The last weeks of summer are always bittersweet. Although the arrival of Labor Day no longer changes my life in any significant way, I still have a school year sensibility. I mentally prepare myself for the challenges of the next grade, getting ready to step it up. As I sit looking out at the fabulous bird life swooping and darting over our pond here in Sharon Connecticut, I thus find myself thinking about leadership. The swallows follow one another across the sky, my wife left early this morning to run a Board retreat on leadership and vision (among other things) for a small non-profit up here, and I am wondering: what does it take to make people follow you? Why should people listen to what you have to say?
Here are some conclusions I have reached during my career:
·You have to articulate your values, and stick to them. Nothing is more important than knowing what you believe in and sticking to it. A passionate values-driven commitment is compelling to others and helps you keep your own focus. By the same token, espousing values but not upholding them is the biggest possible turn-off.
·You have to have a big vision and be positive and excited about it. Your goals have to be steppingstones on the way to achieving that vision. This is tough. We all want to coast from time to time (which I think is OK.) But as a leader it’s necessary to think ahead and know where you want your group to be going and have at least some sense of how to get there (if you are the head in the V formation of geese which are beginning to fly overhead, you are going South! But you’ll be back).
·You have to listen, and embrace the ideas of others when they are better than your own. It’s sometimes hard to know when someone else’s idea is better, especially when it contradicts long-held beliefs you may have about your organization. Yet openness to change is a critical component of being good at anything. By the same token, you cannot make decisions just to please the crowd. Sometimes even when most of those around you disagree, you have to trust your gut. And you must decide, and, once decided, move forward with the plan. Some second guessing is inevitable but too much is dangerous.
·You have to treat people with respect. That’s not just being polite. You need the courage to show yourself, to make yourself vulnerable, in order to win the trust and respect of your team. We are all drawn to the humanity in those around us. If you fear showing your humanity, you probably won’t see much of it, or the loyalty which comes with it, in return.
·You have to let others carry the ball. None of us is good at everything. Many executives want to maintain total control and yearn to micromanage everything. But no successful organization (including a family) runs best that way. Competent people need to be trusted with the right to act independently, whether they are your management team, your staff, or your children.
·You have to love what you do. If you love it, it shows. If you don’t, it shows.
Have a wonderful Labor Day holiday, dear readers. Come back committed and energized for whatever happens next.