Hungry for Leadership Success? Whip Up a Batch of Principles

Serve them to your employees. They’re as hungry for success as you are.

Employees know the drill: They’re expected to deliver specific results for which they’re compensated. The better they perform, the more likely their careers will advance. 

When they understand what matters to their bosses, they can perform with minimal uncertainty. Bosses who aren’t clear about what drives their leadership and who act inconsistently give their employees a stomachache. 

Use organic principles. 

There’s so much written about leadership (a lot of it really good) that it’s hard to get our practical heads around it all. 

Clearly, the higher up we go in the organization and the broader our accountabilities, the more complex and strategic our leadership requirements. The closer we are to work output, the more linear and tactical it is. 

No matter our level, leadership includes: 

  • Principles—our core beliefs about what good leaders do; the standards that drive us
  • Traits—the distinguishing features marking the way we lead, like courage or optimism
  • Behaviors—our conduct, specifically the actions we take to get results like building partnerships or making timely decisions 

Role models (family members, coaches, bosses) are often how we first learn about leadership. But those people aren’t us. We’re unique. What drives our way of leading is a reflection of what we value—our principles. 

The recipe 

Step 1: Get clear about the principles that underpin the way you lead. You can’t lead consistently when you’re confused about what you value. Your principles are your daily guide and are tested when you face tough decisions. 

Step 2: Write your principles down and share them with your employees. That includes talking to them about why each principle is important to you. Let employees ask questions and generate clarifying discussion, so that you understand each other. 

Hold yourself accountable. 

If we are true to our principles, we’re willing to go to the mat to protect them. Here are some examples and what they require of leaders who own them

Principle: I believe that all employees should be treated with respect, patience, and consideration. 

That means: 

  • I will intervene immediately where there may be bullying, harassment, and discrimination.
  • I will listen and consider all feedback from employees, including differences around performance appraisal, hiring/promotion decisions, and personal requests.
  • I will make time to meet with employees face-to-face, when requested, to hear ideas and provide information, providing actionable direction. 

Principle: I will assign accountability for results, delegate responsibility and authority, and support progress by removing obstacles as appropriate. 

That means: 

  • I will allow employees to succeed or fail in the assignments they own, not “rescuing” a faltering assignment, but offering support and direction.
  • I will not micro-manage delegated assignments.
  • I will treat employees as professionals by empowering them to manage their assignments, using my position to help them overcome obstacles as needed. 

Principles abound. You just need to focus on the ones you know will help you lead more effectively in the situation you and your employees share. 

You can write principles about: 

  • Vision and strategic direction
  • Employee engagement and group problem-solving
  • Achieving business and individual goals
  • Employee growth and development
  • Mistakes, code of conduct, ethics and integrity
  • Teamwork and trust
  • Can-do attitudes, collaboration, and sense of humor 

There is no leading without followers. You need to develop principles that motivate your employees to follow because they share your core beliefs and see the reward in them. 

Your principles let your employees know what they can expect of you, particularly when the chips are down. 

When you compromise your principles, you sully your relationship with your employees. Each time to stand by them, you strengthen it. 

Please take some time to whip up a batch of your principles. Then serve them up with a cold glass of milk! Enjoy. 

Photo from Matt McGee via Flickr

Is There an Invisible Leader in You? | Examples from the Egyptian Protesters

Leadership is first about caring. That’s what the good leaders do. They care about us, the customers, the product, our community, and doing the right thing. 

Leadership is also about power, particularly the power to influence and create change. When leaders use power in an uncaring, self-serving way, we’re put off. 

Power is a byproduct of leadership.  

That’s because when we lead effectively, people follow. The more followers the greater our influence, impact, and leverage. Willing followers entrust their leaders with the power to do right things. 

A follower’s role, however, can change in a split second. 

Especially when crisis hits 

What do you do? Every day company crises are in the news:   

  • A building collapses from tons of snow on its roof
  • A disgruntled employee shoots his coworkers
  • The computer system crashes, cutting the company off from customers 

This is when rank and file employees rush forward to take charge. They assess the problem, organize a fix, lead people out of harms way, and mobilize resources.

