Most people think leadership skills are innate: either you have them, or you don’t. While it’s true that some people are wired to be great leaders, there is also hope for the rest of us. We too can lead well and achieve great results.
However, leadership can be confusing. There are so many leadership books and consultants sharing their views that sometimes the whole concept can feel overwhelming. Besides that, most leaders are looking for a silver bullet that will make them great. I have spoken at leadership conferences all over the globe, and most of the people I have met are hoping to get that one secret that will transform them from an average to an extraordinary leader.
Leadership is simple but, unfortunately not that simple. While there may not be a silver bullet, there are four things I have found leaders can do to ensure they are optimizing results at their organizations.
Management guru Peter Drucker said there is no greater waste than being good at something that does not matter. Along the same vein, Drucker also said managers make sure things are done right, but leaders ensure the right things are being done. An organization being good at something that does not matter or doing things that should not be done often results from its leader’s lack of clarity.
It is essential that leaders provide clarity in four areas, starting with the organization’s “why.” In his book Start with Why, Simon Sinek explains the importance of “why” much better than I can; I highly recommend every leader read it.
At our company, we have embraced our “why” of “Making Life Better,” and it impacts everything we do. We want everyone we connect with to be better for having dealt with us, and that includes our employees, customers, vendors, dealers, people around the world we serve through our philanthropy and even our competitors.
Clarity is also required in the organization’s values. Our team has a culture pyramid that clearly identifies our values. We often talk about our values and hang the pyramid around our facilities. We work hard to ensure that no one must wonder about our values or what is important.
Next, a leader provides clarity in the organization’s vision. Every team needs to know where the leader wants to take them. Teams are much more effective and energized when they are working toward a clear, concise vision of the future.
And last, clarity is needed in the organization’s strategic plan. An effective plan identifies the path a team will take to achieve its vision. It is frequently a three- to five-year plan that serves as a road map. If a strategic plan is well-developed and well-executed, the company will achieve its vision.
Building a Great Team
I hate to admit this, but anyone who knows me well already realizes it: I am likely the least-talented person on our team. To be successful, I need to be part of a great team, and fortunately, we have one at our company. I embrace the act of hiring people who are smarter and more talented than I am, because I know we need them.
When you get the right team, everything becomes much easier. Unfortunately, some leaders hesitate to hire people they perceive as threatening to them or their leadership. They either want to be the smartest person in the room, or they are not willing to invest in the best people. Ultimately, those characteristics hold back their organization.
Building a great team, of course, starts with hiring the right people. We look for character, competency and chemistry in a leadership candidate. The consistent mistake I have made over my career is overvaluing competency at the expense of character and chemistry. I would never even consider hiring someone I knew had bad character or chemistry, but I can become enamored with a prospective teammate’s competency and fail to consider the other areas as much as I should; it always ends up bad, and I hope I have learned my lesson.
Over the years, our team has used assessment tools such as Predictive Index, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and the DiSC personality test to help us find the right person for a job. I have found that a combination of Myers-Briggs and DiSC helps me get a good understanding of the candidate and how he or she will fit on our team.
After hiring great people, great leaders develop them incessantly. Often, we invest in hundreds of our employees so they can go back and get their bachelor’s degree or MBA, obtain a useful certification, attend an executive education course, or participate in our Correct Craft University. Years ago at a conference, I heard Zig Ziglar say, “It is better to train your people and have them leave than not train them and have them stay.” That idea stuck with me, and I embrace it.
Finally, your company will get the best results if your team is healthy and embraces constructive conflict. By far the best book I have read on this is Pat Lencioni’s The Five
Dysfunctions of a Team. I highly recommend every leader read it.
Move Toward Problems
New leaders are often surprised at how difficult it is to assume the responsibility of leadership. It is much easier to say what you would do than actually do it. Leadership can be stressful, and the unique challenges of leadership often result in leaders avoiding problems and challenges. It is easy to think that problems may go away on their own, and it’s hard to have the difficult conversations, but the best leaders move toward problems.
In his great book Necessary Endings, Henry Cloud writes that sometimes it is in everyone’s best interest to end business relationships that are not working. Doing so is difficult, but to be effective leaders, we need to make tough decisions, even when those decisions involve necessary endings.
While moving toward problems can be challenging for any leader, often the task is even more difficult for introverts. However, regardless of our wiring, it is impossible to be a great leader without moving toward problems.
Organizations require energy, and leaders must be the primary source of that energy. It takes effort to provide energy to your organization, but the benefits to the organization, leader and team are immense.
Unfortunately, while it takes effort to provide energy to an organization, it is all too easy to be a de-energizer. To provide your organization energy, start by being impact-focused instead of reward-focused. If your team believes you are focused on attention, money or other rewards, it is de-energizing to them. When you are focused on making your team better by developing them and using your platform for good, it energizes your team.
Also, be a high-expectation, high-affirmation leader. When a leader sets high goals and affirms progress toward those goals, it is highly energizing.
Great leaders believe in their team — and let them know it. Make sure you let your team know you believe in them.
Also, be an optimist. Optimism is contagious and provides energy. Check out Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism to better understand how being an optimist can help you be a better leader.
And last, be humble. As Tim Irwin writes in Derailed, pride is at the root of almost every leadership catastrophe.
Leadership is not mysterious; there are things you can do to lead better and improve your results. Start with creating clarity, building a strong team, moving toward problems, and creating energy. Both you and your team will be better for it.
This article was originally published in the October 2020 issue.