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!
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.
If you believe the old saying that you are the average of your five closest friends then you should also know that you, and them, are only as good as their tools. Everybody uses them and some use more than others but they are all there for a reason.
Today I want to share with you a few of my favorite leadership resources. These leaders all have unique perspectives and experiences that make them valuable assets for your toolbox. Here are their names and why I value them.
Simon Sinek’s works include “Start With Why” and “Leaders Eat Least”. He is also a renowned TED Talker and public speaker with a background in cultural anthropology. That background gives him a perspective relatively unique among most leadership experts these days.
His works come from a perspective that what we look for in leaders is a natural function of how we evolved. And, if you have read these books, he is likely right. I believe that is why the 25 fundamentals I write about work so well, they are naturally evolved markers. So, put these books in your toolbox.
Larry Winget goes by the nickname of Pitbull of Personal Development. And, if you have ever read anything of his you will understand why. He has a no-nonsense, no fluff and in your face style of relaying really amazing content.
His books include titles such as “Its Called Work for a Reason” and “Shut up, Stop Whining and Get a Life”. The titles are self-evident to their contents. He is a regular contributor to several media outlets and considered one of the world’s top leadership speakers.
If you are looking for a touchy feely experience, Larry is not your guy. If you want to hear it straight with no spin then you won’t be able to get enough of Mr. Winget. He is the hammer in your toolbox!
Richard Rierson is the mind behind the “Dose of Leadership” podcast. If you have not heard of it then you are missing out. Richard has accumulated some of the best interviews across all the podcasts and I absolutely love his signature question.
“If you were going to have a dinner party and could invite any five people, living or dead, who would you invite?” This is a brilliant question because you learn a lot about people by who they select in answering this question.
Dov Baron is an expert on building great teams and working with millennials. He has a great back story with a very interesting past set of experiences. Dov’s brand is centered around his “Full Monty Leadership” platform.
I suggest adding Dov’s new book, Fiercely Loyal to your toolbox. While you are at it be sure to add his podcast and catch up on his blog.
Jim Bouchard is known as the C Suite Sensei for a reason. He has a rough past that he has overcome in order to become a leadership expert. His teachings are deeply rooted in the martial arts teachings that helped him turn his life around.
Jim’s latest book, “The Sensei Leader“, is another great addition to your toolbox. It chronicles a lot of his journey and uses that as a backdrop for his leadership teachings. Full disclosure, I was lucky enough to do an advanced review that is in the front of this book so, yes, I am a little biased on this one.
If you add these resources to your toolbox, along with the leadership fundamentals I talk about here, you will have everything at your disposal to be a more successful leader. I hope you enjoy reading their works as much as I do. If you have more suggestions feel free to include them in the comments section below.
The hallmark of long-term success for any organization is how well it adapts to new environments. Those who are nimble enough to adequately adapt will thrive while those who are either slow adopters or just don’t see a need to adapt will join our friend on the right. Those sentences aren’t opinion. They are a fact of life we see play out every day. Continue reading →
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am going to let you in on a big secret. Leadership isn’t a title you can earn from your superiors for doing a good job. And, it isn’t something you can mandate from those lower than you in the organization. So, if nobody can dub you a leader and you cannot mandate to anyone that you are their leader then how do you become a leader?
Easy, earn the gift. You see leadership is just that, a gifted privilege that can only be earned by being intentional in the application of the leadership fundamentals and being authentic while you do it.
The fundamentals work because they are based on characteristics humans instinctively look for in those they call leaders. That is why they continually come up over the years when you ask any group what they look for in a leader.
We crave leaders with integrity. We crave leaders who know their team and look out for their welfare. We crave leaders with a sense of justice. The list goes on and on through the 25 Leadership Fundamentals.
So, your goal shouldn’t be to impress your boss or assert yourself over subordinates. Your goal should be to intentionally apply these fundamentals and earn the gift of leadership. Because, and here is secret number two, when you do earn that gift your boss will be impressed and there will be no need to assert yourself with subordinates because they will follow you willingly.
Finally, once you have earned the gift you need to guard and protect it. It can be taken away as easily as it is given. In fact, it is probably easier to lose than it ever will be to gain. You see giving the gift means your followers have imparted a large degree of trust in you. Most people don’t give trust easily and, if it is violated, they retract it even faster.
The gifted privilege of leadership comes with great responsibility but it is worth every ounce of effort. So, get out there and intentionally apply the 25 Leadership Fundamentals and earn your gift!
Have you ever worked for a boss that made everyone nervous? It is usually because they fly off the handle pretty easy, right? They fail at creating a safe and constructive work environment for the team to flourish in. When that happens the impact is nearly immeasurable due to how each team member will react.
Some will carry on and make the best our of it. Some will complain and bring others eve further down. And, in worst case scenarios, others will walk out and take their skills somewhere else.
This is why it is important for leaders to act as more of a safety valve for their teams. You see, the job of a safety valve is to manage stress and pressure and keep them at manageable levels so the equipment can still function and be productive. If there is too much of a build up the safety valve knows how to relieve that pressure and safely return conditions to a manageable and productive level.
This is a valuable skill for any leader who wishes to be a great leader to possess. In many ways, your team craves it. They need to know their leader can effectively manage the inherent stresses that come with being a high performing, high producing and highly innovative team.
You see, these teams are often tasked with thinking outside the box and bringing new, creative solutions to long-standing problems. When those ideas fail, pressure builds. When pressure builds conflict arises. When conflict arises the entire project can explode.
That is unless it is being led by someone who truly understands the importance of being a safety valve. But, how do you become this sort of valve for your team? Well, a lot of it goes back to the traits and principles of leadership. If you utilize the traits of justice, judgment, and loyalty you are off to a good start. Practicing the entire list of 11 Leadership Principles is also a good guide on how to achieve this.
In general, you should know when to discipline and when to grant grace. You should know when to accept responsibility and when to pass on recognition. You should know how to conduct yourself with tact and bearing. But, most importantly, you should always look out for the welfare of your team. A leader who puts the team above self is a leader who can accomplish great tasks.
How many times have you worked for the first type of leader? What was the end result of that? Have you ever worked for the “safety valve”? If so, how do those two experiences compare to each other?
One of my biggest obstacles comes from working with leaders who try to mimic other successful leaders. They see leadership as “cookbook’, meaning if I follow a recipe written by others I will see the same success they did. So, they go out and find all the material they can on whom they have chosen to copy cat and get to work.
They change their mannerisms. They change the way the dress. They start talking in catch phrases. Before you know it they are practically unrecognizable.
Worse than that, they come across as fake, forced and disingenuous. You know right away that they aren’t acting like themselves. That act alone undermines their integrity and makes the relationship uneasy. That is the exact opposite effect of good leadership.
See, here is the secret…
You cannot copy another leader and see their same success. There are too many variables in their lives, personality and organization that play into why their style works. Those conditions are the result of years or work, dedication, success and failure.
You can only be the leader YOU are meant to be. There is no other way around that fact. No amount of reading, no number of seminars, no amount of copycat effort can allow you to clone somebody else’s style and success.
Now, what you can do is listen to the underlying messages in their personal story and look for nuggets you can personalize. By truly analyzing the success of others you can figure out why it worked for them and how you can adapt it to work for you and your organization.
When you do that it isn’t cloning. It is development and that is what every leader should continuously work towards. Personal growth and self-improvement are vital to your success as a leader and, ultimately, the success of your team and organization.
Have you worked for a leader who tried cloning someone else? How did it make you and your team feel about their leadership? Did you say anything to that leader or let it go? If yes, how did you approach the subject and what were the outcomes?