It’s not the “big wigs” that do this. They’re likely in another building or simply too far removed from the situation to jump into the fray. This is when the “invisible leaders” show up. 

The origin of invisible leaders 

Situational, frontline leaders are everywhere. We’re focused on them now, in and around Cairo’s Tahrir Square in Egypt, where peaceful anti-government protesters are seeking the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.   

This protest is considered a leaderless movement that came together through electronic communication. 

What we’re aware of but don’t see are invisible leaders who operate within the throngs of protesters.  Whoever they are, these everyday, caring leaders have stepped up to organize: 

  • Medically trained people to set up treatment units for the injured
  • Groups of people to form security check points to make sure no one comes into the square with a bomb
  • A communications office to keep protesters informed 

Then there were the ad hoc efforts from invisible leaders like: 

  • Butchers in Cairo who sell meat on credit until citizens can get back to work
  • Grocers who’ve slashed prices to help their customers pay for food and even delivered staples to those too afraid to leave their homes   

Other amazing things happened. Helen Kennedy from the Daily News (February 7, 2011) reported: 

“On Friday, the holy day for Islam, Christian protesters in Tahrir joined hands to form a protective cordon around their Muslim countrymen so they could pray in safety.

 Sunday, the Muslims returned the favor.”

Some caring invisible leader(s) organized that initiative.

Then there’s Wael Ghonim, a reluctant leader within the protest, made invisible for a while. As Joshua Norman writes in his NY Daily News article, Ghonim “was Google’s head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa when he was secretly taken by police and held in detention just after protests began.”

According to Norman, “While no official reason for his 12-day detention was given, Ghonim has admitted to being the administrator of the Facebook page ‘We Are All Khaled Said,’ dedicated to the memory of a 28-year-old Egyptian man beaten to death by the police….” He also used Twitter to help organize and energize the protesters.

If and when Mubarak would step down, the movement will need to surface visible, caring leaders that Egypt will follow.

Followers that make leaders and can also unmake them.

Great leaders make sacrifices for their followers even as they ask for sacrifices. They rely on invisible leaders and followers to be the backbone of the company or the cause.

Great leaders realize that their ability to lead effectively comes from us. When leaders forget that, they place the security of their positions at risk.

As you think about your work, ask yourself what would propel you to take the lead when the chips were down. You might surprise yourself.


Lead, Even When You’re Not In Charge? Of Course!

“Everything’s screwed up. Nothing ever goes right. Employees don’t know what they’re doing. The plan isn’t working. The way we do things makes no sense.” 

Everyone at work has some kind of gripe, and we’re all looking for someone else to blame. Too often, we point the finger at our boss—our leader. 

Who’s really in charge? 

It’s a pretty heavy load being THE leader at work. Somehow the labels of boss, supervisor, or manager don’t seem hefty enough for that. We’d rather think of the “big wigs” as our leaders. But that isn’t how it works.

A leader is anyone who has followers. The role is the same whether you have one follower or thousands. 

Businesses created a platform for leaders. Just look at your organization chart and all those boxes that set up positional leaders. You’re surrounded by leaders at work. 

But it gets trickier, because we each have followers, even when we aren’t a box on that chart. Any time we chair a committee or team, work on a task with a coworker, or propose a new idea, we have the lead. 

Our company’s test our leadership mettle before we have leader titles. They give us assignments that showcase what we’re made of. We get these tests when we’re in entry level positions, on special assignments, and in roles where we’re “out of our element.” 

That’s how it was with Dorothy! 

The Oz Squad!  

You know the Wizard of Oz story: It’s about standing up for what’s right, taking big risks, and working together for mutual benefit. It’s about the natural leadership that surfaces when the chips are down. 

It starts with Dorothy who gets caught up in a tornado that deposits her in a village of Munchkins in a foreign land—a little like that new job or promotion you just got!

She has no idea what to do, no friends (except her dog), and no clear direction. Fortunately, she has a mentor, the good witch, Glinda, who gives her some hot red, magical shoes and coaches to her find Oz, the CEO of the story. Supposedly, the Oz man has the power to get her home. 

