Leadership is about making others smarter to better serve customers

By David De Cremer and Patrick Mancel

Since being founded in 1987 in Shenzhen by Ren Zhengfei, Huawei serves today more than three billion customers worldwide. To remain competitive as the top provider in the business, Huawei puts a strong emphasis in making a difference in the lives of both their employees and customers. They do this by fostering an intellectual work climate within their organisation.


It is often said that it is lonely at the top. Those in the highest leadership position know this all too well. At the same time, they also know that for their leadership to be effective, they need to rely on and collaborate with others. In the last two decades, the scholarly literature on leadership has moved from a focus on the leader as a unique individual with specific traits to a focus on the leader as someone who is part of the collective and in the process of representing that collective builds positive and trusting relationships with others to promote everyone’s interests. In this sense, leaders can only be effective through the efforts of those they lead, making that leadership has to be regarded as a two-way process. For this reason, leaders need to create circumstances in which they use their influence and power to make others perform better, contribute to their well-being and happiness, and even make those others wealthier.

Research has indeed shown that money can make people happy, but primarily so when they are able to spend it on others.1 Because primarily those with more influence and power possess more financial resources, the happiness of those in leading positions in a sense thus depends on making others wealthier. That is, sharing one’s wealth with others makes oneself happy. In a similar way, leaders can feel less lonely, happier and more effective, if they serve the (financial) interests of their followers. This two-way process in turn makes leaders more legitimate in the eyes of their followers and fosters compliance and cooperation. As a result, followers are more willing to help achieving the goals and purpose communicated by the one in charge. It is this ability to make followers accept a common purpose and its related values that make that leaders remain in the collective memory and exert influence on the long-term. Or, as a Chinese saying goes, “every generation has its heroes and each may lead the way for decades.”

By intellectually stimulating your employees, they think more deeply about the purpose of the company they work for and in turn decisions become meaningful.

One specific type of influence of leaders that helps to serve the long-term interests of organisations is to promote and develop the thinking of employees and foster an intellectual work climate. The ability and freedom of independent thought makes people experience a sense of autonomy and execution power that has a significant impact on how their career and life develop. Like the old Chinese saying goes: “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”  It is therefore no surprise that John F. Kennedy once noted that the engagement to “leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” By intellectually stimulating your employees, they think more deeply about the purpose of the company they work for and in turn decisions become meaningful. Based on this process, it stands to reason that promoting employees’ intellectual capabilities in understanding the purpose of the business will deliver better customer service.

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About the Authors

David De Cremer is the KPMG chaired professor in management studies at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK, and an affiliate at the Justice Collaboratory at Yale Law School, Yale University. He has published over more than 250 academic articles and book chapters and is the author of the book Pro-active Leadership: How to overcome procrastination and be a bold decision-maker and co-author of “Huawei: Leadership, culture and connectivity”.

Patrick Mancel has been a lawyer for 22 years in the areas of real estate contracts and law with a specific interest in developing trustworthy and legitimate decision-making procedures enacted by a variety of authorities. He is currently a law entrepreneur assisting and advising the organisation and re-organisation of justice service means to a wide variety of companies.



1. Dunn, E.W., Gilbert, D.T., & Wilson, T.D. (2011). “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.”Journal of Consumer Psychology,21, 115-125.

2. Tian, T., De Cremer, D., & Chunbo, W. (2017). Huawei: Leadership, culture and connectivity. Sage Publishing.

3. De Cremer, D. (2018). “Know your history! Why historical awareness makes you a better leader.” The Political Anthropologist.

4. De Cremer, D. (2013). “The proactive leader: How to overcome procrastination and make a bold decision now.” Palgrave Macmillan.

5. Moore, C., Oc, B., & De Cremer, D. (2018). “Literary fiction reading and humble leadership.” Paper in preparation, Bocconi University.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.