What no one tells you about leadership
What are the effective leadership actions that allow leaders to get things done?
In a time of great uncertainty, people look for their leaders to lead them to a better tomorrow. They look for their leaders to inspire them, to unite them, and to guide them. People want to follow a leader who can communicate clearly, and take decisive actions.
Leaders who perform these actions will have an unfair competitive advantage. They will be able to become more productive, profitable, and impactful. The actions that I’m going to reveal are used by many great leaders such as Simon Sinek, Sheryl Sandberg, and Jocko Willink. These actions have helped them build trust, build strong teams, and deliver results.
If you want to grow as a leader, and grow your organization, it is time to examine your daily actions. Examine how many of these actions you already perform, and which actions you need to focus on a little bit more.
1. Go First
“A man should first direct himself in the way he should go. Only then should he instruct others.”
Lt. Col. Hal Moore was a phenomenal man and a great leader. He strove to set a leadership example for everyone who met him. He never turned away from a problem or a challenge. Col. Moore believed that trust is key to building effective teams and leading people. He believed that the best way to gain trust is by going first. In 1965, he was deployed to Vietnam. As soon as he got to Vietnam, he stood in front of his troops and gave one of the best speeches in history.
“We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy. I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God: that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I’ll be the last to step off. And I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together, so help me God.”
There are many books written about Col. Moore’s life. All these books have one thing in common, they described Col. Moore as a brave man who went first and served his troops. Leaders recognize difficult times before anyone else. They adjust the direction of the company before anyone notices that the company is in trouble. They see around the corners, they connect the dots, and they care about their staff.
There is a surprising power of going first. If you want to be an effective leader, you will be required to go first, and think farther than anyone else on your team. If you are sitting in a meeting, and no one is talking, you have to break the silence and encourage others to speak. If your organization is going through a crisis, you have to step up and lead. You have a moral obligation to lead, to be vulnerable, and to inspire others to lead.
If you want your team to trust you, go first.
2. Work Hard
“The world is changed by your example, not your opinion”
Li Ka-Shing is one of the richest people in the world, and a dominant figure in Hong Kong’s economy. He was born in South China; he had a humble beginning as the son of a school teacher. His family fled from China to Hong Kong when he was 12. Ka-Shing’s father died from tuberculosis 3 years later. This tragedy forced him to quit school and to start working at a plastic manufacturing company. He worked there 16 hours per day, seven days a week, something he continued to do until he reached 90 years old. He became a factory general manager by age of 19. A few years later, he found his own company and the rest is an inspiring story for all of us to enjoy.
We do not hear a lot about Ka-Shing, because we live in a society that does not want to talk about hard work. We are more concerned about shortcuts, hacks, and fake success. There is no shortcut to success, there is no substitute for hard work. If you want to lead, you should expect to work hard. Leadership is hard work, and it requires you to be bold, to be consistent, and to show up every day.
As a leader, you have to communicate your vision, build high performing teams, and execute powerful strategies. You are also required to negotiate, hold people accountable, and reward great performance.
The reason we undervalue hard work is that hard work is not sexy. It is not glamorous. Most leaders would rather be called bold, kind, or brave. These qualities tend to be noble qualities, but not hard workers. We have online fake gurus who are trying to tell people that success is easy, and you can buy a shortcut to success. So, if you subscribe to any of their newsletters, you can stop reading this article now.
There is no substitute for hard work, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz works more than 14 hours per day. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did not take a vacation for 7 years, and Apple CEO Tim Cook starts his day at 4:30 in the morning. I know some people will argue “Work smart, and hard.” My counter-argument, you have to do both, work hard and smart at the same time.
Greg Popovich is one of the smartest NBA leaders who coached the San Antonio Spurs to five championships. His closest friends describe him as a working-class man who makes up for his lack of natural talent by outworking everyone. I view Popovich as the smartest man in the NBA, and his best friend views him as the hardest working man in the NBA. If you want people to follow and respect you, do the work.
