

Peter: Right. That’s great. Okay. The autocratic leadership is what people are asking for and I’m assuming that the survey didn’t just talk to the leaders but it talked to a broad swath of people organizationally. It’s like they’re asking for their leaders to be more autocratic.

Rajeev: Absolutely. We were very disturbed by the data and we weren’t sure whether it was right in the first place does that mean that while we have idolized democratic leadership, secretly we’ve always wanted somebody to tell us what to do? Is that what it is? We asked the same question multiple times in different ways and every time we got back the same result.

Peter: Is what you’re saying the fact which is that secretly, we want people to tell us what to do?

Rajeev: That’s what it seems to suggest. Otherwise, why would everybody agree so overwhelmingly about it?

Peter: You talk about five keys to practicing autocratic leadership. I you want to be a more autocratic leadership, what do you have to do? Or as an autocratic leader, what do you have to do?

Rajeev: Before I answer that, obviously saying that you need to be more autocratic sounds not right and all kinds of notions come to the mind about dictatorship and all kinds of negative connotations come to mind but here is the beauty of the open-source era. Leaders today are completely exposed. Every action, every word of theirs is out there in the open. Ordinary people on the other hand are more empowered than ever before in human history. Why? Because everybody has this in their pockets these days and I can destroy or make somebody’s reputation within minutes using this weapon of mass destruction.

Peter: Just to be clear because we’re video but we’re also audio, is what you’re holding up an iPhone, a mobile device?

Rajeev: Sorry about that. Yes, exactly. A smart phone. In an era where ordinary people are more empowered than ever before in human history, and leaders are so exposed, exposed to the point of being naked, I think there’s a built in audit mechanism here. We have to take responsibility for our actions. Leaders in that sense are in the position where they have to be responsible for what they do. People on the other hand will not let you be an autocrat even if you want to be. The data says, you need to be autocratic to be successful but ordinary people are so empowered, they won’t let you. What does somebody do?

That is where the five keys of positive autocracy come in and I won’t go through all five of them but let’s take one for example we say … By the way, I call them naked autocrats because you are so exposed that you to the extent of being naked and therefore a naked autocrat. One of the keys is you master the dance of the naked autocrat. What does that mean? You be completely autocratic about your values and your purpose, the better future that you want to create in the world and with certain amount of values. Be completely autocratic. Do not let others crush that vision. At the same time, learn to be completely humble and respectful with people. Literally, you have to balance two opposites. That’s one of the keys.

Peter: Yes, because you’ve got these autocratic leaders like Steve Jobs, who some people might say was abusive, and you see that with a lot of autocratic leaders. You look at Uber, you actually start to hear a few murmurings of that, of Elon Musk.There’s a downside to this autocratic leadership which is that the personality that tends to step in to being an autocrat, is also a personality by the way who innovates in an environment beyond other people’s wildest dreams, feels like the boundaries that normally contain most people don’t apply to them. This is how they’re able to send rockets into space and build electric cars and create life changing devices that people use.I guess that’s when you’re talking about the respect piece. The downside is the rules don’t apply to them which is how they’re able to be so successful because they break through the rules that other people say you can’t break through. It’s true also in terms of how they treat other human beings.

Rajeev: It’s interesting you mentioned Steve Jobs. It’s been 10 years since his passing almost and I argue if he was alive today and operating in the way that he operated, people wouldn’t allow him because people are much more empowered today than 10 years ago thanks to technology. He wasn’t a good master of the dance of the naked autocrat. He was very, very particular about his purpose and his values, whatever they might be but the other part which is simultaneously being humble and respectful with people, he was not good with that and I argue if he was operating today, he would have trouble with that.

Somebody like Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, he was a master of that. He used to always say, “Look, if the answer was a no the first time, it should remain a no but the people must be told politely, you absolutely lose nothing with politeness.” He was a champion at that.

Peter: Right. You’re saying you need to keep the same sort of confidence that you have as a leader and marry that with some humility which is a hard combination of confidence and humility. I talk a fair amount about this combination because when we develop leaders, it feels like that’s what we’re trying to develop: humility and confidence together.

