Leadership can be hard, challenging and humbling, but it should also be fun and rewarding. It should give you energy not just take it. If you are in a constant state of stress and/or unhappiness, you should really ask yourself what’s wrong with what you are doing. It is a genuine privilege to lead others. In almost all cases, assuming the mantle of leadership is a choice. Rarely is it forced upon you and even when it is you should learn to embrace the opportunity because the alternative makes no sense.
In my experience there are two types of leaders: those who build alliances across the span of their career and those who leave casualties in their wake. It’s always a pleasure to work with people who operate in the former category. Leaders require followers and the more people who see themselves in your camp the better. At the end of your career, you will hopefully be able to look back and see many lives that you have changed for the better and a large number of mutually beneficial relationships. Approaching life from a win-win perspective just makes plain common sense.
John Mellencamp has a great line in one of his songs that goes, “you’ve got to stand for something, or your gonna fall for anything…” In my experience working with leaders in both the for profit and no profit sectors, this couldn’t be more true. There is nothing more frustrating than working with someone who is not sure what he/she believes in and/or the difference they want to make in the world. By the way, making more money should be an outcome of doing something else well not the sole objective. I can sometimes quibble with what people come up with but it is very helpful and informative if I know what someone values and where they stand. A ship without a rudder will drift anywhere.
Imagine if someone was rushed to the Emergency Room of a hospital with severe symptoms of something wrong and then decided to tell the doctor that that it was no big deal and then selectively shared information about their true physical state. You would think this person was being irresponsible with their health. This happens all the time in business. Leaders let their pride and ego get in the way and it prevents them form being forthright and honest at the very time they need to be. I’ve seen many a business go down the tubes that didn’t have to because the leader was slow to act, slow to ask for help and unwilling to face reality. Avoidance rarely works in business or life.
I chair two CEO/Business Owner peer groups for Vistage International. It is a great work that I truly find rewarding on many levels. One of the many benefits of this experience is listening to many subject matter expert speakers and having a vast pool of knowledgeable colleagues to tap into. A few stand out from this exceptional crowd including the speaker we had yesterday – Pat Murray. I have a learned a great deal from him about leadership and group dynamics. When you are in the presence of an expert, make sure you listen to him/her.
Time is finite. No matter how hard we try, we can’t create more of it, so we have to manage the time we have in the best way possible. A leader typically has no time to waste. You need to minimize distractions and maximize your focus. Here are some tips on how to manage your time better:
I’ve met many talented people through the years who struggle with self-confidence and low self-esteem. I don’t know if it is how they were raised by their parents or other environmental factors in their lives growing up, but it is often surprising to see and also a bit sad. Unfortunately, leadership roles aren’t always assumed by the most capable or well intentioned people. I’ve seen the flip side of this issue where people with too much self-confidence put themselves in positions they have no business being in. The leadership void will get filled one way or another.
It is fascinating to watch the Olympics for many reasons including watching how the different athletes handle pressure. Some people seem to seize the moment with relative ease while others sadly fall apart and make uncharacteristic mistakes. When you get to this level of performance excellence just about every competing athlete has superlative physical gifts and natural ability. What separates the winners from the losers is often their mental toughness and emotional resiliency. They have grace under pressure.
It’s easy to sucked into petty disputes and inter-office politics, but as the leader you need to rise above it. You must always remember that your employees take their cultural cues from you. You are a role model! If you get enmeshed in office gossip then they will. If you use a divide and conquer management approach than they will do the same. If you treat people poorly and/or without proper etiquette then bad behavior towards others will become acceptable. If you have a short fuse, then anger will become an acceptable management strategy.
A big red flag for me is when I encounter a leader who is always sitting behind his/her desk or always in meetings in their office. I am also not a fan of a constant open door policy, but having your door closed all the time is much worse. You need to get up from your chair, walk out of your office and circulate amongst your employees. In addition, you need to also be out in the field regularly meeting with your top customers and business partners. Leadership is an active not passive activity.
