By default, every one of you who owns a business or manages a team has the title of leader, but in my consulting experience, I find that just having the title doesn’t make most of us a leader. I also find that leaders are made, not born, meaning that we all can grow into leadership if we learn from experience. I find also that if you fail as a leader, your team will likely fail with you.
Of course, everyone thinks they know what it takes to make a great leader, and many books have been written about the subject. Yet I haven’t found many that offer practical recommendations and examples. In this context, I was impressed with the new book, “The Intelligent Leader,” by John Mattone, widely regarded as the world’s number one executive coach and authority.
John distills the work he’s done with thousands of clients over the years into what it takes to lead, empower, and inspire others. I like his seven actionable principles of leadership for the rest of us, that we can use to evolve ourselves as business leaders as well as owners, including the following:
- Consistently strive to think differently and think big. Most of the people on your team have to worry about the current crisis, and getting their job done today. A leader has to keep the big picture in mind and keep people focused on the long-term vision and mission. Hone in on alternative ideas that are actionable, no matter how revolutionary.
Steve Jobs had many faults, but he was perhaps best known for his marketing slogan “Think Different” and his commitment to a vision of new and better products, inspiring consumers to demand products and services they never even knew they needed.
- Create a culture of vulnerability, and be the role model. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent to others makes it possible for them to trust you. Without vulnerability and humility, real change and growth aren’t possible. You need to be willing to open yourself up to others’ feedback and acknowledge flaws in order to correct them.
Jack Welch, one of the most successful executives in American history, set up a “reverse mentoring” process by pairing younger, more internet-adept employees with him and older members of senior management so that the former could teach the latter about new technology. This made his leadership team stronger and built huge bonds with his team.
- Replace a mindset of entitlement with a mindset of duty. The duty mindset is a perspective in which you see yourself as a key cog in a much larger wheel. Having this bigger picture empowers you to better identify the areas where you need improvement, and set yourself on the right course to positively impact those around you.
- Prioritize leveraging your gifts over closing your gaps. First, don’t hesitate to solicit input to get the most accurate possible picture of yourself. Then don’t take your strengths for granted, or overreact to gaps. Develop an action plan to lead from your strengths, and seek outside support or complementary partners to shore up leadership weaknesses.
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized his technical leadership skills, but relied on partner Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter & Gamble, to lead the marketing and business development efforts. Both learned from the other and became even stronger.
- Cultivate the courage to execute with passion and precision. Some never make the shift from perspective to action, even if it takes you outside your comfort zone. Only then can you identify the opportunities for change, and make the mistakes leading to growth and learning. Fearlessly executing with pride and passion inspires others to follow you.
- Take the time to stay present, listen, and be vigilant. Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s, but this breeds resentment and takes you out of touch with reality. In this age of distraction, you need to slow down and absorb each situation, decision, or moment, to provide the most effective leadership.
- Make course correction both a mindset and an action. As an action, course change leadership is what you do at the moment when you need to pivot. As a mindset, it’s a way of life. You need to be aware that the world around you is in a state of constant evolution, and your leadership must stay balanced in the face of inevitable change.
Ironically, despite all these positive action items, intelligent leadership in business isn’t really even about you – it’s about the culture and the teams that you create, who really are the leadership interface that your customers see and depend on. Your challenge is to be the steward and model for the leadership that inspires the success and legacy that we all want for our business.