Nobody wants to hear bad news. And nobody wants to deliver bad news, either. Phrases such as “don’t shoot the messenger” highlight society’s problem with blaming the deliverer of the bad news for the bad news. And it is safe to say that we have all done this in the past. As leaders, we cannot shoot the messenger many times before our team will learn to hide bad news from leadership. And hiding bad news from leadership prevents the organization from working to solve problems while the problems are still small. Instead, encourage your team to tell it like it is. Not only will that get your issues out in the open, but discussing problems with your team will engage more minds working on a solution. After all, that is what your team is for. So, ask your team what issues you should be talking about today.
It takes the entire time you know someone to build trust, and only a second to destroy it. As a leader, your team will trust you only as long as they believe that you are a person of integrity. That you will do the right thing no matter the situation. That is how you build trust with your team. In The Hard Thing About Hard Things, Ben Horowitz recalls a restructuring he initiated so his core company could survive. The bottom line: 150 employees would become employees of another company. And 140 employees would be looking for a job. Instead of going to New York for the announcement, a mentor advised him to go tell his employees where they stood. It could not wait a day. By showing integrity with these employees, he maintained his trust with the employees who would stay. How have you shown integrity with your team?
Starting a company is not easy. There are times of enormous stress. Times when you wonder if it is really worth doing. Times when you are just ready to quit and walk away. But walking away will cost your people their jobs. Walking away will cost your investors their funds. Walking away will cost you your reputation. So you keep going. And you keep losing sleep. It is hard to understand the stress of owning a business. Yes, you may have the next great idea. But reading books on leadership and business organization will never prepare you for having to fire people because of a bad decision. Or bad timing. There is no secret formula for success. Sometimes, things just do not go as planned. Life happens. Seek out a mentor. Find someone who started a business and succeeded. Lean on their advice. Because sometimes you will need it.
Who will replace you? The answer to that question is the ultimate gift any leader can provide. No matter where they are in life. No matter how old or young. No matter how long they have been with the organization. Real leaders must have a succession plan in place for their organizations. Obviously, the longer you are with an organization, the better you will be able to train up a leader to replace you. Ideally, you will go out on top and pass the baton to a fully developed leader. This situation should be seamless. But you must plan for the worst. Because sometimes, succession is unplanned. Life happens. Unexpected events occur. As the organization’s leader, you must plan for the unexpected. If you do not have a succession plan in place that can be implemented tomorrow, you have work to do. Don’t wait another day. Start planning today.
There is always room for improvement. However, not everyone believes that. But in order to continue to succeed, in order to continue to lead, in order to continue to contribute to the effectiveness of the organization, the leader must continue to invest in themselves. This is not the time to rest. Yes, you have worked hard to reach this place in life. But it is not a destination. The biggest issue with leaders reaching the pinnacle of their career is the thought that they have arrived. Instead, you must work hard every day to continue to grow. There is always something else to learn. Always be willing to invest time every day to self-improvement, no matter where you are in your career. Read a good book, watch a good podcast, attend seminars. However you best learn, invest the time. Because when you stop learning, your career is done.
Great leaders develop the people around them. They assess everyone, looking for individuals who have the possibility of developing into the future leaders of the organization. Because great leaders understand a simple principle. The future of the organization lies with the people of the organization. So, great leaders focus their daily activities on mentoring and developing more great leaders. Without this ongoing leadership development, the organization will never thrive beyond the current generation of leaders. Great leaders know that they do not have all of the answers. And when a team member has an answer, great leaders give them credit. They understand that part of leadership development is recognizing the efforts of their team. They empower people to press on, knowing mistakes will occur. Most importantly, great leaders celebrate the success of everyone on the team. Put your people first. Invest your time in them so they can succeed.
Good leaders produce. And good leaders inspire and enable their team to produce through their leadership and example. Their production creates momentum for the entire team. As the production of the team increases, the team attracts other productive people. The team grows, attracting more highly productive people. The team produces, and the bottom line of the entire organization grows as a result of their growing efforts. A leader cannot fake being at this level of leadership. Either they and their team produce or not. Once a leader has developed deep relationships with their team members, they must show their team they can produce. If a leader cannot produce, their team will not produce to their fullest capacity. Leaders must set the example by working hard, by being dedicated to the organization and by developing their individual skills. If your team is not producing, then you are not leading.
