I find myself contemplating a topic I used to teach many years ago: Leadership. In the course of the developing that course I did extensive research reading literally dozens of books on the topic. (OK, I read 22 and three of them were pop-up books and another was a colouring book, but still it was a lot of work.) There’s no shortage of people who write books on leadership, even though there seems to be a scarcity of real leaders.
You don’t need a book – or even this article – to tell you what constitutes a good leader.
Most of you know intuitively what it takes to lead, so let this serve not as a “how to” guide, as much as a reminder of what it takes to be a genuine leader.
I guess I should begin by disclosing one of my most deeply held biases: Business leaders are born, not made. They are forged in the crucible of crisis and honed in the conference rooms of the corporate world. A person who does not have the traits to be a great leader isn’t likely to miraculously acquire them, but that’s a matter of opinion and fodder for a different article.
Dr. Wess Roberts in his 1990 work, Leadership Secrets Of Attila The Hun, identified seven key characteristics. Other authors have waxed on about the leadership styles of everyone from Genghis Khan to Kermit the Frog to Sitting Bull to Charles Manson. (OK, probably not Charles Manson.)
While there is anything but consensus on the topic, I’d like to submit the following subset of all the leadership dross that’s floating around out there. Let’s call mine “Leadership Secrets Phil La Duke Stole From Famous People.” (Just kidding, I don’t plagiarise.)
When I taught that leadership course, we covered 17 characteristics of effective leaders, and there might be more. But here are my top five favourites, the ones my experience has taught me are most crucial.
People are more likely to follow someone whose reactions are predictable. I’ve worked for some great leaders who were feared by one and all, blowing up when subordinates erred, throwing furniture at the walls, and calling underlings everything but a child of God. But those same subordinates worshiped these ogres with the reverence that the acid-addled deserters have for Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.
Knowing exactly how your leader will react to your successes and failures allows you to take risks and behave with a minimum of stress. Patton may have slapped a soldier and Woody Hayes roughed up a player, but in both cases the people who followed each would willingly walk through the bowels of hell for him.
Harry Truman had a sign on his office that read: “The buck stops here.” It meant, “I am ultimately accountable for anything that happens on my watch.”
This is a refreshing sentiment at a time when baby boomer leaders belly ache about millennial entitlement, while at the same time blaming any and all their missteps on media misquotes, things being blown out of proportion, or a curse placed on them at birth by an evil troll.
How long before we can get back to leaders who say, “I did it. The blame is mine and mine alone”?
A good leader can be trusted. When we feel betrayed because a boss promised a raise or a promotion that didn’t happen, we become dispirited and have no motivation to make the sacrifices that same boss needs us to make. We may do what they tell us to do, but we may also engage in malicious obedience.
I once worked for an executive who told me that if I wanted to be promoted, I would have to leave the company. He explained that while I was a valued member of the team I would always remain a “sole contributor.”
I didn’t like the message but I was glad that he was honest with me. It was empowering knowing that no matter how hard I worked I was stuck where I was. It turned out he was wrong.
In part because I didn’t let his view of the world affect my performance, I ended up being promoted twice before leaving the company for greener pastures. I knew that I could trust him, not just to be fair with me but also to be honest and to tell me the unpleasant truths I needed to hear.
When Pancho Villa died, his last words were reputed to be, “It can’t end like this, tell them I said…something.” The best leaders have a clear and articulate vision for life. We know what they stand for. What’s more, a good leader can inspire us to put aside our own wants, needs, and desires in favour of a greater good.
This is why we revere military leaders so much. Generals have to inspire people to die for their visions. Think about that. Our bodies are designed primarily to keep us alive and well, and military leaders need to motivate us to do something that every cell in our central nervous system is telling us not to.
To lead is to make unpopular decisions that need to be made without regard to whether people are going to like it. I worked with a CEO who had to cut 400 jobs, a substantial portion of the workforce. I remember someone telling him that the people weren’t going to like it.
He looked them straight in the eye and said, “I don’t like it, but either we do this now or 5,000 people lose their jobs in six months.”
We don’t follow people because we like them – hell, I can think of a score of people I like who I wouldn’t follow out of a burning building. But there is a handful I would follow even when they seemed at odds with my values. No one follows a leader who is afraid to fail, afraid to make a mistake, afraid to admit mistakes, or afraid to lead.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
Business Leadership: Leading A Culturally Diverse Business Team
The question every successful business leader needs to consider – How do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?
As I witnessed the rain dancing against the window panes of the Mega mall in Midvalley, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia I started reflecting on how to lead a culturally diverse business team.
