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.
Why Fight Or Flight Mode Can Break Your Business
Truly successful business owners are masters of their own emotions though. Because when you aren’t, things will quickly start to derail.
Have you ever been in a situation where a client started shouting at the staff? It could have been at a restaurant, at a car dealership or even at a doctor’s office. When people ‘lose’ it in the real world, we label them as unprofessional. We are less willing to do business with them, work for them, or invest in their business.
When your buttons get pushed for too long, it might trigger you to start fighting. The moment we feel ‘attacked’ most people tend to go into ‘Fight or Flight mode’. The Amygdala (Reptilian) brain has been accessed, and the resulting behaviour is actually beyond their control. What’s scary about this place is that you feel in the same amount of danger as someone who is about to be attacked by a predator.
This is incredibly dangerous territory for your business to be in. This is the place where staff resign, contracts get cancelled, and money gets lost.
Maya Angelou explained it well: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
How you make them feel will impact your staff’s customer service, their productivity and ultimately your bottom line.
As a business owner and leader ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you congruent? Is what you say, do and feel aligned? Can your staff trust you and do your actions speak for themselves?
- Do you understand your own trigger points, and can you calm yourself down?
- Do you pick up on the moods in the office?
- How clearly do you communicate your ideas?
- How do you handle conflict?
- Does your staff feel safe in your company? Or do they know you will throw them under the bus when something goes wrong?
Simon Sinek says that a successful leader’s number one goal must be to make their staff feel safe.
It’s time to increase your EQ
EQ, or emotional intelligence, is a key factor in an effective leadership style. To increase your emotional intelligence, start with these steps:
- Get enough sleep, exercise and notice your blood sugar levels.
- Many people will snap if they are dehydrated, tired
- or hungry.
- Set meetings around lunch times, allow yourself to have time to eat and pack healthy meals and snacks for yourself. Your body needs the right fuel to keep going.
- Exercise releases dopamine that will naturally make you feel happier and more energised.
- Make sure that your staff take lunch breaks and have time to eat.
Practice mindfulness and journal
Find time in the morning to do your ‘morning pages’. In Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way she explains how writing morning pages helped lawyers, doctors and screenplay writers to focus and find their creativity and drive again. I have noticed my own emotional states, patterns and triggers come out of my morning pages and this has helped me with my self-awareness tremendously. By cleaning out your thoughts on a page, you feel much calmer because you have decluttered your own thoughts. You’re now in charge and ready for the day.
Find a quiet spot to visualise what you want to get out of the day. Use all of your senses to create the perfect movie of your day, with all the colours, textures, sounds, smells and tastes that can make it real. Imagine yourself being calm, listening well, and being a great leader. Notice your body language in your visualisation, how you are sitting or standing, and even the way your neck curves. I often use this technique for public speaking.
Swimmers in the Olympics use visualisation to train themselves for their big race and find that they swim the race with 90% accuracy in the time they swam it in their minds.
Notice if people are walking on eggshells around you. You may have many unresolved issues or triggers that some neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) or personal development coaching can help dissolve.
How can you help others when they have entered fight or flight mode?
Pay attention to your body language, tone and choice of words. When we communicate, 55% is conveyed through our body language, 38% through our voice and tone and only 7% through what we say.
When someone is in ‘fight or flight mode’ make sure all the elements communicate: ‘I am your friend’, ‘you are safe here’ to the other party.
- Body language: Show open palms — this means ‘I come in peace’.
- Smile, lean forward, show your ear.
- Tone: Have a calm friendly tone in your voice. Stay away from sounding snappy, angry or sarcastic. This will make a person even angrier.
- Word choices: Our minds cannot hear the word ‘Not’. Use words that focus on the outcome that you want, rather than what you don’t want.
- Say something like: It looks like you are not so happy right now. If you said to them: ‘I can see you are frustrated and upset’ you are entrenching their unhappiness. Can you hear the difference between ‘unhappy, not calm’ versus ‘frustrated’ or ‘upset’.
- Be solution orientated: ‘How can we resolve this situation? How can I support you, and how can we fix this?’
Stop assuming and ask questions
Don’t assume what a person is feeling. Ask them using open-ended questions. Make it clear that you are open to feedback and want to learn.
‘Please would you mind telling me what was said, or done that you didn’t like?’
Focus entirely on the person, their body language, their facial expressions, their tone of voice and what they are really saying. Clear your mind from your own thoughts or agenda and focus just on them. Allow a breather or a space after they’ve spoken so you can make sure they have finished speaking. Most people respond to only the first thought of a sentence, never fully listening to what the real message is behind the words.
Cut out distractions: Hide your phone — from yourself and from others.
Communication experts Celeste Headlee and Simon Sinek both say that you should hide your cell phone in a meeting. The research shows that a person will trust you less if they see your cell phone on the table, even if you’re not looking at it.