If you want to lead better at home or work, accept the fact that you will have to work hard. When it comes to leadership, nothing replaces the value of hard work. You have to be willing to do the hard work.
3. Serve More
“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.”
The key to great leadership is to help people feel valued, respected, and purposeful. The best way to do that is by serving them. If you want to bring out the best in your team, serve them. Unfortunately, many leaders want to lead, so they can be served. Patrick Lencioni believes that people lead for two motives. They want to serve others, or they want to be rewarded. It is very obvious which one of these two motives create better leaders. According to Lencioni leaders seek rewards or responsibilities.
Lencioni suggests that people who want to lead because they want to be in charge, they are reward focused. They tend to be selfish, and do not want to serve others. The best way to lead is to recognize the noble responsibility of leadership. You must be willing to do the work, serve people, and build strong teams.
This is what Simon Sinek calls this the irony of great leadership. Great leaders are not driven to lead people, they are driven to serve them. Herb Kelleher, founder of Southwest Airlines believes that his first responsibility as a leader is to care about his employees and serve his customers. He draws a full circle between happy employees, happy customers to happy shareholders.
Southwest Airlines executives serve their employees every day. This servant leadership approach allowed them to build a strong culture that made them the best in the industry. Every Southwest employee feels appreciated, empowered, and understood. Their employees feel safe to innovate and to take risks. On their website, they define 6 values that drive their culture. They ask employees to use these values as parameters to make decisions.
Servant leadership is one of its core values. They are serious about serving their team, customers, and shareholders. They follow the golden rule, treat each other with respect, and embrace the southwest family. These values propelled their company to be the best airline company in the country.
If you want to become a better leader, serve more. People will always follow a leader who is willing to serve them. Sheryl Sanberg used the same style of leadership at Facebook. She served her staff by asking them lots of questioned and she listened to their concerns.
4. Speak Last
“You will be told your whole life that you need to learn to listen. I would say you need to learn to be the last to speak.”
One of the most powerful habits that a leader can master, it is the ability to communicate. It does not matter how insightful your ideas are if you are unable to express them. You can not reach your leadership potential without great communication skills.
The question is how do you become a great communicator? You become a great communicator by learning to listen first and to speak last.
Nelson Mandela was one of the most powerful communicators in the world. A journalist once asked Mandela “How did you become a great leader?” Mandela answered, “When I was a little kid, I used to go with my father to tribal meetings, and I remember two things, they would always sit in circles, and my father was the last to speak.” I remind myself of this story every time I have the urge to speak first in meetings. Every time I feel the need to say something, I ask calibrated questions “How can we accomplish that? or What is the next best step?” These questions force me to listen more.
Cameron Herold is a top business consultant and bestselling author. He also encourages his clients to listen more than they speak and provides them with four reasons to speak last. Speaking last allows everyone to express their opinion, it empowers young leaders, it raises team confidence, and it drives your company in the right direction. By not speaking first, the leader is turning to the team to conquer the organization’s most difficult challenges. It forces the team to think, argue, and to have healthy conflicts.
If you want to be a better leader, master the art of speaking last. Allow others to express their opinions first. No one wants to disagree with their leader, so by speaking first, you deprive yourself of listening to their original thoughts. If you want your team to be more productive, speak last.
5. Have Fun
“Work hard. Have fun. Make history.”
Most people believe that a serious and boring workplace is the best way to maximize productivity and profitability. Studies over the last 20 years contradict this notion. It has been proven that fun workplaces create happy employees and happy customers. I love to interact with Southwest staff, their energy is contagious. No one can deny that their ability to provide a fun workplace contributed to their success.
Southwest founder Herb Kelleher had the vision to build a fun culture. He understood that no one wants to spend their life working with miserable people and doing miserable jobs. He focused on building a fun culture by recruiting passionate team players and asking them not to take themselves too seriously. This fun culture made his company one of the most successful airlines in the last 100 years.