Dorothy’s initial action plan is pretty simple: Follow the Yellow Brick Road to Oz. While walking she attracts her following, three characters who each believe they have debilitating limitations—a brainless scarecrow, a heartless tin man, and a cowardly lion. She believes in them, reinforces them, and convinces them that Oz will help them too. (A shared vision is a beautiful thing!) 

It gets complicated when Oz gives the “Dorothy Team” a big assignment to prove their worthiness of Oz-help! They’ve got to bring him the Wicked Witch’s broom—their success measure. There have high risk obstacles to overcome, where Dorothy’s comrades demonstrate their dedication to her and their own commitment. They succeed. 

The big finish is the revelation that Oz is a phony leader, but is he? Didn’t he motivate some big time performance from that troop? 

But it was little ole Dorothy who was the real leader. She set out on a mission and got others to follow, even though she could promise nothing. She was willing to take big risks because her goal was big—get back to Kansas. Her trio had personal wants—traits that would complete them and make them feel empowered. They all took chances to help each other win. 

Get it done! 

You have your own “Dorothy opportunities” at work, like developing better work processes, improving relationships, fixing unsolved problems, or expediting delayed projects. These are things that you can champion. Start with one follower and see how many others you’ll attract along your yellow brick road. 

Taking the lead is one of the smart moves of business fitness. It’s your ultimate opportunity to add value and make an impact no matter what your job. It takes guts to stand up and accept accountability for getting things done. No guts. No glory. Go for it! 

What did you learn when you took the lead? How has it made a difference in your career? Your story will help us!

It’s Scandalous! Leaders Who Don’t Lead | Taking Issue

Why does this happen?  Career-minded people knock themselves out to achieve positions of leadership. But when they get there, they don’t lead or just get it very wrong. That’s the scandal!

We expect our leaders to lead, not just sit in their offices waiting to be addressed as Your Leadness!

Leadership isn’t a crown.  

There’s a big allure about “position power.” Why? Because it comes with more money, a better parking spot, a private office, and more employees. This makes us feel important. It’s like getting a spa treatment for our egos!

Our employees want to see how we’ll use our “power.” They’re waiting for their leaders to do things that will inspire them to dig deeper, perform better, excite creativity, protect and benefit them.

We want leaders who respect us as followers not treat us like subjects!

Leading is real work!

Leadership is the actual job! With or without a swanky title, when other people look to you for direction, then your job is to lead.

Considering all that’s been written about leadership, simply speaking, here’s what it takes to be a good leader:

Define reality for your employees—Explain the good, the bad, and the ugly about what’s impacting them from inside and outside the organization. Don’t sugar coat and don’t create panic either. Build balanced, fact-based understanding.

Remove obstacles—Listen to what employees say about impediments to their performance. Clear away that debris. Deflect outside requests that will interfere with their work, especially knee-jerk ideas from upper management that can throw things off course.

Be there—Show up. Learn your employee’s names and something about each one. Ask for their ideas. Participate periodically in group and individual dialogue.   Let them know you’re their ally, working for them!

Communicate relentlessly—Talk to employees about the challenges you’re dealing with, issues you’re trying to balance, information you’re trying to get a handle on. When employees understand how decisions evolve, they’re better able to accept changes that affect them.

Make decisions—Take a position, intervene, and resolve things expeditiously. Don’t waiver and don’t delay. Be willing to change your decision when you’re wrong. Leaders need to keep the ball rolling.

Good leaders are a gift. Bad ones are an albatross. If it were easy to be good, every leader would be.

How do you stack up?

If you want to know if you’re a good leader, look around. Are employees following you because they want to or because they’re stuck with you?

Here are a few leaders who missed the mark:

The new CEO of an intensely mission-focused, non-profit reorganized, displacing a number of employees. He took off for a global business trip one week before the affected employees were notified, making him unavailable for any questions. It was clear he didn’t intend to “be there” for his employees.

The vice president of a financially strapped, non-profit had been fully involved in decision-making with her CEO to save the agency. The VP typically hid in her office, avoiding interaction with her employees. When she had to communicate the changes, instead of owning them, she blamed the decisions solely on the CEO.  It didn’t take long for the truth to come out.

