I was her. It was all about me. I was good at what I did and knew it. The people who worked for me were only there to make me look good. I rose rapidly through organisations, was given management responsibilities early and was quick, hungry and on top of the technical elements of my job. I rose rapidly through the ranks.
What I wasn’t, was a leader. I didn’t even know what leadership was until I was “led” by a man who showed me everything it wasn’t. He tried to fire me.
I’d never been unsuccessful before and the process of not being loved and adored taught me the most important leadership lessons I ever learned. So thank you ex-boss, whether intentionally or not you made me better at what I do.
What I learned was that leadership is a continuum. The more you submit to it the better you become. Now, with a few more years on the clock, I describe what I do as being a head sports coach, but for a business. I use the words “sports coach” specifically. As heads of companies we are not executive coaches or life coaches, which are roles all of their own and, when done well, can add enormous value.
As CEOs we are employed to win – but we are only as good as the people we work with and our job must be to guide, inspire, motivate and empower our teams to reach their full potential.
That’s all well and good, but how do you do this?
Ultimately, good leaders figure their own way through the quagmire and in so doing – if they are good enough – they will inspire a healthy mixture of love, respect and, hopefully not fear.
What follows is a long and by no means exhaustive list of what I have learned over an extended career. The list of what not to do would be equally long and onerous but I believe in focusing on what to do not concentrating on what not to do.
Surround yourself with people who really, really want to win
They may not know how to do the job yet but they must have the hunger to be brilliant. I employ people who have excelled at school in something, whether it be sport, music or academics. This tells me that they have the capacity to go the extra mile and that they have already felt the elation of winning and want more of it.
Look for passion
I don’t mind what people are passionate about, but they have to prove an above-average energy for an interest. If the CV says under interests and hobbies, ‘watching television’ it’ll get binned.
You need humility as it’s no longer all about you. In fact, it’s about everyone else. You have to be prepared to stay in the shadows and let your players shine. That doesn’t mean you don’t have an opinion or a point of view, you just exercise it less because you need to hear the opinions and points of view of the people around you.
Allow others to receive recognition
You must want people to be brilliant and don’t try and take credit for ‘making’ them because real superstars will make themselves. They know they need a good coach, so they will keep swapping out (changing jobs) until they find someone that works for them.
Listen and observe
You learn much more about people when you are not speaking. If you see a drop in performance ask “what’s up?” before demanding answers.
If people are honest with you, you can plan and change things. If you intimidate them you will never understand their wants and needs and will not be able to help them maximise their potential for themselves and, therefore, for you.
Don’t find yourself saying no to something because you have said no before. Maybe this time is a good time to say yes.
Keep changing, keep questioning, keep asking “So what?” and “What if?”, to yourself as much as your team.
Be thirsty for knowledge and information and then make sure you share it. Curiosity pays dividends so never stop looking under rocks and never stop looking under the hood of your own organisation to make sure it is operating at maximum efficiency.
Set an example
You can’t be expected to do everyone’s job, but you have to set the standard and the ethic that you require. You don’t do their jobs so this is not about time in the saddle, it is about your emotional and intellectual commitment to the needs of the business.
Stay in charge
Don’t think for one moment that a coaching style of management is soft. Successful sports coaches are never weak and they are respected because of what they offer to the players not because they are feared.
If they are feared and do not facilitate their players being brilliant then the players leave. It is the same in business.
Always remain on top of your game
As a leader you don’t have to be able to kick the ball as well as your players, but you do have to know how to make someone kick the ball better. Everyone who works must become one of your coaching staff and share your positive attitude towards being brilliant and constantly learning.
Most importantly, stay hungry. You need to want to win as much or more than the people you work with. You will need more energy and more tenacity than anyone else in your business. Hard work must excite you and you must relish it.
Athletes don’t moan about how much they have to train, neither should your business team, not because they are frightened to do so, but because deep down they just love it. So should you.