The relationships you develop with the members of your team are built on trust. You build trust by being a person of integrity. You show your team you are a person of integrity by acting consistently in all situations. Regardless of the situation you are in, your team sees whether you are bound by your moral principles or if you allow the situation to dictate your reactions. Situational morality does not build trust with the members of your team. Strive to be consistent with your principles and predictable with your actions. This is the only way to become a great leader. With it, your team will learn to trust you. From this, your team will grant you greater and greater permission to lead them. Your team will lean on you when times are difficult. And when times are good, your team will work hard for you.
One common misconception about being a leader is expressed in the phrase, “It’s lonely at the top.” That may be true for those who rely solely on their authority to lead. Those that rely on authority create negative work environments. The culture of their teams develops into an us-vs.-them mentality. These leaders undermine team members who show talent and ability. Because deep down, these leaders are insecure about their ability to lead. So, they do not want others to succeed and advance. It is lonely at the top because these leaders strive to be the king of the hill. True leadership does not rely on authority. Instead, true leaders use their influence to advance the entire team. True leaders build relationships with the members of their team. They focus on advancing the entire team. They work with their team. And the entire team advances. True leaders are never alone.
Climbing the corporate ladder. Many new to the workforce envision this. And why not? Shouldn’t everyone show interest in their career development? Yes. But focusing entirely on your career will not ensure your success. Yes, you will get promotions and raises. But at some point, you will reach a situation where you are expected to lead others. If you do not understand how to lead, you will have reached your career limit. John Maxwell defines leadership as influence. It is hard to influence others if you do not build relationships with others. And it is next to impossible to build relationships with others if your primary concern is your own personal advancement. Whatever your position, focus on those around you. Show others that you want to work with them. That you want to help them. That you show interest in their development. Build relationships and grow your influence.
There are plenty of businesses in the world whose ultimate goal is to win at any cost. Whether the company is interacting with its employees, its customers, or its competition, some have an insatiable need to come out on top. What these business owners fail to realize is they are jeopardizing their long-term success for a short-term win. In the long run, your business must build loyalty with its employees and customers. You build loyalty by being consistently fair with everyone you encounter. No, treating your competition fairly will not make them loyal to you. But your employees and your customers are watching. And their loyalty is vital to your long-term success. So, don’t wait until the end of your life to realize that you should have treated people better. Be a person of integrity. Win at business while you win at life. And have no regrets.
Without effective and intentional communication, your team is nothing more than a group of employees. Communication is what binds the team together. It keeps the team heading in the same direction, marching to the beat of the same drum. You will never achieve your dreams and vision unless you communicate your dream and vision to the members of your team. Too many times, team leaders are unwilling to actively communicate with their team. Poor communication results in rumors, frustration, fear, anger, and distrust. Your team will not stay under these conditions. Your team will not go the extra mile for you under these conditions. Your team will only do the bare minimum to remain employed. Instead, overcommunicate. Show your team that you trust them. That you are willing to treat them as a team member instead of an employee. And watch your team strive to achieve your vision.
Everyone faces hardships in life. One of your team members may be dealing with a child suffering from cancer. They may be struggling to take care of a parent with dementia. They may be going through a divorce. Whatever it is, it will surely affect their work. When a member of your team is suffering, ask yourself how you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes. Ask the rest of your team how they would want to be treated. Because at the end of the day, you are still a team. And teams stick together. So, the parent with a sick child may need time off. Can others help cover the workload? Will you pay them after they have used up their vacation time? Decide what you can tolerate and be upfront with them. You will not regret going above your obligation as the team leader.
If you started a small business just so you can work for yourself, i.e. you refuse to work for someone else, you are setting yourself up for ruin. Starting a successful business requires you to dedicate an immense amount of time. You must stay focused and be resolute. This is impossible if you are not passionate about what you are doing. Before you start a business, be sure it is something you love. Your love for your business must be strong enough to push you through the bad days. Your passion must be strong enough to spread to your team so they can push through their bad days. If you can find this passion, you are never too young or too old to be an entrepreneur. Your passion will overcome any obstacle in your way. If you do not find this passion, your business will just be another job.
Everyone has moments of indecision. We all experience the paralysis that comes with tough decisions. More often than not, our paralysis comes from fear. We are afraid of making the wrong decision. We are afraid to face the consequences of our decision. We are afraid of the criticism we will face as a result of our decision. To be decisive, you must address your fears. Remember, nothing good comes from not making a decision. Sitting back and passively allowing others to decide your fate will never get you where you dream of going. If you are going to be successful, you must be willing to be decisive. You must act to succeed. You cannot become paralyzed by your fears. You have already decided to pursue your dreams. Now, accept today’s challenges. Do not put off action. Decide today to continue to pursue your dreams and built the life you want.