Rajeev: I call it humble confidence which is the same idea.

Peter: Humble confidence which is the same idea, right. Which is you’re willing to break things but you’re still very respectful of people and it’s a hard combination to find in people.

Rajeev: It is. Following along with that, another of the five keys is give people freedom within a framework. Every organization has a set of values in their hallways and on their websites and everything, right? Corporate values.

Peter: Right.

Rajeev: Yet every organization has a lot of rules and policies and procedures and the larger the organization gets, more rules, more policies, more procedures. There comes a point in time, imagine a two by two quadrant, a classic two by two consultant matrix on the one axis you have values on the other hand you have rules and policies and before long, the rules and policies box becomes bigger and bigger and bigger at the expense of everything else. It becomes a bureaucracy. What if instead of running the company by rules, policies and procedures we run the company by values and building a culture of values.

I’ll give you a quick example. Some months ago we all noticed the story of United Airlines dragging out Dr. Dao in a bloody state from the aircraft when he refused to give up his seat. Now the first words that came out of the CEO’s office was “my people did nothing wrong, they were following stated company procedure”, remember?

Peter: Right.

Rajeev: The employees of United had not followed stated company procedure but had followed stated company values, the values tell them to beat somebody up and walk him out of the plane like that. If we build a culture based on values, where do rules come from? They come from values anyways but rules in today’s day of speed get outdated before the ink dries on them whereas values have a longer shelf life so building a culture based on values giving freedom within the framework is one of the keys as well.

Peter: Talk to us about leadership energy and what you mean by that.

Rajeev: In this book, I’ve tried to paint a picture of how the world is changing. On the one had technology is creating amazing opportunities for things that are possible. On the other … the two main parts to the open-source era, uber connectivity which is creating amazing business models and also obliterating amazing business models. The other theme of the open-source era is uber populated. We’re 7.5 billion people going up to 10 billion people.

Peter: I was talking about that with my wife last night just in terms of resources and the potential for calamity, not just earth calamity but also how we as human beings deal with other human beings when we’re doubling in size in such a short period of time. Maybe that’s a conversation for another time but I want you to know that that part of your book got me and my wife in an interesting conversation around that.

Rajeev: As it should because people are underestimating that aspect, the uber populated. Everybody talks about the Asian century because most of these people are going to be born in Asia so there’s a whole slew of new consumers and new customers and everybody wants to sell their cars and their wears to Asia but get this, just one quick one. Currently we’re 7.5 billion people, almost 6 out of the 7.5 billion have a mobile phone in their pocket but only 4.5 billion have access to a working toilet and most of these toilet-less people are in Asia.

The point is that when you look at the uber population and challenge … The world today, the open-source era has amazing opportunities ahead of us thanks to technology but also amazing challenges. Leadership cannot be anymore about showing up at work, pushing paper, giving commands and getting things done. Leadership cannot be about just promoting shareholder value those days are over. Leadership has to be about creating a better future, it has to be … We equate anybody in a position of power as a leader. Somebody wins an election, we call them the leader of the country, somebody gets appointed CEO, we call them the leader of the company but is leadership a title? Is it an adjective or is it a verb?

What I’m trying to get at is when they’re daunting challenges and exciting opportunities ahead of us leadership has to be a burning desire to create a better future and your question was what is leadership energy? Now, what happens when you say to people I want to create a better future come with me, you get nothing but resistance. Active resistance, passive resistance, all kinds of resistance and we argue that the main ingredient for leadership is not a competency model. It’s certainly not a best practice case study because last I checked at the dictionary, copying somebody else’s behavior was an act of followership not leadership.

You need a tremendous amount of inner energy in order to not give up in the face of resistance and adversity. That’s what we call fore leadership energy. You know the little drink 5-hour Energy, right? Which they sell on the highways. I’m not talking about five hour energy, I am talking about 27 year energy. Why 27 years? That is the amount of energy that Nelson Mandela had through 27 years of prison and he still did not give up. That is the kind of energy that Soichiro Honda had for 20 years of continuous failure before he was able to found the Honda Motor Company.

