One of the best, yet under told, stories of the Battle of Thermopylae is the story of deciding where to build the wall that would restrict the Persians advance. Leonidas listed. As his officers debated where the wall should go. One by one they each made their case and raised great points both strategically and practically. Yet, after a long discussion, they were nowhere near a solution.
They kept making points and counterpoints until the king had heard enough. While they continued to talk he stood up, walked over to a pile and picked up a stone. The officers took notice and began to watch their king.
He took the stone and placed it on the ground. He then returned to the pile, picked up another stone and placed it next to the first one. After repeating this process a couple more times it was clear to all the Spartans, this was where the wall was to be built. Without saying a word to them they all joined their king and constructed a structure that would be instrumental in achieving their immortality.
The point of that story? Be a person of action. People follow other people who take action. Listen to input. Weigh the consequences. Make a sound and timely decision. Set the example. Be a person of action.
It is my opinion we don’t have a problem with women leaders, we have a problem with people following women.
Maybe it is because of my background as a Marine but I’ve never had a problem with following women. In fact, some of the best leaders I have had the pleasure of serving, both in and out of the military, have been women. Personally, I don’t see a bit of difference in male and female leadership. I get that “Women’s Leadership” is a niche born out of necessity but my hope is one day that need goes away. Leadership is a human thing that doesn’t care about gender. You either have it or you work to get it.
But, after reading an article on Forbes titled “10 Commandments For Women In Leadership” I decided to write this article as sort of a companion piece. The ability to follow is just as important as the ability to lead. I want you to walk away from this changed and ready to follow women into the future, if you aren’t already.
Again, good leadership is good leadership regardless of race, sex, or religious affiliation.
On to the list!
I’ve said it before, leadership is one of the trickiest words in the English language to fully understand. In fact some would argue that you never really can understand it all. I consider myself one of those “some”. Why? Well, today’s post will outline the paradox of leadership. I will also give you some tips on how to navigate through it. Let’s dig in!
You are simultaneously the most important factor and not the most important factor in your organization! Let that sink in just a second, you are simultaneously the most important factor and not the most important factor in your organization. You are probably already asking yourself, “How can I be both the most and not the most?” Well, we will explore that by breaking down both sides.
You Are The Most Important Factor
Leaders and their leadership are the most important factor in an organizations success. The tone they set, the examples they display, and the culture they foster are all critical elements that define success or failure. Their guidance can be the difference between sustainability and decay.
This is a responsibility you must take seriously. Not only do your teammates depend on you and your guidance but so do their families. For every team member you have you should view them as at least 2-4 people once you include families into the mix. That makes you and your skills the most important factor in your organization.
Your Team Is The Most Important Factor
No amount of leadership will make up for bad and under-performing teams. High performing and innovative team members are the most important factor in an organization’s success. True, it is your responsibility to pick the right people and this makes you one of the most important factors again but after that it is up to those people to take initiative and ownership of the organization to keep her successful. These teams and their performance represent the reputation of the organization. From the front desk receptionist to the CEO, bad team members contribute to bad reputations and good team members contribute to good reputations.
Furthermore, you will not be around forever. The people you bring in are the future of the organization. In order to build a strong, successful, and legacy generating organization the people you bring in must be of the highest quality and by in to the mission completely.
Balancing The Paradox
Balancing out these factors requires a high level of maturity, unselfishness, and willingness to see others succeed. The leader must balance when to lead with when to follow and do it so seamlessly that nearly nobody notices. This paradox is a big reason why two of the principles even exist, know yourself and know your team. Mastering these is the only way to arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to make the right choices.
It also helps to accept this paradox and remember you can do nothing about it. If you truly believe that you are simultaneously the most important and not the most important factor to your organization you become more comfortable transitioning between the two roles. When it comes your time to be important you will know it is true and when it is your time to empower and step back you will also know that it is true.
