Before you lead others, you must lead yourself. Before you lead yourself, you must know yourself. Do the hard work of introspection and self-reflection. How are you hardwired? What are your needs and core behaviors? How do you respond to stress? What environments bring out the best and worst in you? Take personality tests, strengths tests, and leadership-style tests. Constantly collect feedback from those around you. Then aim to operate from within your strengths and your ideal environment as often as possible, while encouraging others to do the same. Remember, leading others begins by leading yourself.
“Knowing others is intelligence. Knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.”
- Tao Te Ching
Don’t fear weakness. We all have at least one. Why? Because everything in life is a trade. We trade learning X for learning Y, practicing X for practicing Y, perfecting X for perfecting Y. The key question is this: What is the vision for the trades you’re making? Being called well rounded is not necessarily a commendation, but rather an indication of making multidirectional trades. Ask yourself: Would you rather be the best at one thing or average at everything? Teams—not necessarily individuals—should be well rounded. Teams’ diverse strengths negate individual weaknesses, so staff your weaknesses and trust the strengths of your teammates.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States
Leaders don’t push, they pull. They don’t push others from behind with rules, micromanaging, and fear mongering. They pull others forward with creative ideas, positive words of encouragement, and a vision for a better future. Leaders coach rather than control, delegate rather than dictate, and inspire rather than motivate. Motivation, though important, is short-lived. Inspiration is enduring and empowering—people believing in themselves. Act as an assistant rather than as an authoritative supervisor, and you will bring out the best in each of your teammates as well as your team.
“The great leaders are like the best conductors—they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.”
- Blaine Lee, The Power Principle
Bad work places kill people. Engineer your organization’s DNA by encouraging community between co-workers. Connection to one’s workplace inspires commitment, commitment creates a culture of excellence, and the inevitable byproduct of excellence is success. Trade cut-throat competition for collaboration (literally, to co-labor or labor together). Ditch hierarchy for helpfulness and reward winning as a team achievement rather than an individual accomplishment. Lastly, praise excellence rather than perfection. Excellence is each person repeatedly giving their best effort—a challenging but always attainable standard.
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.”
- George Patton, Former US Army General
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