Have no illusions: being a good leader takes work. Even if you are a “born leader” you must continually work and learn to remain at the top of your game. The below tips are not intended to be a cure-all for poor leadership or an unwillingness to learn, but a starting point for aspiring good leaders who want to continually upgrade their team and remain on a winning footing.
1. Challenge your team. One of the rules Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric, sets out in his book “Winning” is “Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to evaluate, coach and build self-confidence” (page 65). In my 35 years of leadership in the military, industry and government, I have found self-confidence, in both leaders and those they lead to be a primary key to successful leadership. Build self-confidence in your team by giving them challenges where failure is not fatal and success brings positive recognition.
2. Spend less time on motivation and more on inspiration. Motivation looks like the way to go when you watch Tony Robbins, but motivation fades as soon as the motivator walks out of the room. However, inspiration, although often much less dramatic than motivation, touches the heart of your team and can often last a lifetime. When I was seven years old I heard a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr to a group of junior high students. In that speech he said “If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.” That was over 45 years ago and I still hold those words close to my heart – that is inspiration.
3. Be excellent and teach excellence. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” One of my teachers, T. Harv Eker (the T stands for “The”) likes to say “how you do anything is how you do everything,” and he’s right. Excellence is a habit.
4. Don’t be afraid to differentiate. This is a leadership cornerstone from Jack Welch. Everyone is not a winner and all employees should not be treated equally. Give the top 20 percent of your team excellent compensation, your attention, your mentorship and your public praise. Treat the middle 70 percent with candor and honesty and let them know that if they want your time and attention they need to progress to the top 20 percent. Use your emerging leaders in the top 20 percent to mentor those with potential in the middle 70 percent. The bottom 10 percent are holding your team back, show them the door.
5. If you are not sure about someone, don’t hire them! In today’s busy world many leaders look for the 80 percent solution when hiring employees. Be careful! Remember the Pareto Principle; that 20 percent of the employee’s background or personality that doesn’t fit may well eat up 80 percent of your leadership and management attention. Take the time and hire the right people. Mark Twain once said “the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug,” the same holds true for people!
6. Know thyself! In his book The 5 Levels of Leadership, John C. Maxwell details the skills and self-awareness a leader needs to progress from positional leadership (do it because I’m the boss and I said so) to the pinnacle of leadership where people follow you because of who you are and what you represent. If you are serious about being a great leader this book and Maxwell’s The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership should be on your bookshelf.
7. Understand that teamwork and leadership go together like Yin and Yang – you can’t be great at one without the other. Those who think teamwork is the answer to everything are just as wrong as those who think leadership works without a team. There may be no “I” in team but there is in winning! Balance your education and training, you need both.
8. Communicate the vision! Inability to communicate vision is a significant factor in leadership failure. Although it is important that you, as the leader, have the vision, it is critical that you are able to communicate the vision with energy and clarity to the workforce. If you are not good at communicating a message, have someone teach you! One of my best teachers in this area was Joel Roberts. Joel is a wizard at communicating and his course Excellence in Media: the Language of Impact is one of the best courses I’ve ever taken for communicating a vision.
9. No matter how bad things look, you can make them better. This tip comes from Colin Powell’s book It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership and is absolutely true. No matter how you feel or what you think, you must consistently maintain a positive attitude and a calm manner because your team is always watching and they will take their cue from you.
10. Celebrate! When things go right, even small things, celebrate! Be ready to recognize excellence on the spot and seize the momentum of success – energy flows where attention goes. I have presentation coins I carry that say “Presented by the Director for Excellence” that I hand out when someone knocks my socks off with a great performance or a magnificent idea. I also make it a point to have smaller celebrations at least once a week – even if it’s just cookies and a few minutes to chat with my excellent support staff and direct reports. Embrace success and what is right with the world, it makes all the difference.
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.