I’ve been fortunate enough over the course of my 34-year career to have arrived at what I call the leadership summit – a high place of great business success and personal satisfaction, and a fulfilling culmination of years of effort, determination, and dedication.
On many occasions since that achievement I’ve been asked the “How did you do it?” question, and after a good bit of reflection, a lot of blog posts musing about it, and the benefit of hindsight, I can break it down to 12 steps to the leadership summit:
Step 1: Declare Your Intention to Lead (and WHY)– Before you can even start the climb, you have to WANT to do it. I drifted around for several years as an executive before I finally sat down and wrote “I want to be a leader”, and more importantly, also wrote down the “why“ (I’ll reveal that later -stay tuned…). That was the real beginning of the journey, declaring that intention. It’s a very powerful exercise well worth doing.
Step 2: Write Down Your Personal Leadership “Rules of The Road” – This is another “put it on paper” exercise; 7-10 personal rules to guide your leadership and your life going forward. I wrote my list back in 1992, and my favorite rule remains the first one – “Don’t worry about that which you cannot control”.
Step 3: Heed The 5 Things You Need To Know (Before You Jump Into The Pool) – These 5 things are the key to getting off to a good start as a leader: 1) Full-Spectrum Management, 2) Teaching Instead of Telling, 3) Trusting the Facts, 4) Knowing the Secrets of Work, and 5) The Seven Most Important Words. Download my free e-book to find out more about these lessons, and always remember those seven words: “I don’t know, but I’ll find out“.
Step 4: Survey The Landscape (and open your ears) – Your first 3-6 months on the job should be more listening than talking. Period. There is no other way to really get a feel for your challenge and how to take it on than to talk to as many people as you can within the organization you lead. It’s also a show of respect that pays enormous dividends later in the process.
Step 5: Define Your Leadership Battles, And How You Will Win Them – This isn’t what you think; these aren’t battles with people. These are the feelings, attitudes, and concepts that you are going to have to fight successfully to be a winning leader. Things like “we vs. they”, “trust vs. fear”, or “will to succeed vs. hope to survive”. Once you’ve done your survey, write these down too, and discuss them with your team – when I did this it made a really big difference.
Step 6: Build Deep Trust and a Fortress of Credibility With The 6 Steps – Remember, trust is never nameless. Here are the 6 steps: 1) Make sure they know you, 2) Make sure you know them, 3) Be a “Doer”, not a “Talker”, 4) Over-communicate (use Terry’s Rule), 5) Keep your promises (or don’t make them if you can’t keep them) 6) Be a truth-teller. Read more about them here.
Step 7: Align All The Values – There needs to be a cause that everyone needs to rally around, but it must be based on common values. Take the time to do this alignment. In my case, at our cable TV company we established 7 common values that served us well: honest, thorough, reliable, supportive, respectful, grateful, and involved.
Step 8: Find, Hire and Teach More Human Leaders -Finding the “right” people to build the best team has always been one of the most challenging things a leader can do, and it often can be the most frustrating, because there is a lot of risk involved. Follow these 4 rules and you’ll reduce your odds of failure: 1) Never, ever, be afraid to hire somebody smarter than you are, 2) Find people who have the courage to express their opinions, both intelligently and respectfully, 3) Hire people that set high goals and standards, and are the first ones to tell you they aren’t hitting them, and 4) Don’t ever forget that you cannot change someone’s personality, no matter how hard you try.
Step 9: Establish the “Immutables” – You’re now ready to lay down a few operational “immutables” – your leadership lines in the sand. In my case, there were always 4: Quality, Service, Leadership, and Accountability. We were not going to compromise on ANY of these 4 things – as an example, one of our favorite lines that came out of this was “We will not sacrifice quality at the altar of expediency”. That sent the message loud and clear – and we had the leadership and accountability to back it up.
Step 10: Set the Mantra – Great leaders need a mantra – that is, some key phrase or sentence that is transferred to the lips and hearts of all they lead (notice I didn’t call this a “mission statement”). Here’s one that served me well in my cable TV career: Serve our Customers and Support Each Other. We relentlessly pushed it (in fact, I required all employees to know it), and I believe it was a critical factor in the exponential improvements we subsequently made.
Step 11: Relentlessly Push 3 Key Metrics – We have to measure what we manage, and while all great businesses measure a lot of important things, there should always be a few that are tracked and known to ALL teammates. There are 3 numbers that relate to customers that, if properly tracked, monitored and fostered, can create great alignment within an organization: 1) Total (Valued) Customer Number, 2) Customer Pain Number, and 3) Happy Customer Number. In my business those numbers were total customer counts, operational fault rates, and our Net Promoter Score. Note how these 3 things could be tied to the values, the immutables, AND the mantra. But there’s one more step that REALLY ties this all together….
Step 12: Connect It All to Employee Happiness (and Yours) – As I reached this last step on my leadership journey, it got to the point where when I spoke to groups of employees, all I’d need to do is draw a smiley face. THAT’s what this was all about. We focus on all of those other steps (the mantra, the metrics, the values, etc), and we’ll succeed. And guess what? That will also make us happy and fulfilled. But here’s the really cool part – remember my “why?” back in step one? It was – “make a difference for my teammates, my company, and myself”. Getting to this step was the fulfillment of that “why?”. I had reached the leadership summit.