Peter: You really talk about leadership being developable and my question is, how do you develop that?

Rajeev: Yes. Is this kind of leadership that goes on for 27 years or 20 years in case of Honda, is this something sort of genetic, is this a gene, is it God-given or is it developable and I am in the camp that says it’s very much developable. Long lasting leadership energy, there are two primary sources and one secondary source but let’s talk about the two primary ones. What do people like Gandhi and Mandela and Soichiro Honda have in common? One, they are crystal clear about a set of values with which they will run their life and those values they will never ever compromise no matter what happens.

When Mandela came out of prison and he said “we’re going to forgive and we’re going to reconcile.” Even his wife and his daughter left him but he did not compromise his value. It’s about knowing value not just those values but the ability to stand by them even when it hurts. Second, they have a values based purpose in life. Every time they feel like giving up, they close their eyes and imagine that purpose and imagine that better future that energizes them again. Combination of values and purpose clarity gives you long lasting energy.

Peter: It’s really a question of what do you care most about and most deeply about that you’re willing to trade everything to make happen.

Rajeev: Well said. That is in essence leadership energy fueled by that strong conviction in values and a values purpose and if your purpose is greater than yourself, if your purpose is based on your values, you lose fear.

Peter: Right. Any advice you have for people as to how to discover or pinpoint or connect with those values?

Rajeev: That is the billion dollar question, isn’t it? There is no shortcut. The only way to discover values and convert those values into a values based purpose is deep honest reflection. Hence we talk about a term called emotional integrity. You’ve heard a lot about emotional intelligence and I’ve got nothing against emotional intelligence. If I sit and speak everything that comes to my mind without paying any attention to your needs, that’s not going to … or anybody else’s, that’s not going to put me in good stead.

Yes, I should worry about my emotions and other people’s emotions and act smartly, intelligently but what I’m talking about is emotional integrity which the courage to look in the mirror and admit to yourself without guilt without using the societal lens what I really want for myself. That’s the basis of discovering values and purpose because a lot of people … I’ll give you a very interesting example. We’ve been collecting data from hundreds of thousands of people. One of the questions we ask is this. What’s the most important thing in your life? What do you care about the most? Can you guess anywhere in the world what’s the majority answer?

If you were to ask an audience of 100 people what’s the most important thing in your life, what would be the most frequently heard answer?

Peter: I would think it has to do with relationships.

Rajeev: In particular, family. Family is the most commonly given answer when we ask people anywhere in the world and we’ve done this in over 100 countries now.

Peter: But then you ask the question, how many people actually prioritize their family?

Rajeev: Exactly. When somebody says family, what I typically do is I pick up their diary and I flip through six months and I say sorry, you just lied to me. How do you say that? Because you failed the diary test. There’s nothing in your diary that tells me that family is your number one priority. Emotional integrity is the courage to look in the mirror and admit that what I really want for myself is this and I don’t care what society says because you can’t make yourself happy, you can’t make other people happy.

Peter: Rajeev, I’ve missed you. It’s such a pleasure to talk with you and it reminds me of conversations that we’ve had in the past and I’m so happy that you came on the podcast and that you wrote this book. The book is Open-Source Leadership: Reinventing Management Where There’s No More Business as Usual. It’s Rajeev Peshawaria and if you’ve enjoyed this conversation, you’ll enjoy the book.

Rajeev, I think your ideas are really important and groundbreaking. What I like is that you both have the organizational big picture 30,000 foot view and you’re also talking about how you figure out what your values are because that’s what it really comes down to. And that combination of the individual and the organization and who we are as people and how do we lead is critical. Maybe the most important thing for how we move forward. Thanks for highlighting that in your book and on this podcast.

Rajeev: Thank you very much for having me. It was great talking to you.

Peter: I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Bregman leadership podcast. If you did, it would really help us if you subscribe on iTunes and leave a review. A common problem that I see in companies is a lot of busyness, a lot of hard work that fails to move the organization as a whole forward. That’s the problem that we solve with our big arrow process. For more information about that or to access all of my articles videos and podcasts visit

Thank you Clare Marshall for producing this episode and thank you for listening.