Next month brings our annual leadership issue, where we hit up operators for insights on how they lead and what they’ve learned. I write this latest column just days before the start of our annual Leadership Summit in Miami Beach, where we’ll hear speakers inspire us to lead better.
I can’t think of a more popular business topic than leadership. Endless books, articles and presentations analyze every aspect. What’s left to say? Plenty, if you adopt my May column topic, “Every Seat Has A Story
,” about human-driven marketing.
Just as everyone has an interesting story if you dig deep enough, every leader brings a unique twist to the act. I’ve followed quiet, low-key leaders as well as ones full of bravado and boldness. There’s no foolproof, correct plan; a leader who claims one needs to do some more leading. Over the years, though, I’ve found some favorite pillars that can help structure or inform a leadership style:
Character Counts: The only deficit greater than the federal one is character. I believe they’re connected, but that’s an inflammatory subject for another day. We can all see the character deficit and instinctively know it. While root causes are worthy of debate, the eternal traits of honesty, integrity and ethics form the core of leadership. Without these BIG 3, you risk failure. A challenging question for anyone who happens to be human: Are you the same person when no one is watching?
Clear Vision: Think clearly to know your vision and goals first, then communicate them clearly to others. Resets and reverses should be used sparingly, if at all. Lead indirectly through subordinates who understand your vision. Don’t over-talk or over-explain; an economy of words in speech and emails builds respect and shows mercy on others’ time and attention spans. (Note to self).
Humble Duty: If you achieve a measure of success, influence, power or status, you can know it, but don’t flaunt it. It’s finite. Be flexible. Admit mistakes. Apologize. Forgive. Some of the best advice I received at the start of my career: “Always be nice to the low people on the totem pole on your way up, because you’ll need them on your way back down.”
Servant Listening: We’ve all heard the one about two ears, one mouth. Those ears should be all-on, like satellite dishes. Nowadays, listening can be a challenge, what with those smartphones vibrating and pinging. You can’t pick up on facial expressions and body language when you’re itching to look at the latest text, or your eyes are darting around the room for better conversational candy. Replace your “uh, huhs” with questions or responses that move the conversation forward. A distracted leader won’t remember directions given or messages received.
Macro Manage: In a Robert Half International survey, 60% of respondents said they had worked for a micromanager at some point in their careers. Of that group, 55% said it decreased their productivity and 68% said it dampened their morale. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., put it best in a Wall Street Journal interview last November: “Where you see a bad command climate is when people make the transition from direct to indirect leadership, and yet still feel compelled to try to control everything. The more controlling they become, the worse the command climate becomes.” Micro-management often indicates deeper conflicts within the leader. With a clear vision communicated, a leader shouldn’t find it necessary.
Creative Flair Ups: All writers use the same 26 letters of the English alphabet, while artists work with the same three primary colors. Creativity is about rearranging the tools. Everyone has potential. A good leader finds ways to draw out creativity in an inclusive atmosphere free of fear and insecurity. Correct subordinates with a solution, or a gentle suggestion. Constantly invite and consider new ideas.
Surround Smart: We’ve heard how you are what you read, what you think, what you watch, and what you listen to. When it comes to people, what’s your surround sound? If I had to choose one best principle of leadership, it would be this: Always seek out and surround yourself with people smarter, harder working, more creative, and/or more successful than you. It rubs off. That concept has been attributed to multiple famous leaders, so I won’t even try to give credit. I just know the longer I live, the easier and truer this practice becomes.