Empathise, don’t sympathise
Put yourself in the shoes of your client or staff. Try to understand what they are going through. When relating to your staff or a client, it’s crucial to anchor yourself in a positive place, in order not to be pulled down by them.
Offer an outside perspective, but hand them a rope or a ladder to get out themselves; offer them the support and encouragement to get to safety.
Show them the bigger picture
Explain to your team how their puzzle piece fits into the bigger picture. Once we know that the work we do has a greater purpose, and we buy into that purpose, we will do almost anything to support our company to get that outcome. Let them buy into your vision and let them surprise you.
Why Inspiration Alone Is Not Enough To Be An Inspiring Leader
Strong leaders unlock higher performance by empowering people.
When employees aren’t just engaged, but inspired, that’s when organisations see real breakthroughs. Inspired employees are themselves far more productive and, in turn, inspire those around them to strive for greater heights.
Our research shows that while anyone can become an inspiring leader (they’re made, not born), in most companies, there are far too few of them. In employer surveys that we conducted with the Economist Intelligence Unit, we found that less than half of respondents said they agree or strongly agree that their leaders were inspiring or were unlocking motivation in employees. Even fewer felt that their leaders fostered engagement or commitment and modelled the culture and values of the corporation.
To understand what makes a leader inspirational, Bain & Company launched a new research programme, starting with a survey of 2 000 people. What we found surprised us. It turns out that inspiration alone is not enough. Just as leaders who deliver only performance may do so at a cost that the organisation is unwilling to bear, those who focus only on inspiration may find that they motivate the troops but are undermined by mediocre outcomes. Instead, inspiring leaders are those who use their unique combination of strengths to motivate individuals and teams to take on bold missions — and hold them accountable for results. And they unlock higher performance through empowerment, not command and control.
Here are some of our additional findings about how leaders both inspire, and get, great performance.
You only need one truly ‘inspiring’ attribute
We asked survey recipients what inspired them about their colleagues. This gave us a list of 33 traits that help leaders in four areas: Developing inner resources, connecting with others, setting the tone and leading the team:
- Stress tolerance, self-regard and optimism help leaders develop inner resources
- Vitality, humility and empathy help leaders connect
- Openness, unselfishness and responsibility help set the tone
- Vision, focus, servanthood and sponsorship help them lead.
We found that people who inspire are incredibly diverse, which underscores the need to find inspirational leaders that are right for motivating your organisation — there is no universal archetype. A corollary of this finding is that anyone can become an inspirational leader by focusing on his or her strengths.
Although we found that many different attributes help leaders inspire people, we also found that you need only one of them to double your chances of being an inspirational leader. Specifically, ranking in the top 10% in your peer group on just one attribute nearly doubles your chance of being seen as inspirational. However, there is one trait that our respondents indicated matters more than any other: Centeredness. This is a state of mindfulness that enables leaders to remain calm under stress, empathise, listen deeply and remain present.
Your key strength has to match how your organisation creates value
Effective leadership isn’t generic. To achieve great performance, companies need a leadership profile that reflects their unique context, strategy, business model and culture — the company’s unique behavioural signature. To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.
We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value. For example, an organisation that makes its money out-marketing the competition isn’t likely to be inspired by a leader whose best talent is cost management. Spiky leaders achieve great performance by obsessing about the specific capabilities that underpin their company’s competitive advantage. They make sure those capabilities get an outsized, unfair share of resources and provide the key players the freedom they need to continue to excel.
You have to behave differently if you want your employees to do so
Even with a clear idea of your company’s winning behavioural signature, leaders need to develop new ways of operating. We found that leaders who both inspire people and generate results find ways to constructively disrupt established behaviours to help employees break out of culture-weakening routines.
Inspirational leaders recognise the need to pick their moments carefully to reinforce a performance culture in a way that can also be inspiring. These are real moments of leadership and truth. Two of our favourite, classic examples include:
- When Howard Schultz returned to Starbucks as CEO after a nearly eight-year hiatus, he realised that Starbucks’ unique customer-focused coffee experience was now in the back seat. In the front seat were automation and diversification, both implemented in pursuit of throughput and growth. Schultz took swift action to change the company’s direction; he even shut down 7 100 US stores for three hours on 26 February 2008 to retrain the baristas in the art of making espresso. In this highly symbolic move, he left no doubt about his intentions — and about what he thought it would take to make Starbucks great again.
- When Alan Mulally came to Ford in 2006 to help turn around the business, he took bold actions to change the way the company operated. In one highly visible moment, he applauded Mark Fields (who would eventually become his successor) for admitting to a failure in an executive meeting. That was pretty much unheard of at Ford and it set the tone for the open and honest communications required for a new culture at the company.
While these are only single actions by leaders who are famous for producing both performance and inspiration, they provide a window into what inspirational leadership looks like.