Thousands of Malay, Chinese, Japanese, and Europeans passed me in the hallways of this gargantuan construction and the Dalai Lamas’ wise words reminded me that at the core of it all, irrespective of what your nationality is or what your belief system is, in general:
“We all want to experience joy and avoid suffering”
A key question that every team leader should carefully consider is how do we collectively experience joy and manage and/or avoid suffering as a business and as a team?
How can we as a diverse team be united in the joys of experiencing an expanding and successful business with a wonderful and constructive culture and avoid the suffering of a failing business and the negative experience of a toxic culture? These are of course ‘loaded’ questions because inherent within these questions are the birthing of other key challenges –
How can we as Leaders create a relatively stable and inspirational environment from within which it is easier for each individual to unlock their vast potential when vast differences in upbringing, schooling, world views, and religious beliefs exists within one team. Especially when considering the ever changing and evolving business environment within which we operate?
Fulfilling the role of a Business Leadership coach, trainer, or life coach as the situation demanded over several years I have coached, Lead, or trained Pilipino, Chinese, Malay, African, and European people. A very key learning from my experiences is that a “cross cultural and shared understanding” can be created that transcends any spoken language or any national culture.
This common language and culture has many elements but for the purpose of this article I will focus on the three key aspects:
Have a united and focused purpose
When a united and focussed purpose exists for the business team that they collectively place higher than themselves the barriers of differences in upbringing, schooling, and world views can dissolve within their shared purpose. As business leaders we cannot refer to purpose too much, even more importantly that that, we must be living, walking and talking examples of the businesses’ purpose.
To simplify the concept of purpose it can be said that purpose is the highest intent for, or the very good reason why we do what we do. That reason is or should be even more important than ourselves. When we really love what we do and sincerely so our performance is likely to be very good, on the other hand if we totally dislike the line of business that we are in or totally despise our role within an entrepreneurial venture we are likely not going to unleash our unlimited potential.
It could be argued that the sole purpose for having a business is to make a profit. Through this article I argue that that is not a strong enough reason to sustain you and make you thrive even through difficult times. The strange thing is that when you truly live your purpose with all your might and tirelessly inspire your team to do the same the money comes anyway…
Servant heart and attitude
Rabindranath Tagore famously said:
“I dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold service was joy.”
A servant heart is universal and transcends cultural difference, a sincere and giving smile is a beautiful language of its own that needs no translation. If that ‘servant heart and smile’ is underpinned by well-developed people and technical skills it multiplies into a potent combination of character, experience, and wisdom that has great influential power within any culture.
Whether it is through the use of interpreters, and even if it takes great patience, even when a lot of mistakes are made, persevere until everyone in the team understands that servant leadership is the key to winning the minds and hearts of others.
When all in the team becomes aware that we were only ever meant to master ourselves and thereby become better servants to all, this heightened awareness can unlock the unlimited potential within individuals in the team.
Respect for people and their worldviews
My favourite poet Rumi said:
‘The wound is where the light seeps in’
Respect all as we could not understand each individuals’ pain and hardships unless we went through it ourselves. Have compassion for all as we, in general expect compassion when we go through hardships. We can only imagine what sets of beliefs we would entertain where we to grow up in a completely different culture.
My endless curiosity and determination to learn has served me well as a coach for when your interest in others is sincere they tend to ‘open up’ to you and share and thereby you fasttrack your own learning and gain insights into your co-team members worldviews which in turn greatly enhances the team dynamics.
Be authentic and acknowledge your vulnerabilities, ‘wounds’ and shortcomings and be proud of your strengths for then your team members will help you to overcome your weaknesses and learn from your strengths.
15 Ways To Command A Conversation Like A Boss
If you’re the one talking, it’s your responsibility to make sure others are listening.
Conversations can elicit a range of emotions. They may be daunting, or they may be dreaded. They may be awkward, or they may be monotonous. The good news is, you, as a participant in any conversation, have more control than you think about whether these emotions overtake the dialogue.
Having a successful conversation is about striking the balance between preparedness and flexibility, between explaining your thoughts clearly and knowing when to pause or check in. It’s about being upfront about your preferences and ideas while being open to adapting them based on what comes of the discussion.
A fruitful conversation stems from establishing a rapport with someone. Show them you know where they’re coming from. Clarify that you understand what they’ve said. Be respectful of their time and don’t dictate back to them how you perceive them to be thinking or feeling. Keep questions open-ended. Experiment with new conversation settings or styles. And don’t give in to the internal voices that try to convince you to defer too much or suffer in silence.
