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Leadership Thought #468 – The Biggest Mistake Leaders Make

The biggest mistake leaders make is to think it is all about them.   They believe that success or failure is a direct result of their own personal behavior rather than a team effort.  Show me a successful leader and I will show you a person surrounded by good people who each do their own jobs exceedingly well.  While it is common practice in this country to celebrate the individual, no one builds a high performing organization by themselves.  This doesn’t mean that the leader isn’t an essential ingredient; however, he/she needs other ingredients to complete the recipe.

We all have strengths and weaknesses.  There are situations in which we will naturally thrive and others where we will inevitably struggle.  A leader’s job is to maximize the organizational benefits of their talents while minimizing the impact of their weaknesses.  The best way to mitigate individual limitations is to seek out other people who supplement our own deficiencies. Visionary leaders often need colleagues who excel at focus and implementation.  Detail-oriented people often require team members who push them to be more decisive and think outside of the box.  Someone who has great people skills may lose sight of harsh business realities.  If you’ve worked for any considerable amount of time, you will notice that your favorite leaders often knew where they were lacking and made sure they dealt with this reality rather than ignored or overcompensated for it.

In addition, there are limits to what any one person can physically accomplish.  You can only personally sell so much or manage a finite number of clients.   No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  As smart as you may be, you won’t have the requisite knowledge to effectively address every issue that pops up.  Moreover, there are only so many hours in a day. Anyone who pushes too hard for too long will burnout and start making bad decisions.   The first growth roadblock for most businesses is when they’ve exhausted the professional capability of the leader.  Sadly, many companies don’t get too far beyond this point due to ego issues and/or short-sightedness.

A leader’s job is not to be a superman or superwoman, who can personally overcome any obstacle strewn in their path.  Their job is to build organizational resilience through teamwork, shared commitment and sacrifice, building and leveraging the talent base available to the company, establishing critical operational redundancies, and maintaining the ongoing pursuit of common objectives (despite obstacles).  If you take a prolonged vacation, the business shouldn’t fall apart. Employees shouldn’t panic at the first sign of a crisis and look to your strong leadership to solve all the tough problems.  The biggest mistake is to place yourself at the center of the organizational universe and view others as simply inhabiting your orbit.  Instead see yourself as part of a constellation of stars serving a more important purpose.



Leadership Thought #467 – Leaders Should Listen More Than They Talk

Over the years I’ve noticed that it is inexperienced or mediocre leaders who feel like they have to dominate all conversations.  It’s almost as if what anyone else has to say has limited or no value and it is only their opinion that counts.  We’ve all been in meetings where there is that one person who simply will not be quiet and yield the floor to others.  They are also often prone to interrupting their colleagues before they can finish their thoughts and using obvious body language when the center of attention isn’t focused on them. This is bad enough when it is a peer but even worse when it is the actual leader of the group.  Nobody likes a “know it all.”

I have a colleague who is fond of saying that “most people are preparing to talk rather than listening.”  I must admit to catching myself in this mode more often than I would like.  You start to block out or only partially listen to what others are saying and wait for your chance to interject and share your thoughts on the topic at hand.  As a result you often miss important information, repeat what someone else has already said and de-motivate the other party to the conversation to continue engaging.  It is a vicious cycle and ultimately you end up providing a monologue to a disinterested audience.   When people check out on what you are saying as a leader, you are in trouble.

Leaders have the responsibility to foster rigorous debate and dialogue not inhibit it.  Your goal is to make the right decisions and come up with the best solutions.  The more people who participate in this process the better.  The only real way to do this is to ask good questions and listen intentionally to what other are saying.  You need to facilitate the conversation rather than just lead it.  No one person has the market cornered on good ideas.  The loudest person in the room is rarely the most intelligent; they just crave attention.  In my experience, a major reason why businesses don’t grow is because the leader feels he/she has to have all the answers rather than building a team of competent professionals and leveraging the skills/experience of those around them.

When I was a kid my mom used to often say, “Less is more.”  It took me way too long to figure out what she meant.  It’s not about how much you say, but what you are actually saying.  And, if you want people to listen to you, you need to listen to them.   The best leaders I now pick their spots.  They do their best to take it all in and only contribute when they feel they can add value or need to move things along.  If you are thoughtful about when you speak, people tend to pay attention.  If your ego pushes you to dominate conversations, then don’t be surprised if you find leadership to be a lonely place and continued success a hard nut to crack.

Leadership Thought #375 – Leadership Lessons From The Movie Moneyball

As a New York Yankee fan, I must admit to not being all that excited about the movie Moneyball with Brad Pitt when it came out.  The story is about the exploits of Billy Beane as General Manager of The Oakland A’s when he literally transformed his approach to running a baseball team.  When it got nominated for an Academy Award I thought maybe I should see it one day, but didn’t rush out to but it.  I finally saw it last week and was blown away.  I guess at this point I should pretty much trust anything Aaron Sorkin is involved with.   Not only is the movie well written, directed, and acted, it also has many important lessons that are applicable to my work with business leaders.  It was almost as if they had a leadership/management expert on the writing team.  I’d like to highlight the following takeaways:

  • Never get complacent about leadership, especially when you have had some success. It is your job to push the organization to make it stronger;
  • Always be on the lookout for talent and don’t too get hung up on a person’s status or experience when screening possibilities;
  • Don’t let your ego get in the way of listening to what other’s have to say about the state of your organization/industry – be open to constructive non-conventional thinking;
  • Just because you don’t initially understand something doesn’t mean you can’t learn about it and apply it to our organization (especially if you hire someone who is well versed in the concept);
  • Accept your reality and design a strategy that is aligned with it – not every team has Yankee money;
  • Expect resistance when you decide to make major changes and challenge conventional wisdom, but don’t lose your nerve and keep moving forward;
  • There is big difference between earning people’s respect and being popular – always choose the former over the latter;
  • Pick your battles wisely and don’t avoid difficult conversations with key people, but instead be honest and straightforward with them;
  • As the leader, many people need to feel that you believe in them before they can fully believe in themselves;
  • Don’t be afraid to change people out who are a bad fit with your culture/system – remove the nonbelievers and bad role models;
  • Understand that your job is to build the best team not become enamored with superstar position players – sometimes you need to let talented people go;
  • There are times when the leader has to embrace his/her communication role and rally and/or challenge the team;
  • When instituting major change, expect a performance dip before things get better – it takes some time for people to adjust;
  • There are more important things than money, starting with how you feel about yourself, your work and the needs of those closest to you.

