Margaret Thatcher once said, “Being in power is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t”. Whether you are leading a major corporation, or simply leading your dog along his daily walk, your leadership skills are critical. As the “Law of the Lid” teaches — no matter who you are, no matter where you are in your career, your leadership skills will make or break you. Without proper leadership, no organization can thrive, and no project can succeed. With proper leadership, your efforts can be magnified far beyond your own direct control, and your ability to influence the world becomes nearly limitless.
This world is full of incompetent middle managers, ego-maniacal CEOs, and micromanaging supervisors who make life a living hell for millions of employees every day. Those guys suck. This book is not about how to become an ass-kissing middle manager, but rather, exposes the difference between leadership and management.
Management is the process by which we maintain a system. That’s not what a leader is here to do. Leaders are here to inspire people to follow their vision, so that they might increase their influence over the world around them. Forget about managing – how do we become better leaders?
1. Leadership is based on respect, NOT on skills or abilities.
In my “day job” as a web developer, I spend a lot of my time in meetings discussing the technical details of various web-based systems. In the past, I have found myself extremely frustrated when the client would ask “Mike from Marketing” or “Alice from Accounting” to decide on some critical issue, as opposed to me, the consultant specifically brought in to handle these issues. In my mind, it made as much sense as asking your attorney about heart surgery.
What I failed to understand is this: the client wasn’t making his decision based on skills, but respect. This client had nothing against me, he simply trusted and respected his staff members more. Sure, they had no specific knowledge about the website, but this was true of a lot of projects they had faced over the years. What the client knew for sure was this — his staff could be trusted, and he respected their opinions.
As time went on, as I gained the respect of this client, he became more willing to listen to me, and less eager to consult his staff. As a result, I was able to lead this client through a project he had resisted for over a year.
2. All leaders make mistakes; only great leaders admit them.
Think for a moment about a terrible boss or administrator you’ve had to deal with in your life. Think about some mistake they made which impacted you. Were you aware of the mistake? Were your co-workers aware of the mistake? Was the boss able to fool anyone other than himself? When you screw up, people know. What they don’t know is: are you going to take responsibility for that mistake?
In the interest of avoiding political debate, let’s compare two leaders from the same political party. Consider for a moment George W. Bush, who left office with an approval rating around 22%. Until his final day in office he stood firm behind various controversial decisions of his administration. His historic unpopularity reflects the voting public’s opinion of that.
Ronald Reagan was another Republican President; he served during the 1980s, a time at which Iran and America were fierce enemies. During Reagan’s second term, the Iran-Contra affair came to light, a situation whereby the Reagan Administration had facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran. Simply put, this scandal threatened to end Reagan’s presidency in disgrace.
How did Reagan deal with this? He went on television, faced the public, and admitted he had screwed up. He didn’t point fingers, he didn’t make excuses, and he didn’t mumble legal jargon. He admitted to serious wrongdoing, that which could arguably be considered high treason. And yet, the American people accepted his apology; he left office with a 68% approval rating.
3. The greatest leaders are those who develop other leaders.
If there is one trait which most clearly separates great leaders from the mediocre, it is this one. Sadly, in today’s corporate climate, many people are nervous about the poor economy, nervous about the future of their own careers. As a result, some of these people make the unfortunate decision to push their subordinates down, rather than help pull them up. They steal credit from and undermine their own staff, fearful that their own position might be threatened by the growth of a qualified employee.
Great leaders understand this strategy is foolish because they understand the power of multiplication. As a leader, if I add a follower to my team, our collective ability is increased only marginally — these followers will only do what I tell them to do. However, when I add a new leader to my team, our collective ability increases exponentially. There is a multiplication effect in play here. As I develop leaders capable of developing leaders themselves, I can magnify my own influence far beyond the limits of my direct control.
Think about giant companies like Coca-cola or GM. The top executive of those massive organizations couldn’t possibly lead every task themselves, even if they were provided with a million willing followers. Without other leaders to help carry out the greater vision, the CEOs of those companies would be helpless.
If you need more leadership in your project or organization, you must develop better leaders. Your only other option is to buy them, and as the leaders of our world will tell you, they don’t come cheap.
Want to read the book? Want to support your friends at 3 Things I Learned? You can do both at once when you order “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” via Amazon.com. Got no money for books? Get it at your local library instead.
Looking for more books on leadership? Check out “Getting Things Done” by David Allen or “With the Old Breed” by E.B. Sledge. This article included references to John C. Maxwell and hopefully that will impress the nice folks at Google.
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