A leader’s primary job is to rally people around a common goal and convince them they are capable of much more than they think they are. People talk themselves out of success all the time. For the average person it is easy to identify obstacles and reasons why things can’t happen. As a result, we tend to lower the bar so we can make our goals achievable. Leaders should never lower the bar. They should expect more of themselves and their organizations and never settle for being average or second best.
You can never lose your edge in business as a leader. The moment you get complacent your organization becomes vulnerable to its competitors and the vagaries of the marketplace. I’ve seen many good companies and talented leaders get caught off guard by changes taking place in their industry or economic realities they were slow to identify and adapt to. The pace of change is only accelerating as the world becomes flatter, technological innovations come more quickly, and customers push for more options at lower prices. Being good enough no longer works, at least not for any extended period of time. Today’s champion is tomorrow’s goat if he/she gets complacent or rests on his/her laurels.
When you opt to assume a leadership role you need to put yourself out there. Like it or not, you job requires ongoing personal and professional development under the gaze of various levels of public scrutiny. Most people shy away from the spotlight but leaders don’t have that choice. You need become comfortable with being uncomfortable. The good news is that courage is often rewarded in life. It’s probably why you have your leadership role in the first place.
Most people don’t like change. They tend to prefer what they know to what they don’t know. There is always an element of fear when you are dealing with uncertainty. For some reason, our first reaction is that we will end up losing something and/or being worse off. Our defensive mechanisms kick-in and we resist “the new order of things.”
Leaders should be in a constant learning mode. Once you think you know it all give up the reigns of power because you will become detrimental to your organization. While some basic fundamental beliefs may remain true regardless of the circumstances, most of what takes place in business is in a constant state of flux. Your goal should be to stay ahead of the change curve not fall behind it. One way to do this is to keep asking questions and seeking answers. You can never be smart enough.
One of the interesting things I find with high performing people is that they are usually harder on themselves than anyone else could be. Sure there are some exceptions – leaders who just self-confidence, but this is rarer than you think. There is usually something that drives an individual to excel. You hope the motivation is a positive one; however this isn’t always the case. I still remember one of my top clients saying several years ago that fear of failure is a good motivator and he didn’t know what he would do if ever actually embraced and enjoyed his success. I found this to be sad and he couldn’t understand why.
It’s easy to get caught up in your own world. Since we pretty much live in our own head, it’s natural to filter everything that happens through how it affects us. However, leaders to need to elevate their thinking to incorporate the bigger picture. The needs of the organization as a whole need to take priority over any one person’s agenda. No leader is ever successful alone. You need employees, clients, vendors, professional advisors and a supportive family. You may sometimes have to sacrifice what you want or desire as an individual for the greater good.
You have to believe in what it is you are doing before you can fully believe in yourself. Life is a constant search for meaning and understanding. The tragedy of many people’s lives is that they are unwilling to put themselves out there because they won’t put forth the required effort, are afraid of public scrutiny and lack the courage of their convictions. Being the hero of your own life isn’t easy.
It’s important for everyone to get involved in their community but especially business owners/leaders. No business operates in full isolation from its surroundings. At minimum, you will want a friendly and cooperative relationship with your local public officials and community leaders. You will also want your employees to feel like they live in a place with a good quality of life. It is simple good business sense to be connected to and care about what takes place in your local environment.
Leadership is about people. The best leaders intuitively understand this reality and surround themselves with the best people possible. You can only ever accomplish so much alone. Achieving anything of significance usually requires leveraging the skills, talents and relationships of others. You need to be less worried about being the smartest person in the room and more focused on the collective intelligence of your organization. Over time, your own IQ end up being the average IQ of the ten people you spend the most time with.
It’s very important that leaders are clear about and enforce standards of acceptable behavior. You will never win long-term in an “anything goes” environment. Winning isn’t everything. Moreover, people will get easily confused if you take a situational approach to moral and ethical issues. If something is wrong for one person it is equally wrong for someone else (even in family businesses). One of my favorite quotes of all time is that “we are what we tolerate.”