The Fabric of a True Leader – My Takeaways from the Last 5+ YearsFebruary 29th, 2012 | Leadership,Small Business Tips | 15 Comments »
As many of the readers of this blog know, my day job has been at a large web services company over the last few years. Today is my final day of juggling the absolutely exhausting schedule of a demanding full-time day job and simultaneous full nights and weekend entrepreneur with KikScore. I am very excited for that, however, the only major downside really is I now have to find another excuse for why I am 10 pounds overweight, have no time to work out, am balding and have those dark circles under my eyes!
The substance of this post and the story that provides that substance has been years in the making. In short, this post is about the lessons I learned from an undeniable true leader, my former boss (who also left the company this past November). Therefore this is a very personal and important post for me for two reasons: 1) to provide a way of saying thanks to him and 2) to share with the broader community some of the incredible traits that I hope we all strive for in leadership positions that we are in or may be in one day. My tribute to him will only really be complete if I can embody and carry many of these same traits to KikScore and beyond in my career and not end up like the guy from the CareerBuilder ad (great song by the way from one of my all time favorite commercials)!
Instead of a long story, the best way to convey to readers what I experienced and learned first hand is by sharing the traits that he repeatedly demonstrated in his daily work and interactions with our team, management, board of directors, third parties, employees throughout the organization and even adversaries trying to sue the company. The traits broadly broke down into four main areas:
3) Strategy; and
4) Interaction with Others.
Just for some important context, I saw these traits and actions of this leader over the backdrop of more than 5 years, 4 different management teams (including 4 different CEOs) and 3 different owners that included two separate private equity firms. His approach to leadership and managing his team instilled a tremendous amount of loyalty not just with me, but throughout the entire organization and especially with his ability to successfully manage through external crisis scenarios and heavy media scrutiny. A testament to that is over the last few years there was not one person that had the overall and nearly universal respect of the multiple management teams, middle level management and employee base as well as scores of people outside of the company (even competitors too!) and in the community that consistently and repeatedly recognized and often commented on how phenomenal of a leader and person my former boss is. The funny thing is I honestly think there are probably more than 20 people today across many of these organizations around the world that would write this very same post I am writing about him because our experiences with him have been so similar.
So based on my last 5+ years, the fabric of a true leader can best be described the following way:
A Leader’s Personality Matters
1) Be the person that sets the example and the standard for others
2) Remain calm during a crisis and when others are in various states of panic because that calmness helps everyone make better decisions
3) Keep everything in perspective, even when going through ups and downs as a company and team
4) Stick up for those people who do not have a voice, they will repay you with loyalty and even harder work
5) Be courageous and have the conviction to present a different opinion (just make sure to back it up with data and facts)
6) Steer clear of the politics for a decision and focus instead on what is the right decision for the business
7) Take the time to laugh and enjoy the moment – laughter can often diffuse the inevitable tense meetings and events that we all experience
A Leader Helps Create and Implement a Strategy
8 Work to create an overall mission/strategy that defines the role for yourself and the people you manage
9) Remain flexible and open minded in the tasks and roadmap needed to execute on the strategy
10) Always game plan so you think two and three steps ahead of decisions/actions taken so a team can adequately anticipate possible outcomes
11) Relentlessly focus on customers and employees for the overall strategy and the decisions that are made in executing on that strategy
A Leader Manages with Common Sense
12) Know the role that you have as the leader of a team and focus on consistently delivering in that role
13) As you manage and lead your team, work to ensure that the team clearly understands the strategy and mission that is to be accomplished and their individual roles in achieving the mission
14) Ask lots of questions, but do not second guess subject matter experts by replacing their recommendations with your own gut feelings
15) Learn to deflect praise to the team and team members
16) Actively promote the careers of deserving team members even if they end up having to leave your team
17) Communicate, communicate and then communicate some more with your team
A Leader Makes a World of Difference to Others Through Their Interactions
18) Set your own high standard for interacting with others and make sure you do not get drawn into reacting to other people’s behavior and negativity
19) Avoid unnecessary escalations where you need to “go over someone’s head” and instead give people the benefit of the doubt
20) Take the extra time to remove the attitude from communication and email – the attitude almost always is counterproductive to everyone involved
21) When in doubt, have a face to face conversation instead of trying resolve items over email, that hardly works
22) Be respectful of others’ workloads even when you are much busier than they are
23) Focus on the person that is talking to you, do not multitask and look at your email when they are asking you questions or talking to you
24) Encourage learning from failure and mistakes instead of pointing fingers
I could probably go on and on, especially with more than 5 years of material but then I would lose probably even more readers than I already have with this long post. Ultimately, a person is perceived and recognized as a leader for a number of reasons often due to their own merit or in some instances just due to association with certain people in an organization. This post is about laying out the path to do it on your own merit because that is what I saw first hand for the last few years with my former boss. I am forever better off for being part of a team that had a one of a kind leader that taught me (and many others on our team and beyond): that leaders succeed by standing up for a core set of values, working exceptionally hard, taking care of their people, and caring deeply about customers and fellow teammates.