I recently stumbled across a piece I wrote on leadership a decade ago. Two things struck me after reading it. First, my overall philosophy on leadership is pretty much unchanged from that of a decade ago. I've gathered more data over the years, therefore increasing my knowledge of leader theories, but my purpose of leadership is roughly the same now as it was then. Second, and a bit disturbingly, I have to question how closely I've kept to my now decade-old ideals. Maybe it's time for a tune-up.
Although edited somewhat for this article, the overriding concepts of my message pushed out 10 years ago remain true to my original intent. What you'll see first is a preamble followed by eight opinions on how good leadership should be manifested. From October of 2004:
Sometimes I lie awake at night and think about our business. Sometimes inspiration hits. Sometimes that inspiration sounds GREAT at 2am. Sometimes that inspiration lasts until morning (sometimes not). This time it [my inspiration] lasted until morning.
1.Direct and guide; don't dictate. No one likes being dragged about by the nose. The only time dictating possibly works is during those oh so important training periods, but even then, take care to lead with empathy.
2. Step in to protect the good work of your direct reports in difficult times, when difficult problems and difficult people enter their world. This doesn't mean bubble wrapping your direct reports. Your direct reports are (most likely) functioning, reasonable thinking adults, capable of meandering through some of the most difficult situations. But, at times, they simply need a breather from unnecessary challenges. The simple act of saying, "Let me take this one on," will work wonders by creating lasting, trusting relationships.
3. Lose sleep for the common good and welfare of others. I don't necessarily think good bosses need to toss and turn all night, but the thinking here is that the welfare of others is always front of mind. Be outward thinkers, searching for ways to make the working world a better place. In other words, be prepared to give personal sacrifice of time and effort for the welfare of others. In a way, stop thinking about yourselves by replacing those inward thoughts with selfless outward mentalities. Sense when people are hurting, are frustrated, or at their wits end. Listen.
4. Guard the group's good reputation. Say good things about the work your direct reports do. Praise them to outsiders. Don't bad-mouth your direct reports to others; stay positive. But on the inside, within your own circles, ensure direct reports are ethical, honest, and forthright in their work. Correct errors in good judgment, then forgive and forget those indiscretions. Keep your operation above reproach.
5.Encourage others to develop their talents. Challenge them with new duties, to think of new ways of doing things, to explore new ways of thinking. Encourage continuing education, even if that learning endeavor has no direct influence on their jobs (all learning is good for the whole).
6. Support the unity of the group. Find ways to bring the group together to socialize, discuss, or commiserate. Let them talk things out. Whatever you do, don't react defensively to contrary ideas or criticism. Celebrate the good things.
7. Lead via a service-like mentality.
8. Possibly the most important thing for you to remember is be prepared to not be appreciated by the people you lead and support. A few may thank you for your efforts, but chances are, most won't. Expect them to complain. As the old joke goes, "How do you get a musician to complain? Give him a job." Don't take those lapses of affirmation personally. Realize your direct reports don't have to love you. Be happy with them respecting you.
Back to Today
I'm amused when people ask, "What is it you do?" and, interestingly, I can't really answer that question. I guess the real answer is something like, "I equip my direct reports to be the best performers possible." On the outside, the physical exhibition of my work is: talk on the phone, talk to people, write things, point at things, sit (and think, but no one can see the thinking part), and walk-around.
The true litmus-test of good leadership can be measured by some tangible and some not-so-tangible manifestations. Some of the ways I measure effective leadership:
- Direct reports are promoted to positions with increasingly more accountability.
- The working culture is friendly, supportive, and collaborative.
- Co-workers care for each other in time of need.
- Outsiders asking, "Can I work in your area?"
- And, most importantly (because we are a business), production of goods and services in fiscally responsible ways.
"People ask the difference between a leader and a boss. The leader leads, and the boss drives" Teddy Roosevelt.