Tony Hartl is another leader who believes in the importance of having fun. He is the founder and former CEO of Plant Tan. He is a leader who built his legacy working hard and having fun. I had the pleasure to listen to him speak last March, and he spoke about the importance of playing hard. Having fun was a critical part of his corporate DNA. He understood that having fun at work makes his employees and customers happier. This mindset led him to be one of the most successful people that I know.
Leaders must lead the way in every aspect, including having fun. The positive energy generated by the leader is contagious and it will have an immediate impact on your team. If you want to maximize your productivity, profitability, and impact, learn how to have fun at work.
6. Own It
“The best leaders don’t just take responsibility for their job. They take Extreme Ownership of everything that impacts their mission.”
Jocko Willink is a retired United States Navy SEAL, author, and podcaster. Willink received many awards for his brave actions in the Iraq War. He co-authored a book called Extreme Ownership. The book became a leadership manual on leadership, ownership, and doing great work. He explains the book in one sentence “Extreme Ownership is a mind-set and attitude.” Willink advises everyone to take full ownership of everything that they do. Willink has said many times on his podcast that extreme ownership is very hard, and it takes effort to make it an instinct. Leaders have to be intentional about leading.
Leaders do not have the luxury to blame others. They have to take full responsibility for what is happening or has happened. John Maxwell believes that nothing happens to advance our potential until we step up and say ‘I am responsible.” Truett Cathy, the founder of Chick-fil-A used to tell his staff “If it’s up to be, it’s up to me.” Cathy’s extreme ownership mindset led him to build one of the most profitable companies in the fast-food industry.
In today’s marketplace, a lack of ownership is one of the biggest problems that we are facing. We are quick to blame others and slow to take full responsibility for our own mistakes. Extreme ownership should be the driving force of our decisions. It is the mindset that propels us forward. It is the belief that we have control over most situations, and we control the outcomes.
If you want to be a better leader, be quick to own everything.
7. Lead with Integrity
“If a man gains the world but loses his soul, is that OK?”
Lance Armstrong was sitting in the same room with Oprah Winfrey, and the audience knew that his legacy was about to be demolished. There was a yellow candle on his left, yellow is the color that he made famous by associating it with fighting cancer. This is the man who defeated cancer, overcame all the odds, and won seven Tour de France but he could not resist the temptation of cheating to be a few seconds faster than his teammates and his opponents. His body language was painful to watch, and his eyes were dazed. He finally confirmed the audience’s suspicion and admitted that he used performance-enhancing drugs for a very long time.
Armstrong sacrificed his integrity to gain his legacy and he ended up losing both. He was a legend and a household name. In 2015 Daniel McMahon reported that Lance Armstrong still haunts the sport he ruined, but his influence is a thing of the past. ESPN’s latest ’30 For 30' shows Americans are done with Lance Armstrong. The show got horrible ratings and very few people watched the show.
I want you to take a moment to think about this, Armstrong was one of the most famous athletes in the world, and now no one cares about him. Armstrong made a lot of mistakes; his biggest failure he did not lead with integrity.
Leaders with integrity are honest, consistent, and accountable. Armstrong was not honest with himself or others. He was not consistent with words and actions. If you want people to respect you, walk the talk, follow the rules that you establish for your team. Do not be intoxicated with short-term success, always think long-term. Had he apologized earlier in his career, and changed his behavior, he could have made a comeback. Leaders will make some mistakes, the faster they own their mistakes, the faster they can re-establish their moral authority.
If you want to lead with integrity, you have to ask yourself three questions every day:
· Am I being honest with myself and others?
· Am I being consistent?
· Am I being accountable?
Had Lance Armstrong asked himself these questions, he would be the most influential athlete in the last 100 years.
Leadership is hard, and as Andy Stanley states people will judge us based on our direction and not the intention. It is what we do, and not what we say that counts. We do not succeed by accident; we succeed by being disciplined and taking action.
We succeed by working hard, serving more, going first, speaking last, having fun, owning our action, and leading with integrity. We have to be intentional about these actions.
Are you ready to lead?
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