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You Want to Be Leader, but Can You Handle the Truth?

Posted by Kevin Potrzeba on Sep 23, 2019

After being fortunate enough to be in positions of leadership for over 30 years, my experience taught me the truth of why leaders fail and succeed. Many truths about leadership are not so popular but when combined and executed consistently, they are very powerful. I have woven the following into my style of leadership, and they have served me well. Wouldn’t it be terrific to learn what you have found to be true?

Keep the Right People Upset with You

Great leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of all employees which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions.  It's inevitable; embrace it. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity and you’ll be driven to avoid the tough decisions. You'll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted and worst of all, you'll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset. Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to tick anyone off and by treating everyone equally regardless of their contributions, you'll simply ensure that the only people you'll wind up angering are the most creative, productive and successful people in the organization.

 

Obsess Over the Details

Strategy equals execution.  All the great ideas and visions in the world are worthless if they can't be implemented rapidly and efficiently. Good leaders delegate and empower others liberally, but they pay attention to details every day.  (Think about winning athletic coaches like Bill Belicheck, Phil Jackson, Pat Summitt and Mike Krzyzewski).

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Bad leaders, even those who fancy themselves as progressive visionaries, think they're somehow above operational details. Oddly enough, good leaders understand something else – an obsessive routine of carrying out details begets conformity and complacency, which in turn dulls everyone's mind.  That is why even as they pay attention to details, good leaders continually encourage people to challenge the process. They implicitly understand the sentiment of CEO leaders like Jeff Bezo’s and the late Steve Jobs who independently have said in not so many words--the job of a leader is not to be the chief organizer but the chief dis-organizer.

 

Spend More Time with Your Employee Who Actually Provides You Lift

In a brain-based economy, your best assets are people. While we have heard this expression so often,  many leaders really don't do much to ensure their people feel this way. I have not seen many leaders really put in the time necessary to ensure their people consistently know their value to the firm. Too often, people are assumed to be empty chess pieces to be moved around by visionary leaders, which may explain why so many top managers immerse their calendar time in deal making, restructuring and the latest management fad.  How many immerse themselves in the goal of creating an environment where the best, the brightest, the most creative are attracted, retained, and – most importantly – unleashed?

 

Don’t Be Afraid to Break It

I have found too often; real change is stifled by people who cling to familiar ways and job descriptions. One reason that even sizable organizations don’t innovate, or grow is that their leaders won't challenge old, comfortable ways of doing things. But real leaders understand that the speed at which competition, markets and people’s tenure change is so rapid that the reality is most of our jobs are becoming obsolete.  The best way to keep everything moving in a positive direction is to make our activities obsolete before someone else does. Effective leaders create a climate where people’s worth is determined by their willingness to learn new skills and grab new responsibilities, thus perpetually reinventing their jobs. The most important question in performance evaluation becomes not, "How well did you perform your job since the last time we met?" but, "How much did you change it?"

 

They Will Follow a Clear Path

Effective leaders understand it is critical to keep your messaging simple and to the point.  You must articulate vivid, over-arching goals and values, which you can use to drive daily behaviors and choices amongst competing alternatives.  Your vision and priorities are lean and compelling, not cluttered and buzzword-laden.  Your decisions must be crisp and clear, not tentative and ambiguous.  If you convey an unwavering firmness and consistency in your actions, aligned with the picture of the future you paint, the result will be clarity of purpose, credibility of leadership and integrity in organization.

Certainly, there are more than 5 truths to great leadership but getting comfortable with the ones I have bought into, will position you as a respected leader and give you higher probability of success.