The senior leadership of a major corporation routinely promoted “favorite sons and daughters” to lofty positions. When their leadership didn’t deliver expected results, they pointed the finger at their department managers, making them scapegoats. This is all it takes to crush a band of followers!

Leadership is a moral obligation. 

If no one is following, you aren’t leading. It’s as simple as that! If you’ve never read, Leadership Is An Art by Max DePree, now’s the time. 

Taking the lead is a business fitness smart move—a public one. When you lead, everyone sees what you do and who you are. Let your legacy as a leader be an exemplary one and not scandal. Go on…make yourself proud!

What’s been the worst example of scandalous leadership that you’ve experienced? What was the outcome? Thanks for sharing, as always!


Bosses Who Don’t Get It | Taking Issue

Bad bosses are water cooler fodder. One story begets another until those bosses become mythic, the Cyclopes of the work place. Oh, what we’d give for a chance to poke that lonely eye! 

To be boss and not to boss: That is the issue.  

Ah, there really is something in a name. When you’re a supervisor, you are the boss. That means you’re expected to make decisions and exercise authority which includes “giving orders” and controlling things. Webster says so.

 Bosses who don’t “get it” believe that employees can’t or won’t get the work done right unless the boss controls things by: 

  • Checking and double-checking the work
  • Questioning every decision and process step
  • Criticizing and/or blocking individual initiative
  • Withholding praise or acknowledgement of good work
  • Catching and broadcasting errors
  • Blaming unforeseen issues on others
  • Distrusting progress reports and questioning competency
  • Finding a way to always be right and making others wrong 

I’ve had a few bad bosses and they really irked me. But one turned me into a banshee. Here’s how he treated me: 

  • While I was proposing a program initiative, he’s lean back in his chair, hands behind his head, and smirk at me. Then he’d send me off with no direction. 
  • He would question every detail of my written proposals that he had barely scanned. Result: Deferred action. 
  • His answer was “no” to every documented request to reward the good performance of my employees. 
  • Most of his comments to me were made to my chest. He must have thought I was wearing amplifiers!  

I wasn’t his only irate direct report. There were men too. (They didn’t have amps of interest, however.) He’d direct them to change calculations to make data look better, block their initiatives, and steal the spotlight. In time his “bad boss” brand did him in. 

Smart bosses don’t boss. They build. 

Recently, I got a surprise Facebook message from a woman who’d worked for me 15 years ago, now retired. Her note said, “You were the BEST boss I ever had,” then proceeded to say why. 

As a boss I always thought about myself more as a teacher. That note made me think about praise I’d gotten from other employees along the way. This is what happened with a few: 

1.) A talented, high energy woman, newly added to my staff, took no prisoners when it came to getting work done. This had been her style for a decade and as a result she’d “put off” a lot of people. I laid this out to her and the effect it was having on her career. She spent most of that meeting sobbing. We ended with a “fix it” strategy and my commitment mentor her. It worked. 

2.) I hired a woman, fresh out of college, to take full responsibility for outfitting and driving a mobile marketing exhibit throughout a 10,000 square mile region. It was a 32 foot trailer connected to a one ton pick up. There were plenty of doubters but not me. I gave her resources, support, and confidence. She turned those naysayers into admirers. 

3.) A 19-year-old girl joined my work group as a temporary steno. She was bright and spunky with no direction for her life. She was very close to making career moves that would put her in a black hole. I talked to her at length about her interests and, in time, she enrolled in college. She’s now a CPA and senior manager in a Fortune 500.

 Good bosses make people better. That’s what makes businesses thrive. 

When we’re the boss, our employees are our customers. Our job is to serve them. That means providing clear direction, development for growth, and support so they can make decisions with confidence. 

Business fitness comes from attracting a following, people who hold you in esteem for what you can do and the standards you uphold. The good boss builds a contingent of followers that make the right things happen. Be good! 

Have you worked for a “bad boss” who has left a lasting impression? What was his/her “fatal flaw?” What did you do to cope?