This paradox has existed since man began forming tribes. At times we need a leader to make all the decisions and other times we need it to be a team effort. Every time we have gone astray it is because we did not accept and honor this simple fact. Dictatorships occur because the team is never the most important and anarchy rules when there is not a leader that is most important.
What I am about to tell you is something you likely already know. You succeed as a team or fail as a leader. You may not realize you know it but, thanks to your personal experiences in life, you will know it is true by the end of this post. It is a concept so integral to leadership and team building that Jocko Willink and Leif Babin made it the focus of their first chapter in Extreme Ownership. In this chapter Jocko relays the story of a mission in Ramadi, Iraq that went sideways in one of the worst ways possible.
The short version (For the details you should read the book, great read!) is that , despite intensive planning and coordination of the mission there were a lot of small failures that took place leading up to the actual execution of the mission that l;ed to one fatal mistake and several near fatal mistakes. As is typical when mistakes of this magnitude occur there would be an investigation that would follow. As the SEAL in charge of the mission Jocko would be tasked to do a thorough analysis, write the report, and brief it out. While gathering this information he quickly discovered many contributing errors. He knew the higher ups would be looking for someone to blame and it was clear they would have their pick of people. Hell, Jocko could have picked any one of several people to completely dump blame onto but, he did not. He took full responsibility. He took Extreme Ownership!
You see, Jocko understood the simple that you succeed as a team or fail as a leader. In fact he writes in this chapter, ” On any team in an organization, all responsibility for success and failure rests with the leader. The leader must own everything in his or her world.” He goes on a bit later to say this about leadership, “It mandates that a leader set ego aside, accept responsibility for failures, attack weaknesses, and consistently work to build a better and more effective team. Such a leader, however, does not take credit for his or her team’s successes but bestows that honor upon his subordinate leaders and team members.”
Wow! Now tell me you wouldn’t already follow that guy to hell and back! Leaders how do this, who reach this level of Extreme Ownership as they call it, set excellent examples and positively influence the organizational culture. This culture will not fear failure because they will not be thrown under the boss, they will learn from it, they will implement change to prevent it from happening again, and they will move on as a team. This removal of fear relieves pressure, promotes innovation, promotes deeper teamwork, actually reduces mistakes thanks to the increase in personal ownership, and in general builds stronger teams.
The team succeeds because it is led well. It fails because the leader has failed the team. There is no way around this truth. As I wrote here, get comfortable with the phrase, “It’s my fault!”
Now, I can practically hear you screaming at me right now. You are likely thinking, “No, mister know-it-all! We failed because X showed up late to the meeting!” No, Mr. or Mrs. Leader, you failed for one of several reasons. Perhaps you didn’t clearly state the time and date of the meeting. Perhaps being on time is not part of the culture you have fostered so being late is not considered to be a big deal. Perhaps you failed to emphasize the importance of the meeting. Perhaps you have a message on your phone that you missed stating this individual was in an accident and would be late due to unforeseen circumstances.Or, perhaps you had the wrong person on your team to begin with. In any case, its your fault and you need it identify why it happened and take corrective action so it does not happen again so your team will succeed next time.
“But, but, what if we failed because Y just didn’t execute the plan properly?” They may not have executed the plan but that is your fault. Perhaps they were never capable of executing the plan and you chose them for it anyway. Perhaps the plan was flawed and in-executable. Perhaps the plan was too rigid and needed adjustments but you have built a culture that does not foster adapting on the fly and requires several layers of checks for changes and by the time approval was granted for change the objective slipped away.
Again, team succeed because they are led well and equipped with the tools, culture, responsibility, trust, and sense of ownership needed to succeed. They fail because they are led poorly. It truly is that simple. You may think you have done a great job at all of these and that you have led your team well. The only way you truly measure that is by successes and failures. Own the failures, adapt your approach and correct them. Acknowledge the team for success and build off of what worked and what you did well.
