When you lead others it’s about them not you. Many leaders struggle with this idea especially those with big egos. The truth is that without followers there isn’t a need for a leader. People need to see their own interests aligned with yours. In addition, there needs to be something that holds them together besides the strength of your personality, size of your brain, and/or level of your self-confidence.
I’ve met many business owners through the years who admit that if something happened to them the business would have a hard time continuing operations for any period of time. This always makes me nervous. Leadership isn’t about building dependency upon any one person. It is about getting a group of people working interdependently towards a common goal. Of course it’s much harder to do this when you are relatively small, but as you begin to grow and add staff, you should be constantly thinking about building operational redundancy and minimizing personnel/performance risk.
I often meet business owners/leaders who think they have it all figured out. Whenever this happens a red flag goes up for me right away. The best leaders I know are in a constant learning mode. They are very aware of what they don’t know and need to learn. They soak up information like a sponge and are energized by new thoughts and ideas. Leaders who are unwilling to admit their own shortcomings or lack of knowledge are eventually confronted with the very reality they are ignoring. It may take time, but it always happens. It’s even worse if they are completely unaware of where they fall short and end up getting blindsided. In leadership positions, ignorance is not bliss.
Admitting you don’t know enough about something to make a good decision is a sign of wisdom. Being open to alternative points of view and challenging you own conceits is the pathway to professional maturity. Listening without judgment is a prerequisite for effective leadership. Arguing for the sake of arguing or being unyielding in your positions is sign of emotional immaturity and intellectual bravado. This doesn’t mean that you don’t remain steadfast to core principles or have some non-negotiables, but if everything fits this description, then you are nothing more than a roadblock to success and progress.
I’ve seen many talented leaders and managers get in their own way when it comes to getting their point across. They almost seem oblivious or worse indifferent to the vibe in the room and how their message is being received. You can be right, but alienate other people if you are not careful. How you communicate can often be as important as what you communicate. Going all the way back to our grade schools days, nobody likes a “know it all.” Arrogance is a very unattractive personality trait. We all pay close attention to how those in positions of authority treat other people.
There is no such thing as passive leadership. Leaders lead – it really is that simple. Instead of shying away from a challenge, leaders embrace it. When others are hesitant to take action, leaders step up and seize the initiative. Instead of folding under pressure, leaders thrive under the spotlight and find the harder parts of their job the most rewarding. Leaders intuitively know that everything important begins and ends with them, but the middle part is a team effort and they allow others to step up and share their individual and collective strengths as needed. The best leaders only say “I” when it involves shouldering the blame, but say “we” when it means sharing the credit.
Every business leader should be able to make the case clearly and succinctly why their company is the preferred choice. You won’t always have alot of time to communicate your position. In fact, the more words you use, the less likely your audience will be able to remember your message. I’ve seen many talented executives and business owners stumble on this point. Sometimes the answer to a very simple question gets lost in muddled thinking or a genuine lack of understanding. A critical step in leadership success is to figure out why you should be in business in the first place.
What strikes me the most is how many organizations view planning as an event to get through rather than the impetus for an ongoing strategic dialogue that is critical to long term success. When it comes to planning, you are never done, just sharpening your focus and increasing your performance capability as you go along.
In my experience, the best leaders are comfortable in multiple and diverse work and social settings. They are able to adjust their style to meet the needs of their audience or conform to the group dynamics. They understand that a leader without a receptive audience is handcuffed in his/her ability to turn a vision into reality. People tend to connect with others that they feel they can relate to. All conversations are a search for some level of common ground. The quicker you get there the sooner you can focus on the purpose of the discussion.
There is no more important job of a leader that providing clarity about the mission, vision, values, competitive positioning and direction of the company. Without this information, employees are simply making it up as they go along and/or reacting to events as they occur rather that proactively making the “right” things happen.
…the ultimate goal of any business should be to have high quality employees who are focused on providing value-added services to a loyal and growing client base in an efficient and profitable manner.
I am worried that many of our leaders have become way too tactical and reactive these days. Instead of seeing the big picture they are getting mired in the details and forging ahead with actions that will have less than optimal impact on the problems/challenges they are trying to address. Actions should never drive strategy. Strategy should drive action. There are also rarely simple solutions to complicated issues. Sometimes you need to step back and actually think through what you are doing before you do it (especially in times of crisis).
There is a great benefit to working with a wide variety of clients for a number of years. You start to recognize patterns; seeing what works and what gets organizations in trouble.
I often get asked for a checklist of management improvement ideas. While the following list isn’t exhaustive, I believe it is a good start for anyone who would like to audit their existing business situation:
Business is not war. As business leaders we aren’t engaged in a life or death struggle that requires us to win at all costs. We do a disservice to our fellow citizens who are actually engaged in multiple military conflicts to speak or think in this manner. Failure may be painful but it isn’t fatal for us or for our employees. What matters is that we do our best regardless of the circumstances and hold on to our integrity. Our competitors aren’t the enemy, but instead are other companies that exist to keep us honest and force us to keep delivering value to our customers and make wise financial decisions.
One of the biggest dangers to success is comfort. I see it all the time. On the way up, people have an edge. They push themselves towards goals achievement. Obstacles are seen as inconveniences that simply need to be overcome. Motivation is never an issue. Energy seems boundless. Leadership focus is laser-like and distractions are managed accordingly. Then success happens and it all changes…