I’d recommend that anyone who is in a leadership position watch this movie and identify commonalities with your own experience.  When it is at its best, art feels like an accurate reflection of the human experience and resonates deeply on an individual level.  And, leadership will always be as much art as it is science.

Leadership Thought #351 – Surround Yourself With Good People

Leadership is about people.  The best leaders intuitively understand this reality and surround themselves with the best people possible.  You can only ever accomplish so much alone.  Achieving anything of significance usually requires leveraging the skills, talents and relationships of others. You need to be less worried about being the smartest person in the room and more focused on the collective intelligence of your organization.  Over time, your own IQ end up being the average IQ of the ten people you spend the most time with.

However, it’s not enough that you have smart capable people working for you. They must also have solid personal values and put the interests of the company ahead of their own.  Organizational culture starts at the top and is simply a reflection of how people in critical leadership/management positions behave and treat one another.  You set the standard and everyone else follows your lead.  When in doubt always opt for cultural fit over individual talent.

High performing organizations certainly respect and value the contributions of the individual but also strive equally hard to create an overall sense of teamwork and interdependence.  Good people working towards a common goal as a team will always trump the exploits of any one individual.  Surround yourself with the right people and the bar will end up being raised higher than you could have imagined or accomplished on your own.

Daily Leadership Thought #136 – Focus On The Good Of The Group And Keep Egos In Check

It never ceases to amaze me how much a group of people can get accomplished if no one individual cares too much about who gets the credit.  However, in most organizations there is far too much wasted energy on “ego” related issues and worrying about the wrong things.   And, it often starts at the top of the organization.  Maybe it’s because our society has put too much emphasis on fame and celebrity.  Everyone wants to be somebody, but they are not quite sure what that means or what it costs or the right way to get there.   Consequently, we have become much too concerned with what others are doing and how we stack up against their efforts.

When all is said and done, most of us won’t have any lasting fame or fortune.  Our legacy will be what we left behind when no one was watching.  It will be the little things, the small acts of kindness or generosity that will leave an indelible mark on our family, close friends and colleagues.  If you become too obsessed with your outputs then you won’t pay enough attention to your inputs.  The key is to focus on what type of leader and person you are becoming and how you are affecting others.  Are people better off for you having been a part of their lives? Are you a good role model? Would you want to work for you or be your colleague?

I am certainly an advocate of accountability.  When someone commits to doing something they should get it done.  There is an epidemic of false promises and excuses in the workplace today.  However, if we would all spend less time focusing on the individual and more time on our common goals, aspirations and the good of the group then I believe many of our systems would self-correct.  What we often do today is pit people against one another either through material rewards or limited advancement opportunities.  Survival of the fittest may be a good biological theory but it’s a tough way to run an organization and lead people.  We’ve fallen victim to the “special person” mindset of management thinking everyone can and should be “A” players when that is not a realistic objective.

As a leader you get to decide what you are going to build and how you are going to build it.  Your most important construction project will be the culture you create and foster within the confines of your work environment.  People will either operate with a higher collective purpose and a sense of mutual self interest or not.  It all starts with you and how much you need to feed your own ego with personal accolades and self-aggrandizement.   You need to be able to give up control and trust others.  You must know when to step forward and when to take a back seat.  It will be built upon the decisions you make regarding your people and who you choose to acknowledge and promote (and how you do this).   Ultimately it will come down how your define success and the path you choose to get there.

Daily Leadership Thought #118 – 8 Characteristics Of A Winning Team

No one is ever successful alone.  Whether it is at home or at work you need other people to buy-in to and ultimately support your success.   You need to think of the people closest to you as part of a winning team that is committed to a common goal, which is each others success and happiness. This idea translates very easily into a work context but not always so easily at home.  However, there truly is no difference.  And, I would argue the most important team in anyone’s life is their family.

The keys to building a successful team are simple, straightforward and time tested:

  1. Everyone needs to understand and agree to what success looks like and it should always be perceived as a mutual win-win objective;
  2. The team needs to best leverage the strengths of its individual participants and mitigate their weaknesses;
  3. Every member of the team needs to feel equally valued and important;
  4. Performance discussions should take place in an open and transparent manner;
  5. All teams inevitably deal with conflict and there needs to be a productive mechanism in place for addressing disagreements when they happen;
  6. The foundation of any winning team is a sense of shared values around what is important and the culture that ultimately forms as a result of these beliefs;
  7. Strong teams don’t shy away from challenge or adversity, but become stronger because of it;
  8. The only constant for the team will be change. Definitions of success may change, people will change, roles will change and circumstances will change.  High performing team embrace change and are adaptive, flexible and understanding of each other when these changes happen.

I’ve always believed that your success and happiness in business and life is directly related to the people you spend the most time with.  If you begin to look at these people as part of a winning team you are building to live a happy and mutually beneficial existence, more good things are likely to happen.

Daily Leadership Thought #42

Your own ego can be your biggest obstacle to success in a group context; don’t worry about who gets the credit or speaks the most, rather focus on generating the best ideas and getting results.

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