So, do you still not believe me? Then I challenge you to post up a scenario and let’s talk through it. I guarantee you that we will find where you failed your team and how we can fix it to increase your leadership success!
…and how to get to “Yes”
So, you have this great new idea but you are afraid of the answer. You know your idea can be a game changer you just have to get up the nerve to ask and ask right. Getting to “yes” means understanding why the answer is often a “no”. We will discuss three reasons and how to get around them.
The “Presumptive No”
The biggest enemy of getting to “yes” is never asking. The “Presumptive No” has derailed more dreams and ambitions than any other mistake in history. Now, most people fall for this because they believe they are saving their organization some time and trouble. They also believe they are saving themselves some embarrassment.
The truth is all you are doing is guaranteeing the answer will be no. Don’t rule yourself or your idea out. Don’t presume the answer is no. If you believe it is a great idea then you have an obligation to present it and give it a chance. Make somebody else tell you no for sure. Many times when you ask you will be surprised by the answer.
The Terrible Ask
Now, if you get past the “Presumptive No” you have to give your ask a chance. This isn’t as simple as walking in and saying, “I have X idea. Can I do it?” You need to craft your ask like a sales pitch. You must start with why it is important to the organization, what are the costs in money and time and what are the returns on that investment going to look like.
Those are the types of answers your leadership are going to be looking for. If you come in prepared with those answers you give your idea the best possible chance and hearing a yes.
The “No” Follow Up
Okay, so you have pushed past the “Presumptive No” and you have prepared a great pitch and delivered it flawlessly. You’ve done everything you can but you still hear no. At this point too many people just accept it and walk away. But, that is not the best course of action.
If this happens your best response is to ask, “Why?” Do it tactfully but find out what the objections may be and see if there are any points of concern you can help answer. Sometimes the gap between hearing yes or no is razor thin so with some minor revisions to your pitch you can allay those concerns and change the no to a yes.
Putting It All Together
Every single revolutionary event in the history of the world began with an idea. From politics to technology, we are where we are because people decided to give their idea the best chance for success. They pushed past the presumptive no, they made great asks and they followed up negative responses with revisions and information to answer any objections.
Only by doing the same will you ever have the impact on the world you are meant to have.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am going to be writing about a very touchy leadership style for most of you. In fact, if you even keep reading past the headline you are already a special breed of leader. Love is a word that brings up all sorts of visions and emotions.
So, how does love impact your leadership? First we need to really define the type of love we are talking about. Continue reading →
Ladies and gentlemen, you have heard them all before. That one phrase that is so insanely stupid at the moment that you ask yourself, “How did this person tie their shoes this morning?” The most terrible part is that you have likely said one or more of these your self. I know I have. And, I kick myself for it every single time!
The good thing is these aren’t usually fatal unless they become habit. Then they go from phrases of leadership failure to phrases of failed leadership. The difference? Failure is temporary and you can recover. Failed is past tense, you aren’t failing you have already done it! Game over, please try again.
So, what are these phrases of failure? Continue reading →
What do shooting a gun, playing quarterback, golf and leadership all have in common? We will answer that at the end but you’ll likely figure it out pretty quickly. Here’s a hint, it has to do with fundamentals and properly applying them.
So, lets dive right in and get to the answer! Continue reading →
Being a good leader is tricky. There are a lot of things you need to do in order to successfully lead your team. There may be more things you shouldn’t do. Over the course of this post we will discuss five of those things you should not do and why they are killing your leadership and hurting your team.
You may be making one or more of these mistakes but you, and only you, can fix them. So, lets dive right in!
Don’t read without implementing
I wrote an entire article on this topic but it bears repeating again. Reading is great. There are a ton of great books covering every leadership topic imaginable these days. From Dov Baron to John Maxwell to Dave Ramsey to Jim Bouchard, if you want to learn about an aspect leadership there is a book, or hundred, for you.
