Leaders create good games. Games have rules. Sometimes rules are broken. Recognize the difference between mistakes of naivety and morality and between mistakes of action and inaction. The latter, respectively, should not be tolerated; the former should be corrected. One free pass is enough. A second chance is for learning, a third for dismissal. Position correction between affirmations, be clear and direct, always end by creating a plan with concrete steps towards corrective action, and remember that the fastest way to lose followers is to embarrass them. Praise in public, admonish in private.
“I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.”
- Herbert Swope, Three-time recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Reporting
Teammates should challenge each other, but be wary of creating a culture of negativity and unproductive criticism. Negativity for negativity’s sake is never needed, and criticism should always be framed for creating positive change. Rid your team of other toxicities: Complainers are drainers. This attitude is hard to change, so show them the door. Self-pity can be just as soul-sucking, so encourage self-efficacy and self-worth with quick wins. And lastly, gossip is a weed that will divide and devour your team. Debunk rumors before they can grow, while continuously building a culture of openness, honesty, and trust.
“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”
- Henry Ford, Founder of the Ford Motor Company
Conflict can bind or break your team. Great teams manage—and even encourage—constructive conflict. Why? Conflict is the nexus of creativity, where two old ideas collide to create a new one. How do you produce creativity from conflict? First, build community within your team. Your team must be a safe space for discussing divergent ideas. Second, encourage “naked conversations,” but with ground rules such as ‘never go after anyone when they’re down’ and ‘criticize ideas not people.’ Finally, always conclude with consensus. The best idea wins. Everyone supports it, even if it wasn’t their own: Discuss. Decide. Support.
“A great person attracts great people and knows how to hold them together.”
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe, German writer and statesman
Turbulence reveals true leadership. When the going gets tough, people stick with those they trust. Your title or job position won’t guarantee their commitment. How do you gain trust? First, when you’re wrong, say you’re wrong. Leaders admit mistakes and avoid the blame game (people can tolerate honest mistakes, but not immoral ones). Second, share credit generously—pride divides, alienating followers. Reinforce a “we” mentality at every opportunity, especially when there’s a windfall. Lastly, be consistent in character. People want to know that who you are over the dinner table is the same person you’ll be over the board room table.
“Earn your leadership every day.”
- Michael Jordan, Two-time Basketball Hall of Fame inductee
Real influence happens through relationships. Prioritize people before projects and relationships before results. Without showing that you care for your people, teamwork will deteriorate into a me-first mentality. Trade efficiency for effectiveness. Ask yourself: What is one thing that I could do that would significantly improve the quality of this relationship? Think of relationships in terms of a bank account: How often are you making deposits and how often are you making withdrawals? Remember, relationships have real value—social capital—and relational bankruptcy is every bit as real (and detrimental) as financial bankruptcy.
“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”
- Harvey S. Firestone, Founder of Firestone Tire and Rubber Company
Leaders create community. They unite, rather than divide. They include, rather than isolate. Great leaders reach beyond their inner circle to adapt and expand their team. They are connectors. They explore the social fringe, master the weak tie, and invite others into the vision. That person you met at a dinner party? The custodian of the office building? A CEO of an unrelated industry? Leaders bring people together by welcoming new perspectives, promoting diversity, and nurturing followers; leaders then keep people together by constantly affirming each member’s place in the community.
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
- Ken Blanchard, Management expert and best-selling author
That which is rewarded is repeated. What are you rewarding with your words or actions? And how? A good compliment can motivate some folks for months. For others, a thoughtful gift or act of service to show gratitude can make a meaningful impression. Identify others’ love languages* to understand how to customize your appreciation for maximum impact, then don’t withhold your blessing. Little moments can make a big difference; indeed, showing gratitude is one of the least expensive ways to motivate teammates (Note: For most people, affirmations should outweigh criticisms ten to one.).
“You can buy a person’s hand, but you can’t buy his heart. His heart is where his enthusiasm, his loyalty is. You can buy his back, but you can’t buy his brain. That’s where his creativity is, his ingenuity, his resourcefulness.”
- Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
*See Dr. Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages
There are many types of intelligence—logical, linguistic, kinesthetic, and rhythmic—but every great leader shares one in particular: high emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand the inner workings of people. Leaders with a high EQ know how to adjust to a wide range of personalities, fluctuating emotional states, situational social needs, and cultural subtleties. Most importantly, high EQ leaders are gender intelligent. These leaders know how to respect and connect with both men and women. They recognize the impact of gender on individual experience, while also understanding that each individual experience is unique.
“I suppose leadership at one time meant muscles; but today it means getting along with people.”
- Mahatma Gandhi, Leader of the Indian independence movement
At some point you will need to speak to a group of people, whether that’s an assembly of five or five thousand. To deliver a memorable, high-impact message, follow the 5 S’s/5 B’s of public speaking: Short ‘n Sweet, Sister, Short ‘n Sweet / Be Brief, Brother, Be Brief. Keep your content focused and on point. Divide longer presentations into segments of twenty minutes. If using PowerPoint, use the 3-2-1 rule: 30 point font, 20 minutes, and 10 slides. And always begin with a bang. Create instant engagement with a catchy vignette, joke, or activity requiring audience participation.
“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
- William Arthur Ward, Author of inspirational maxims
We each have a hero within. Leaders speak to that hero and draw her out with words of hope and encouragement and life. Leaders speak from their beliefs and lead with their why. They first inspire us, then inform us. Martin Luther King Jr. rallied millions with a dream, not a plan. Words are powerful. Words can motivate and create or demoralize and destroy. Do your words speak to and inspire the hero within others—to their dreams, their visions, and their best selves—or do they silence them? Your words have that power. If you’ve listened well, you will know your team well—and how to fill them with fire.
“The task of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.”
- John Buchan, Former Governor of Canada