To help you get your points across and help others convey theirs, read through the following 15 tips, which expand more on the ideas above.
Being A Born Entrepreneur Doesn’t Automatically Mean You’re A Born Leader
The person who has the vision to start a company might not be the person to grow the company.
More often than not, we tend to think of entrepreneurship and leadership as synonymous qualities.
Entrepreneurs are expected to break new ground, be innovative, start something new. It only stands to reason they would naturally take charge of what they’ve created and lead it.
However, it turns out that the required skills of an effective entrepreneur are almost entirely different from the required skills of an effective leader. As many CEOs of growing companies can tell you, there’s a vast difference between creating a business and growing one.
One of the primary reasons great entrepreneurs including Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Henry Ford were so influential was precisely because they were both master entrepreneurs and leaders.
To successfully grow a business, an entrepreneur must learn how to become an effective leader. Here are the five leadership skills every entrepreneur must master:
Entrepreneurs, and especially solopreneurs, who run growing businesses are eventually shocked to realise it is impossible to do everything by themselves. Most entrepreneurs are uncomfortable with the idea of delegation. They want to do everything themselves because they have a natural sense of ownership over their work. They find it difficult to believe anyone else would do what needs to be done. After all, they were the ones who built the business from scratch all by themselves.
The reality is, though, as a business grows, so does the amount of work that needs to go into running it.
Leaders understand their own time and energy are finite resources. Great leaders understand that, to be most effective in the company, they must play to their strengths and delegate their weaknesses to others who are more qualified.
Steve Jobs famously played a very small part in building the OS and designing the original Apple computers. He knew how to grow a business, so he focused on what he could do and wisely left it to Steve Wozniak and his team to execute his vision.
The perk of being a lone wolf is that you know exactly what needs to be done and the right way to do it. But, that has to change when you find yourself a leader.
We all have horror stories of working for a manager who didn’t communicate instructions effectively, which inevitably leads to confusion and frustration from both parties. As a leader, you’ll need to clearly and succinctly explain everything from your vision to administrative tasks to your employees.
But, communication is not a one-way street. You need to know what to say and how to listen. Effective leaders don’t simply give orders. They accept feedback and criticism, as well.
A constant bridge of communication between a leader and an employee not only reduces inefficiencies but also leads to a healthier and more productive workplace for all.
Entrepreneurs seldom lack in the inspiration department. They were passionate enough to start a business themselves, but not everyone shares their enthusiasm. A key skill of any good leader is to inspire the people around them.
It’s not enough to simply tell people what their job is and expect them to do it. To get the most out of your team, you have to make them believe in your vision and feel like they’re actively making an impact in their role. This is especially important when working in a start-up.
The good news is that anyone can become an inspiring leader as long as they create a clear culture around the company’s vision, values, and beliefs.
When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO, he quickly realised the majority of his employees were no longer focused on providing customers with a positive experience. This led him to shut down 7,100 stores one day to retrain all baristas on making an espresso. This bold move not only sharpened his employees’ technical skills, but also quickly brought Starbucks’ ultimate vision back into focus.
As an entrepreneur, you should be well aware of just how powerful a mentor can be to personal and professional growth. As a leader, if you want your employees to be as effective as possible, you need to do more than just give them orders.
Along with giving them the resources they need to do their job well, you also need to be able to help them move forward in their own careers.
This can be as simple as offering them training in skills they are interested in, giving them more responsibilities, or spending more one-on-one time with them. Leaders should be able to do more than just lead from the front; they have to be able to provide support from behind as well.
By adopting a coaching mentality, you can be assured of your employees’ loyalty to you and your vision. Plus, helping your employees achieve their full potential means they’re more likely be an asset to you and your business.
It should go without saying that being innovative and adaptive is key for entrepreneurs. But, instead of only using their knack for problem-solving on market opportunities, leaders are also focused on providing solutions for problems within the company.
A large part of running a growing company is learning how to deal with internal problems like employee disputes, disorganisation, or a lack of motivation. Employees will always look to the leader to solve these issues.
When no clear-cut solutions are present, leaders need to be able to think outside the box. One surefire way to quickly lose both the respect and trust of your employees is to outsource the solution to someone else or avoid responsibility by blaming others.
Last-minute changes and mishaps happen in any business, so it’s up to the leader to adapt quickly and show everyone else the right way to handle these situations.
If entrepreneurs who have the passion and innovation to start their own businesses can develop these five skills of great leaders, they will be most effective in leading those businessess into growth and a bright future.
Read next: What Kind Of Leader Are You?
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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