How to show you have what it takes as a leader
Last month (March) http://aprioritylearning.com/articles/know_your_product.php I talked a little about your leadership product. I proposed to each of you that you ask five friends to define what was unique about you, your leadership style, or your behavior. By now, I hope you have received some interesting responses. As entrepreneurs it is important for us to stay on top of why we are unique, because that unique approach, service, idea or knowledge is what give us or detract from our edge in a very competitive market. So, it is important to know your uniqueness, which you should grow over time.
Show Your Product - This is the second of three articles about product and it sounds a bit self-serving as I write it, but it is necessary. As a leader, your product may be your steadiness when stress is high. It could be your belief in others or your crystal clear clarity about what you want. I have known leaders who were so strong that when others turned their backs on them they got taller, stronger and more patient. These taller, stronger leaders know the power of committing to something of value, even if the cost of that commitment is unpopular.
Let’s take some of the things people may have said to you when you asked the "unique" question from last month. You may have heard things like good decision making, determination, courage, patience, calmness, vision, clarity, loyalty, and/or approachability. Here is an example of Show Your Product:
Example: Good decision making and value statements - Most organizations these days have value statements written down someplace. Whether you realize it or not, most of your good decisions are in parallel with those values statements if they are well written. Leaders need to talk about those values in relation to their decisions frequently. If others have cited your ability to make good decisions, you are in a unique position to transfer learning to others. Good decision making is a product of values and judgment. Judgment is your ability to weigh different options and decide what is best for the greater good. Values are the "why" in decision making. So, now that you have been cited as an example of good judgment, think about it and be consistently good in your judgment. If you want to transfer learning when the opportunity is right, share your method for decision making and deciding what is best. People will be interested to hear your value statements and before long they will be following your lead. By the way, you will continue to grow as a decision maker.
Case Study - Many of you may have heard me tell the story of Joel Stevens, but it is not just one story. Joel was the CEO at Kennebunk Savings Bank from the early 1990s and sadly passed away in February of 2009. Joel was a unique leader of unwavering beliefs and, fortunately for all of us who worked closely with and admired him, those unwavering beliefs were the product of good values and judgments. Having been a party to leadership in banking for many years, it is fairly safe to say that Joel was not a big fan of the leadership style he had seen and in many cases been a victim of. Unlike weaker leaders, Joel was not able to assimilate those previous bad habits into his own behavior. He believed in people and knew there was a way to make money and have a strong and happy workforce. He believed so strongly that when we began a new and controversial approach to cultural change in the bank that embraced his value of "make money and have people enjoy coming to work", he was hooked. Through the significantly long life of the cultural change project, he met with repeated objections, complaints, criticisms and more. Many leaders would have had Joel forget the "new age" approach and return to the world of control, but many leaders were not Joel. Those many leaders may have collapsed under the pressure and started to compromise what they believed in, but not Joel. Somewhere deep inside, Joel knew he was right to want this for his people and he stood up repeatedly to the naysayers and built the institution he believed he could have.
There is more to this story. Joel left a residual effect on the people who took that journey with him. These leaders, in their own right, have been and continue to be believers in the ideals and concepts that Joel embodied - that business is not just about making money and you can have it all. These leaders continue to move people. Joel moved people with his passion for fairness, humility and courage of conviction. Three years after his death and we are still talking about Joel and his great values as a leader.
Joel knew how to "Show his Product". He did it by talking to people about what they were and lead by embracing changes that enhanced his values.
Here are some ideas regarding how you might Show Your Product -
Courage – Be the angel’s advocate by finding the good things in an idea and the good things in people. The angel's advocate is a person who will keep the "pack" from pouncing on a person, an idea or a new concept. They usually do this by finding something good in the person, idea or concept and by expressing it verbally. It is the easy road to be the critic and to find fault. Take the hard road. Find the good in people. Remember, we are not fighting a war; we are making money, serving our communities and making life a little better for everyone. For the time being the terrorists are "over there" and we are over here doing work that benefits all.
Patience - This is a quality that costs nothing and pays dividends everywhere. Practice patience with colleagues, subordinates and particularly with your boss. It is a lot easier to live under the belief that people generally mean well and want success in the execution of their work.
Calmness - People watch and mirror the behavior of leaders. If you want your group to relax, be relaxed. If you want you people to think, think. Your style will dictate their style.
Vision - We, at all levels, need to know where we are going. Everyone wants to know and talk about it with colleagues all the time. It pays to know and talk about vision a lot. If you don't know where you are going it is time to find out. It will relax your people and remind them of the reason for their execution of the "daily doable details."
Clarity - Ask more questions. Somewhere in the past we learned that it was not good to ask questions because it may betray our weaknesses. The great learners are the ones who are asking questions. Seek first to understand and then to be understood. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People Stephen R. Covey)
Loyalty - Like patience it costs nothing and bears enormous benefits. Find loyalty in your work, the organization you serve, the leader, and be loyal to yourself and keep it. Share it with others and they will catch it. If you cannot find it as a leader, leave and find it elsewhere because sooner or later it will be your undoing. Expect it from subordinates and, they will give it to you.
Approachability - Get out and roll up your sleeves and be ready to share in the burden of work. Let people know through your body language, verbal message and more that you are available and set your priorities around being "there" regardless of where you really are. Set up your workspace to invite people to come to you.
Good decision making - Talk to people about how you make your decisions. (See example on decision making above)
Determination - Cite determination as the prerequisite for level five leadership and give examples. Be first for everything. (Good to Great Jim Collins - Oct 16, 2001)
There are more examples, and if you are cited for other characteristics not mentioned above and want our view on how you can "Show Your Product", I would love to hear about it. Please drop me an e-mail and I will get right back to you.
You may be wondering about how the title of this article series, Leadership and Entrepreneurial Strategy, has anything to do with entrepreneurial life. Then again, you may have figured it out by now. What it takes to be a strong leader is exactly what it takes to be a strong entrepreneur. For all of you inspiring or committed entrepreneurs I believe that if you take a step back and squint just a little you will see a perfect parallel.
Please join me next month and I will provide the next element of the product discussion, "Grow your Product."
We'd love to hear from you, so as you take the journey with us, please share your thoughts and ideas. We will pass them along if you allow us and share them.
By the time you hear from me again it will be warm and sunny.
In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.