Here are Lessons 6-10 of my 5-part series outlining 25 timeless leadership lessons -a primer and distillation of a lifetime of learning, and practicing, my great passion of leadership.
I introduced Lessons 1-5 last week, and if you missed that post, take a look here, and then come on back.
Here’s a summary of all 25, and the lessons discussed today are in bold (past lessons are underlined and linked). Look for the remaining 15 lessons over the next 3 weeks Lead well!
- Practice Full Spectrum Management
- Teach Instead of Tell
- Be an Enabler, Not a Disabler
- Develop a Zen-Like Mantra
- Avoid Inertia (and Push Forward)
- Trust the Facts
- Words Alone Don’t Make the Leader
- Blend Will and Humility
- Know “The Secrets of Work”
- Do the Unexpected
- Think Like an Interior Designer
- “It is Solved by Walking”
- Take the Leadership Litmus Test
- Bad News Can Be Good News
- Don’t Do Second Things First
- Avoid Nightmares in the Ivory Tower
- Pause and Refresh
- Shore Up the House of Cards
- Get a Life (If You Don’t Have One)
- Beware of the Accountability Trap
- Do Some Den Mothering
- Be Ever the Statesman
- Use The Seven Most Important Words
- Stay Away From the “Buts”
- No Square Pegs in Round Holes
6. Trust the Facts
While there is so much to admire of our country’s founding fathers and their drive for independence, John Adams (our 2nd President) always stood out to me, because of the tenacity of his leadership and his steadfast reliance on facts. When arguing for independence Adams would again and again remind his fellow congress attendees that the facts could not be ignored – the British had already essentially declared war on the colonies by their words and actions against them. There was no choice but to stand up to the tyranny and declare independence.
Earlier on in his career, Adams uttered this famous quote: “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”
It is a valuable lesson to take from him, applied to our world of business by the well-known maxim – “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it“. No matter how well we THINK things are going, or we HEAR things are going, if the facts say otherwise – they MUST rule. Therefore it is vitally important that we generate the appropriate and relevant facts in our businesses that guide our decision making, and temper any feelings or emotions that may obfuscate those facts and put us down the wrong path.
7. Words Alone Don’t Make the Leader
As good leaders, we spend a great deal of time in front of our teammates, putting out a lot of words for them to process. Oftentimes those words hit the intended ears first thing in the morning, when most of us are still shaking off the morning fog. To put words together that can cut through this fog – and not just impart information, but bring folks to positive and productive action – we need to look beyond the words themselves, and more towards the structure, presentation and delivery.
For example, if words are delivered in a monotone without inflection, emphasis, or even better, passion, it really doesn’t matter what you are saying. They will fall flat. If the words that are delivered are “over the heads” of your audience, it will sound nice but everyone will walk away with little comprehension.
Here are the key concepts that I believe are critical to making those words count:
- Inflection (preferably infused with passion)
8. Blend Will and Humility
It’s not all about you.
Excessive hubris has always been one of the fatal flaws of leadership, and it often leads to wild and reckless business bets that come up snake eyes. Some leaders have the misguided belief that they alone had all the answers, and that any show of restraint, or for that matter, expansion of the inner circles to thoughtfully and inclusively debate and discuss strategy and vision, risk and reward, and the long term versus the short term, was nothing more than a waste of time.
It takes humility to know that we are not masters of our universe. There are so many things that are out of our control. Every action can certainly have an equal and opposite reaction. We are not gods. We are not infallible.
Great leaders know this – it is in their DNA. It is being brave enough to have teammates that are not just “yes men” or venerators, and maybe even smarter than they are. It is using “we” and casting aside “I”. It’s about decency, fairness, and mindfulness. It is Container Store instead of Neiman Marcus.
We need to be relentless AND humble in our pursuit of success.
9. Know “The Secrets of Work”
I have discovered the secrets of how work can ultimately be fulfilling and life enhancing for any individual – all leaders should know them if they are to build a great team.
- Work must be done with passion
- The work must be for a cause greater than ourselves
- It ultimately must be fun, or it is not worth doing
These 3 are a set – that is, you cannot just get to 2 out of the 3 with your teammates and call it good. We need to get to the fun part, and that is all too often neglected. I see “fun” when the passion and the cause are making a difference – when a group of people are continually hitting targets and raising bars – in other words, to use a sports analogy, they are “winning”.
And who does not enjoy being a winner? Think of the camaraderie, the smiles, the feelings of satisfaction, the pats on the back, and yes, the celebrations. In fact, I regularly ask my team if they are having fun, because I am confident that the foundations of the “secrets of work”, the passion and the cause, are already in place.
Apply these secrets yourself, and get your team across the goal line to the fun zone.
10. Do the Unexpected
When I was in the drama club in college, one thing that stuck with me was the uptick in positive energy that always occurred when someone broke into an “up” song – it was like a joy injection. Think of the great movie musicals you have seen – like “Singin’ in the Rain“, or “Grease.
This led me to pondering if this could work in a leadership situation. Consequently, in my team meetings I have been known to throw in a few bars (or even an entire version) of something just to jazz up an occasion, and it has worked wonderfully. It is one of those offbeat and unexpected twists that can really create a hook to go with the message, to make it more memorable and ultimately more actionable.
Am I really recommending singing as a way to better leadership? Not the singing itself per se, but the ability for a leader to “mix it up” to surprise and inspire can go a very, very long way towards establishing the kind of productive work environment that will produce better than good, if not great, results. And who doesn’t need a joy injection once in a while?
Perhaps you should take a karaoke machine out on the road and into the boardrooms with you. One more piece of advice – make sure the song is in your key.