Chris LeGrand is the President of DAI Global Health. His new book, The Complete Business Leader, published in August, lays out a framework for business leadership, drawing on 30 years of experience in health, development, and technology consulting. LeGrand guides the reader through seven dimensions of leadership—individual wisdom, relationship management, thought leadership, business growth, people leadership, project management, and business management—while steadily making the case that the key to enduring impact lies in pulling those dimensions together.
We sat down with Chris to get his thoughts on the launch of his first book.
When did the germ of this idea come to you?
“I began to think about this model early in my career, as an internal framework for my own journey. I started out as a technical person you see, and I realized I needed to be more rounded to be a better leader.
“Then at Constella Group, where we developed a strong people development culture, I formalized my thinking and implemented a leadership development approach around these Complete Business Leader dimensions. At Futures Group [now Palladium] I continued refining the leadership framework, using it for hiring, developing, and evaluating leaders.”
When did you start writing?
“I probably wrote half to two-thirds in the year I spent on my own between leaving Futures and joining DAI to lead DAI Global Health. But then things really got busy at DAI and the book fell by the wayside. Last summer I decided to buckle down again.”
If you had to sum up the book in a sentence, what would you say is the main takeaway?
“That organizations will have more impact if and when their leaders are well-rounded and grounded, can work with and inspire diverse teams, and make decisions based on a holistic grasp of diverse kinds and sources of information.”
Chris LeGrand answers questions from the media about a global health program. Photo: Chris LeGrand.
Why do Complete Business Leaders succeed?
“Perhaps it was less critical 50 or 100 years ago, but today it’s inescapable: you simply can’t afford to be one-dimensional. Today, there are so many factors to consider simultaneously in any significant decision. You can’t make that decision absent the people point of view, or the business and finance point of view, or the public relations point of view. Complete Business Leaders have that comprehensive frame of reference and can bring the big picture together for others—that’s a gift but also a capacity you can work on, as I hope to show in the book.”
The book is about business and organizational leadership writ large—not the health or development or IT sectors. But will it speak particularly to people in those fields?
“I certainly think so. There’s a tremendous upheaval in the health and development industry. Take the private sector engagement imperative. Private companies have a very different lens when it comes to measuring and validating impact. Our traditional ways of communicating with and serving customers like USAID will not necessarily work with commercial clients. Equally, if USAID or other donors move toward more of a payment-by-results regime, we need to move accordingly. To do that we need to master a multidimensional approach that takes into account and brings to bear every aspect of the high-impact business.
“Localization is another example. Localization demands flexibility in an organization and agility in its leaders. You have to be capable of working with all kinds of people in all kinds of environments, in all kinds of relationships, including relationships that may upend traditional hierarchies.”
Why now? Is there something that makes this approach to leadership relevant at this moment?
“Perhaps, in the sense that technology has changed the ballgame for everyone, especially the speed with which you need to process data and make decisions. In an increasingly global and integrated knowledge economy, you really need to make those decisions on the basis of a well-rounded appraisal linking disparate people and sources of information.”
Is there some aspect of this leadership model that’s particularly applicable to your role as head of DAI Global Health?
[Laughs]. “I would say it’s the full manifestation of all seven dimensions.
“But seriously, at the base of the model is self-knowledge, and trying to build a business in the context of a larger, established organization has certainly required me to understand who I am, who I’m not. The relationship management component of good leadership has been crucial: coming in and gaining people’s trust, joining teams, attracting talent. The thought leadership component is also critical as we try to introduce something new to the market. And now that we’re winning and implementing programs, there’s that grasp of financials, business growth, project management—the whole thing.
“Getting all those pieces to fit has required me to bring my best self every day. Not that I do of course…that’s just the gold standard you aspire to.”
LeGrand speaks at the annual awards gala for the Triangle Global Health Consortium, where he was Board Chair for four years. Photo: Chris LeGrand.
What steps can young professionals take if they want to become Complete Business Leaders?
“Even as undergrads young people are too often pushed down some single track. From my own experience, I would say resist that. It may take you a little longer to get where you’re going, but on the other side, you’ll emerge a better professional and better able to take on a range of challenges. I encourage people to try a lot of things, be a sponge, particularly early in your career.
“In my case, I started as a statistician, an analyst, but I was lucky enough to be given a chance to learn accounting and finance, an experience I describe in the book as an ‘on-the-job MBA.’ It transformed my whole career.”
You describe the book as a framework for impact in work and in life. Why “impact” rather than, say, “success”?
“It’s a great question. And I remember thinking a lot about that exact question deciding on a subtitle for the book. Success, to me, sounds temporal and superficial. Success suggests a short-term view, what have you done for me lately—impact is about the long term. Success is winning a project today. Impact is enabling a generation of people to get access to safe water, quality healthcare, decent education, and economic opportunity, and their kids having the freedom to dream and fulfill those dreams.”
And that framework goes beyond work?
“For me, my personal and professional worlds have been intimately intertwined. I consciously choose to seek a purpose for my life and my work, and they’re integrated, not separate. Everything I do has an impact on my life and the people around me—and vice versa. I want to ensure that my life has meaning and that I have left things better than I found them.”