For most of us, at some point in our careers we will all be called to step up and take the lead. Whether it’s simply helping and coaching the new guys at work or starting your dream of leading a multinational organization, here are a few simple leadership lessons that you must learn for the sake of your team.
From Warren Bennis (“On Becoming a Leader”)
Crises, abuse, and corruption, the 2003 version of Warren Bennis’ classic, “On Becoming a Leader” opens with a detailed account of how terrible leadership affects our world, and how good leadership saves it. Bennis’ first lesson is that you don’t need to be “born” with the ability to lead. It can be learned. It won’t be easy but, as Bennis states, it’s still going to be easier than we think as we all have the capacity to do it.
To start with the basics, leaders need:
A guiding vision. You need a clear goal or something you want to accomplish as well as the strength to persevere despite all setbacks. I believe this applies to all of us as we lead our own lives (and as we become leaders, the actions of those around us): We need to have a clear goal. If we don’t, we’re likely just wasting our time and effort, no matter how busy we look.
Passion. “Do what you love” as they say. When you’re passionate about your work, you attract people who are as passionate about it as you are, and you also inspire them with your energy in getting things done.
Integrity. Among all other characteristics leaders must have, I believe this one is the most valuable. It’s better to do nothing than to knowingly and unknowingly harm people through a thousand small acts of corruption and abuse like not telling the truth or not paying back your debts. Without integrity, you will never inspire others to follow you and you will never accomplish much either. Like what Samuel Smiles said, “the crown and glory of life is character… Though a man have comparatively little culture, slender abilities, and but small wealth, yet, if his character be of sterling worth, he will always command an influence, whether it be in the workshop, the counting-house, the mart, or the senate.”
Trust. People need to trust you before they allow you to lead, and trust can only be earned when you consistently show integrity and good moral character.
Curiosity and daring. When we have a goal, we need to keep searching for the best ways to achieve it, despite our fears of failure. We also have to keep trying despite all the setbacks that we face as well as the criticisms of all those who cannot understand our guiding vision. I say you need daring to push the limits of what’s possible.
There are several other lessons from Warren Bennis that I won’t discuss right now, but here’s a link to the book if you want to learn.
From Jack Welch (Former CEO of General Electric and author of “Winning: The Ultimate Business How-To Book”)
One main lesson I learned from Jack Welch was promoting a spirit of candor or open and honest communication for all. I agree that it can almost never be complete as subordinates will always have a slight fear of their superiors’ disapproval, however it’s certainly something that needs to be encouraged as much as possible.
To do your best and get the best results, you need proper coaching and feedback. That’s critical especially when you unknowingly make mistakes and when there are areas that need serious improvement. You might not notice them, but sure enough your subordinates will. Don’t let it get to the point where your team members are just waiting for you to fail. In any case, like what Jack Welch said, a spirit of candor makes your organization idea-rich as people say what’s needed and it also makes the organization function faster. Just imagine how much time is wasted by people trying to sugarcoat bad news and how much of our time and effort can be saved if people just told us when what we’re doing isn’t working.
In my (however limited) experience, I was able to promote a little candor between me and my teammates by listening with the intent of understanding whenever bad news or unpleasant feedback is given, as well as giving feedback with the intent of improving performance instead of simply blaming or scolding.
From Stephen Covey (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change”)
When making decisions and negotiations, think “Win-Win.” Always go for the choice that will bring the greatest benefit for all parties involved, even if it involves canceling the deal (there will always be others). Trying to cheat or take advantage of others or letting others take advantage of you is NOT Win-Win as someone “Loses” from that scenario. Why is this important? Try to cheat customers in order to extract the greatest profits and you lose them. Sacrifice your own profits in order to please clients and, not only do you lose what’s rightfully yours, you’d also likely go bankrupt.
I remember an old manager of ours who always talks “Win-Win” by trying to give way too much to customers in order to keep them (“win for customers and win for company,” he thought), but there’s a side that LOST in that scenario: The EMPLOYEES. Although I cannot disclose it in detail, his actions encouraged customers into abusing our team and the office environment became quite toxic. He was forced to resign a few months later.
By the way, “Win-Win” extends to giving feedback regarding mistakes as well. Give constructive feedback intended to improve performance and it’s win-win. Give a scolding and it’s lose-lose: Your team member gets hurt, and you also lose your team members’ respect and trust.
From Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (“First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently”)
Ok, so this is more of a management lesson than a leadership lesson, but it’s quite valuable nonetheless. One major concept that I learned from Marcus Buckingham’s “First, Break All the Rules” is that, rather than force all team members to do all jobs equally, it’s much better to give them the jobs that make the most use of their talents. Why? If you don’t, it’s like forcing members of an orchestra to rotate among all instruments in order to make them “well-rounded.” Imagine forcing the flute player who studied the instrument for 20 years to play the violin and the drums on succeeding concerts. You can give them training, but it’s not going to be very efficient and you’ll have a pretty terrible orchestra.
If your team member is good with computers, assign them to a job that makes full use of computers. If another team member is good with people, customer support might be right for them. If yet another team member is great at writing and art, let them be the one to create web banners and company blog posts. If you try to rotate them, you’d likely end up with broken computers, disgruntled customers, and ugly web content.
From John Wooden (“Wooden on Leadership: How to Create a Winning Organization”)
One of the most deceptively simple yet powerful lessons is how John Wooden (the coach who led the UCLA basketball team to win 10 NCAA National Championships in 12 years, 88 straight games, and four perfect seasons) emphasized teaching people not to concentrate on winning but on doing their best. This is a philosophy that we should focus on teaching our team.
“When you give your total effort – everything you have – the score can never make you a loser. And when you do less, it can’t somehow magically turn you into a winner.” – John Wooden
Coach Wooden explained that the only way you can hold your head high even after failure and defeat is when you know you gave it everything you’ve got with the skills and knowledge that you had at that time. Like what I said in my courageous decision making post before, we all do the best we can at every moment. The best thing to do when we make a mistake is to learn what we can from it in order to do better next time.
By the way, it doesn’t just extend to sports, games, work, or dealing with clients; it applies to everything you do. That includes what you do on your free time, how you train, how you deal with people, self-discipline, learning new skills, and making decisions. Unsurprisingly, giving your best in all of that has the side effect of increasing your chances of winning in life.
If you want to learn more about John Wooden’s book, you can find my review in the 10 Best Books I’ve read on Finance, Leadership, and Success.
Leadership is a subject that could fill entire libraries and it’s an art that takes a lifetime to perfect. Even then, if we want to accomplish more or do more good in our lifetimes, it’s still something we should aim to learn and master.