On my leadership journey, I have succeeded as a leader and I have failed as a leader. Along the twists and turns on the road, I have sprinted exuberantly, walked comfortably, stumbled clumsily and yes – fallen flat on my face!
The lessons learned from my “fallen flat on my face” moments are far more enlightening than the “sprinted exuberantly” ones. Hence, here are a few lessons from my failures.
Lesson #1: “People are our greatest assets” is the most empty lexicon
How many times have you heard this? Blah! Blah! Blah! – right? Of course, even early in my leadership career, I agreed with this statement intellectually. It’s one of those “Captain Obvious” statements. But what percentage of my time was spent on action plans, emails, meetings, business theories etc vs truly understanding, reflecting and acting on the strengths and motivators of my team to ensure that the best versions of themselves could be unleashed? 90%/10%? If I’m being honest, the ratio was probably worse. Although I’m still imperfect, I strive to balance the ratio. Nothing – strategies, plans, architectures etc – nothing is more important than hearts and minds.
Lesson #2: Have the courage to sometimes piss people off, even the CEO.
Do you want everyone to like you? Of course! Who doesn’t? But if this the core of who you are, then don’t sign up to be a leader. You’ll do your team and organization a disservice. Honorable leaders make hard choices like differentiating performance awards, exiting dishonest employees, challenging unjust situations etc. Striving to win popularity contests, avoiding the tough calls and rewarding everyone equally just to be liked will only frustrate your best and brightest. So have the courage to make the tough calls, whether that be with your team or the CEO. Just do it with respect.
Lesson #3: The day your people stop sharing their challenges or failures is the day you are no longer their leader.
Love this one. It’s one of Colin Powell’s leadership lessons, to which I also prescribe. Why? Because if your people stop sharing their challenges, they either fear you or have lost confidence in your ability to lead. Whichever the reason, it’s a leadership failure. Reports of sunshine and rainbows are greatly exaggerated. So feel privileged, instead of burdened, when you are alerted to challenges. Empathize without lowering standards, and coach to solutions.