I was fortunate to work in a company where leadership was revered, studied and expected. The more I learned, the more I realized that there’s no “checklist” for great leadership. That said, as I advanced in my career I was often asked to offer my thoughts on the subject to disparate audiences of Enlisted, Officers and Civilians. As I distilled my thoughts on this complex subject, I settled upon seven guiding principles that served me well over the years; I believe they benefit any established or aspiring leader.
1) Show Up: When you’re a leader in your organization things tend to rotate around you.
Meetings are scheduled to make sure you can attend and schedules are adjusted to accommodate your time constraints. Your people have likely had to compromise some things they’d like to do in order to fit things into your timeline. They will recognize (and appreciate) your devotion to showing up on time for the event. Your timeliness lets them know that you value their time as much as they do; keeping them waiting for 10, 20 or 30 minutes implies that you don’t care about their own schedules – it’s hard to regain their respect after that.
2) Shut Up: You probably think you’re more interesting than others do; effective leaders know when to be quiet.
If you’ve done a good job of hiring and inspiring people below you, give them a chance to tell you what they think. I was quick to remind my staff that they were generally much smarter about the subjects under discussion than I was. I was aware that if I did too much talking I might shape the outcome as people tried to “give the General what he wants”…and there was likely a much better way ahead.
3) Listen Up: This is the natural successor to the point above.
If you’re not talking you can focus on listening. It’s amazing what you can learn from the folks working below your level. Be an active listener – focus on the person talking and the message being delivered. Whether we were discussing a business item or a family matter, the fact that I was actively listening to them meant a lot…and helped me understand the discussion topic more thoroughly. Every leader benefits from a greater understanding of the issues, and your people appreciate the time spent focused on them.
4) Act Up: Leaders lead.
That sounds trite, but I’m always disappointed when I learn of leaders who sat atop organizations and failed to take action when there were compelling reasons to do so. I only took over a failing organization once in my professional life so I usually had the good fortune to learn a bit about the business before I started making substantive changes. If that’s not your experience and you learn of something in your business that should be changed…DO IT! That’s why you’re in charge. Everyone in your organization is watching your actions. If you ignore a problem you’ve just told them it’s OK to do the same. No business succeeds with that kind of behavior.
5) Saddle Up: One of the 5 C’s we talk about in this blog is Courage.
John Wayne once famously said “Courage is being scared to death…but saddling up anyway”. Leaders have to have the courage to take on imposing problems. You shouldn’t delegate the hard decisions or uncomfortable tasks that accompany your position of responsibility. There were many times in my career where I dreaded the hard decision that lay ahead – but recognized that it was my responsibility as a leader to undertake the task. Your staff can/should supply you with supporting data, but it’s up to you to saddle up and make the call.
6) Brighten Up: I tried never to take my frustrations out on my staff.
A senior mentor once told me “Leaders don’t get to have bad days”. It didn’t make complete sense until I worked on a staff where the leader was volatile and prone to emotional outbursts. I watched as the entire staff changed behavior (and stopped providing candid inputs) to mollify the leader and avoid another outburst. That kind of organizational behavior is a sure recipe for failure. Trust me, your staff can tell that you’re disappointed without you abusing them. Swallow your frustration, maintain your composure, wear a smile and work the issue; your staff will be more productive and your business will benefit. When you get home you can vent to your spouse if you must!
7) Lighten Up: Leadership at the top and its responsibilities can be exhausting and spirit crushing.
I’m a pretty cheerful guy by nature so I tried to keep the work environment surrounding me pleasant and positive as we worked on unsolvable problems. I tried not to allow the situation – or my actions – to demoralize the folks who were working so hard to find solutions to whatever we were dealing with. That’s not to say we didn’t have sobering moments, but where I could I tried to keep the mood upbeat. As a result the meetings I oversaw tended to be less stressful and more convivial. I firmly believe that people are more accommodating when they’re in a positive mood.
I’ve used these seven simple principles in every organization I’ve led. They’re certainly not the only attributes I embraced but they were foundational in my daily life…and still are. I’m confident my colleagues in Two Blue Aces feel the same. I’d love to hear your feedback and issues; TBA can help you develop your leaders and raise your game!