Reading isn’t the problem. The problem is reading and not implementing what you just read. If you don’t pull applicable knowledge from your reading then you should just stop because you are wasting your time.
How can you fix this and pull more out of your reading? Be more intentional about the books you select. Have a reason to read other than you heard about the book. If you intentionally seek books that cover topics of interest and meet a developmental need then you are more likely to retain the information and make needed adjustments.
Tip: Intentionally seek books that cover topics of interest and meet developmental needs.
Don’t quote quotes you don’t understand
Nothing is more annoying than being bombarded with quotes than being bombarded with quotes from someone who clearly doesn’t understand what the quote means. To be sure, there are some great quotes out there and a well timed quote can make all the difference in the world. But, how should you use quotes effectively?
Well, like reading above, be intentional about the quote you use. It needs to be timely and applicable to be appropriate to use. For instance, don’t throw out a teamwork quote when you should be focusing on conquering fear due to an upcoming change.
Also, try not to be so cliché. There are a lot of quotes that get used way too often. They are great quotes but tend to lose their punch every time your team hears them. So, ditch the tired Sun Tzu quotes and find more modern quotes with the same ideas but less used. They freshness will give it a higher impact.
Tip: Use fresh, timely and applicable quotes for the greatest impact.
Don’t talk the talk and not walk the walk
Speaking of quotes, we’ve all heard this one before. Yet, many of us seem to find away to forget about it not have out walk and our talk match up. Heck, I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t happen to me every so often. We are all human after all.
The critical element here is to make an intentional effort to have your words and your actions in alignment. And, when they don’t you have to be able to see it and take the appropriate steps to improve that standing. This is part of the, “Know yourself…“, principle.
Now, how can you easily tell if your actions and words are out of alignment? How does your team act? You see, your team is much more likely to follow the example set by your actions than the one set by your words. If they see you gossiping then they will gossip. If they see you working hard then they will work hard. You set the example for them to follow.
Tip: Be sure your actions and words are in alignment. Your team’s behavior is a good gauge to use. They will reflect your behavior.
Don’t tell people how good of a leader you are
Lionel Richie was a guest coach on the voice a couple of seasons back. During one segment he gave this advice to a singer with just a little too much confidence, “You don’t tell the crowd how good you are. They tell you how good you are.” That same principle holds true for leadership.
You don’t go around telling people how good of a leader you are, they will tell you. That need to identify your self as a good leader is a sure sign you lack confidence in your own abilities. It screams of trying to fake it until you make it.
The truth is that good leaders don’t have to tell anyone else how good they are. They do the right things because they are right and keep moving along. And, by doing so, they gain a reputation for being a good leader. When you have a reputation of being a good leader then other people spread the word on your abilities.
Tip: Do the right things because they are right. Leaders who do this gain a reputation that others will spread for them.
Don’t stop developing yourself
It is easy to find success and feel you have arrived at the pinnacle. You look back at all the hard work and think, “This is it. I have arrived and now I can relax and enjoy the rest of my career.” Well, you would be completely wrong. Right now is when you must work harder than you ever have.
Not only must you work harder but you must develop yourself further. You have too many people counting on you to lead them for you to not strive to be the best you can be today and be better than you were yesterday. Now, don’t get me wrong, you should enjoy the success and don’t be one of those people who is miserable because they constantly need more. I’m not talking about anything other than constant self-development here.
Keep reading. Keep attending conferences. Keep learning and evolving.
Self development helps you lead your team in a few ways. It keeps you relevant on current issues and how to handle them. It keeps you mentally sharp and focused. But, most importantly, it sets an example for your team to do the same no matter where they are in their careers. If you are still developing yourself at your stage then they will see the importance of self development at their stage.
Tip: Seek continuous growth from various sources. Don’t be afraid to adapt yourself to meet current challenges.
You’ve heard it a million times by now, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” WRONG! Culture is simply a part of a a triangle for success. Culture, strategy and the team make up the three sides of this triangle. So, lets talk about culture and explore the entirety of this success triangle for you to measure and guide your organization with.