Drawing insight from Eastern philosophy, one of our clients once said, “If you want to change the way of being, you have to change the way of doing.” This struck us as profound in the moment and even more profound over time — and the sentiment matches what we learnt in our research. Leaders can only change by doing things differently. The more often they behave in a new way, the sooner they become a new type of leader, an inspirational leader. We know that individual inspiration is the gateway to employee discretionary energy, and that, in turn, is critical to making the most of your scarcest resource — your human capital.
Leaders driving economic value
To win in the market, every company must emphasise the specific capabilities that make it better than the competition.
We found that the same is true of leaders: They must be spiky, not well-rounded, and those ‘spikes’ must be relevant to the way that the company creates value.
4 Mistakes You’re Making That Can Jeopardise Your Reputation
Remember, your reputation precedes you.
We take our careers very seriously. We pour a great deal of energy into cultivating relationships and growing a network of professionals we either work with or hope to. We spend countless hours combing through our online resumes and LinkedIn profiles, carefully ensuring they convey the utmost professionalism. We want to be taken seriously and be considered credible and influential at work. We look the part, practice our presentations, fine-tune our communication skills and polish our presence online and in person.
But, what happens when we are off the clock? How is our behaviour when we are at a restaurant with friends, on vacation with family or simply out of the office? How many times have we run a personal errand and bumped into someone unexpectedly?
Our reputation is built on us – both in and out of the office, in person and online. Professionals often forget that credibility is built on consistency; we can only be consistent in our behaviour when we are mindful every day and in every circumstance. Professionals too often become lazy when the spotlight is turned off. We don’t realise that people are watching. Employees, customers, prospects and peers are everywhere.
Here are four common mistakes professionals make, which call their reputation into question:
1. Social media socialises the real you
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more – these online social media platforms create a way for us to communicate with those we are connected to. We fail to realise that our reach doesn’t stop there. These mediums also communicate to the entire world who we are. Just because we sit behind a screen doesn’t mean we aren’t seen.
A 2017 study found that 70 percent of employers use social media to review potential candidates. This number has increased 11 percent in the past 10 years, proving now more than ever that professionals who wish to manage their reputation must be mindful of what they post.
Political commentary, strong opinions, excessive personal information and activities may cast our reputation in a negative light. Even when we have the best intentions, posts and comments can be easily misconstrued. If there is any doubt, don’t post it. Posts should be informative, educational or inspiring. If they fail to convey a message kindly, refrain from sharing them altogether.
2. Personal time is just professional time off the clock
We all deserve to let our hair down when we step out of the office. We must remember, however, someone is always watching and that we must protect our professional reputation. Behavior that causes others to question our authenticity can jeopardize our professional reputation. For instance, loud and rowdy behavior with friends during happy hour doesn’t convey professionalism but may leave others wondering who we are.
Credibility is built on consistency. When your behaviour is consistent in and out of the office, people will trust that is the real you. We’ve all heard the old saying, “It’s a small world.” It feels even smaller the moment we are anything but our best self and we run into someone we wish to impress. Be mindful and know that everyone is everywhere.
3. You’re in the spotlight even when you’re not on stage
Communication begins before you step on stage. Others determine who you are based on collective experiences and interactions with you when you aren’t in the spotlight. How you communicate in the office and in casual conversations is what will shape your reputation, not the moments you step on stage. How you behave and interact with peers determines your level of influence and the trust they have in you as a professional.
Did you know 92 percent of people act upon the recommendation of others – even if they don’t know them? People talk, and others listen. How you treat your employees is how they will treat your customers. If you fail to communicate with consistency, those you influence will fail to do so, too. Be clear and concise in all communications – whether it’s a high-stakes meeting or a casual hallway conversation. Focus on your body language and be an active, intentional listener. When you make others a priority, they will do the same for you and those who matter most to your success.
4. It’s not a brand management campaign; it’s a way of life
Our modern-day world doesn’t allow us to compartmentalise our lives. In today’s age of online observation, our reputations are broadcast for the world to see, which directly affects our bottom line. Consider some highly regarded corporate names. It’s likely their reputations are well managed. They are consistent in their messaging and delivery. They walk their talk throughout all aspects of their brand: from online profiles to customer-facing employees. Now consider companies that have struggled with their reputation. They have likely suffered from inconsistencies in their customer experience, marketing campaign, executive behaviour and employee interactions.
Individual professional reputations are no different than major corporations. In fact, they are one of the most significant concerns major companies face. In a survey of executives, 87 percent said the risk to their reputation was a higher priority to their bottom line, more so than any other strategic danger their company faced.
Fact is, professionals cannot manage their reputation through a one-time branding campaign. We must develop it through consistent behaviours that create trust in those who know and observe us. We can’t just say something is important; our actions must reflect it. We can’t tell employees to invest time and energy in customers but then fail to do the same for them. Reputations aren’t built on a “do what I say, not as I do” mentality. Consistency is key to credibility.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.
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