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!
Team building is an important aspect of any organization and building strong teams is the sign of a great leader. The best part of it all is that team building is amazingly simple if you make the right investments. There are three essential investments you must make to build high performing, resilient and successful teams.
These aren’t monetary investments, money can’t buy good teams. No, these are investments made by and of the leader and the organization. So, what are these three amazing team building investments? Continue reading →
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.
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.
In a previous article I discussed why people often struggle in new leadership roles so in this article I would like to focus on how to successfully assume a leadership role. The timing of this article is perfect in that I have a great example handy. Last week there was a change in command for the Commandant of the United States Marine Corps and incoming General Neller wasted no time in giving clear guidance as to what the organizational focus would be under his command. He did so in a message to all Marines that contained six sections. This message, in my mind, is a great example of the universality of leadership fundamentals, and you will see several of them mentioned through the message.
Okay, first the jargon clean up before you read the original message. A “FragO” is simply a fragmented order. It is a piece of the larger order being developed that is released to keep the organization moving forward. And, CPG stands for the Commandant’s Planning Guidance which, like it sounds, is how the Commandant plans to lead. Now, for the rest of the message I will ask you to replace the military specific words with more civilian friendly words. Think of the Commandant as the leader. Think of war as competition. Think of the enemy as competitors. When he talks about cutting edge weapons technology think of cutting edge technology relevant to your business. There are many direct correlations from the military to civilian world.
Please read A Message from the Commandant and see my breakdown below.
“All previous guidance remains in effect”
A change in leadership is usually a time of uncertainty for everyone involved. The team doesn’t know how the new leader will lead and the new leader doesn’t know how the new team will follow. Trust hasn’t been established and that takes time. So, a great course of action is to come in and change as little as possible.
This will allow for a smoother transition as you move from old plan to new plan. Also, remember we are dealing with people and their emotions. There may be some lingering loyalty to the old leader. By acknowledging and honoring them you can tap into a little of that a boost your own loyalty and trust factors.
“Like war itself, our approach to war fighting must evolve”
Again, acknowledge past efforts but lay a clear path for future change. Don’t make people feel like everything they have done has been a waste because you know better. On the other hand you must acknowledge the need for change and progress in order to stay relevant under your leadership.
“For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack”
This section stresses the importance of the entire team. Leaders are only as good as their followers and followers only as good as their leaders. Both have their roles and stressing that from day one is an excellent approach. It may be a new concept to the team or, in the case of the Marines, a well established one. You cannot afford to make the wrong assumption so stress your thoughts on teamwork and its importance immediately.
“The senior is obligated to provide the guidance and the example that allows subordinates to exercise proper judgment and initiative. This includes providing a clear mission and intent… what to do, not how to do it.”
While it is true your leaders are in their positions because they have proven their worth it is still a good idea to set your expectations for them. Define what you see their success looking like. Give them criteria and guidance but don’t give them orders.
Now, when you read the message your first instinct may have been, “What? I thought Marines were all bout giving and following orders?” Well, that is only partially true. Very rarely are orders clear-cut, step by step. What Gen. Neller is talking about, and what you should learn from this is called “Commanders Intent.”
See, orders usually come in the form of telling a team to meet a certain objective and not the step by step process to get there. This leaves the team with latitude to employ their expertise to achieve the objective the most efficient and effective way possible. If you do that for your team then you will have a top-tier team. It may take them time to get used to that new-found freedom so give them time to adjust and grow.
“The subordinate agrees to act (with discipline, respect and loyalty) and not exceed the proper limits of authority.”
This section is very similar to the last. It sets the expectations and defines success. This one is just success from the angle of the follower.
“Human will, instilled through leadership, is the driving force of all action in war.”
Okay, this section is full of wisdom for how few words there are. The essence of it is that too often we get focused at being the best in a certain area but ignore others. When the truth is we need to focus on several areas of excellence. Zig Ziglar referred to this as “The Wheel of Life.” Just like a real wheel, when one section is flatter than another you will get some turbulence in your ride. If you work on them all and keep them as close as possible then life will go much smoother and you will be capable of achieving more.
Powerful message, huh? Through the course of the message General Neller acknowledged his predecessor, set clear organizational guidance and defined what success looks like for the role of leader and subordinate. His approach and communication generates an expectation of continuity of operations along with the idea that change will also be happening out of necessity.
Those are all key factors you should strive to hit when you assume a leadership role. Change is rough to begin with so don’t make it worse by creating more uncertainty and needless animosity. Remember, the outgoing leader had a vision and a connection to your team. Don’t begin by bashing them and blowing up the vision just because you can. Let your tenures flow together as seamlessly as possible for a smooth transition.
Also, define your vision and why you are setting it along with why it is important to the team and organization. Connect to the organizational loyalty which will likely be stronger than any you have in the beginning. And, don’t forget to define success and how to achieve it. Give guidance to get there but don’t order them how to get there. Let them surprise you with their accomplishments instead of restricting them to your ideals.
This message is best delivered in person but any method will work. The key is you must have this conversation for your sake and the team’s. If you do, then you will be able to successfully and easily assume the new leadership role.