Culture is obviously important but how well do you understand what it is? Culture, simply put, is the average behavior of your organization. This means it is important for you to be cautious in what behaviors you allow to flourish.
If you allow and encourage good behaviors then you will have a good culture. If you allow bad behaviors to thrive you will have a bad culture. Or, as Larry Winget puts it, “Nip it in the bud!” The basic idea is what you allow to exist in your organization means that behavior is what you condone. What you condone over a long period of time becomes your culture.
Now, here is the kicker. What I just said trumps anything you will say to your team. What I mean by that is that no matter what you tell your team acceptable behavior is doesn’t matter as much as what you actually do to enforce it. If you tell your team you have a no gossip culture but you tolerate gossip then you actually have a gossip culture. If you tell your team punctuality is a part of your culture but you allow people to show up late then punctuality means nothing to your culture.
Guard and nourish your culture!
Team is another side to the triangle. All the culture in the world won’t save you if you don’t have the right team to foster and promote it with you. This is why knowing the culture you want is important before you hire any team members or any new team members.
You see, this is a critical step a lot of organizations skip in their hiring process. They hire based on resumes or answers to the same interview questions hiring officials have been using for years. What you really need to look for in hiring is the right person. You can fill in minor competency gaps with on the job training for the right people. One way to do that is ask a new question.
The flip-side is that it is much more difficult to train highly qualified people to fit into your organizational culture. All the qualifications don’t matter if they clash and disrupt your current environment in a negative way. Don’t tolerate bad behaviors that don’t fit for the sake of credentials.
Strategy completes the triangle. You need a strong culture, the team that can live in it and a strategy to guide the organization to success. But not just any strategy will do. The strategy has to match the other two sides.
Just like any other pyramid, if one side isn’t like the others the whole thing will collapse. When that happens you are left with nothing mess to clean up and a decision to make. Do you move on or try again? Tip: You should almost always try again.
Bringing it all together
Now that you know what the three components are, where do you start? My suggestion will be with strategy. While I do believe that culture is the foundation of an organization it is strategy that dictates how the other two sides are constructed. A popular example of this is Zappos!. You have probably heard their story a few times by now but I’m going to use them again anyway.
Zappos did not set out to be a shoe company that was great at customer service. They set out to be a great customer service company that sold shoes. But, what if they hadn’t known that in the beginning and stayed with wanting to be a show company that provided customer service? What could the difference have been? Let’s look at each scenario and how it could of played out versus how it did.
Shoe company that provides great customer service: The focus of this strategy is being a shoe company. Customer service is secondary. Yes, it is still the desired culture but it isn’t the primary strategical focus. The means when hiring an emphasis would likely be placed on knowledge of shoes versus customer service. This view could lead to a team with much heavier shoe expertise than customer service expertise which would make the desired culture more difficult to achieve. The sides of the triangle would not match and the organization would have spent a lot of time trying to even them out or, worse, collapsed in on itself.
Actually, there is one other possibility that may have been worse. They could have compromised and changed their strategy so they could just be happy being another shoe company. Which would have likely only prolonged a collapse. It is never a good idea to make an organization something it just wasn’t mean to be.
Customer service company that sells shoes: This strategy clearly embraces the desired culture of customer service first. As soon as hiring begins people are hired more for their customer service skills than shoe knowledge. As a result they ended up with a great team that bought into the culture and executed the strategy. The sides of the triangle were pretty even and fit together well and the organization is a success.
Now, sure, there are exceptions. Maybe with the first scenario they would have ended up with a team with “good enough” customer service and improved from there. Or, in the second scenario, they could have ended up with a team that didn’t know enough about shoes and had a lot of teaching to do there. The point is if you have the clearly defined strategy, clearly defined strategy and the team that buys into both you are much more likely to see success.