Leadership – Five Easy Steps

“They are my people! I am their sovereign! I LOVE them. Pull!” – King Louis quote from “History of the World” by Mel Brooks

For many Brooks’ fans, this classic scene epitomizes what it is like not to be a leader; turning one’s subjects into human clay pigeons for sheer pleasure. Fortunately for all of us, there are many great leaders – – some of whom we encounter in our everyday lives and some who just seem to step up when a situation or opportunity presents itself. It is much more than just staying positive and checking your happiness quotient. I, and others, have blogged in the past about traits and characteristics that are common to both respected and poor leaders. But what about some simple, practical advice you can use every day to become more effective in a leadership role?

Here are five easy leadership steps to consider:

    • Know thyself – One of the best tools I ever employed was the Myers-Briggs test. Finding out my “personality” type allowed me to better understand why I acted and reacted in certain ways and helped me to modify my style. But more importantly, it allowed me to better understand my peers, colleagues and fellow team members and how to more effectively work and communicate with them.
    • Read, read, read – Delve into the case studies and books of those who were great leaders. Learn effective habits and traits to help you negotiate through difficult issues and roadblocks. You do not have to become a disciple of Covey, but understanding concepts such as his will make you stronger.
    • Have a style – You have to work in a manner which makes you comfortable. You may be more of a taskmaster or perhaps a cheerleader, but being consistent allows others to better understand you and builds their confidence in you. There is no need to drastically change to a style that is not you; others will see right through it and your effectiveness as a leader will suffer.
    • Hold others accountable – They say leadership is hard to define, but you know it when you see it. Holding people accountable for their actions and responsibilities is one way of demonstrating this. You do not need to micro-manage or constantly be on your team’s “case,” but a firm, periodic assessment of status goes a long way toward showing you are an effective leader.
    • Admit and address mistakes; celebrate success – Balance here is the answer. Too often, the person in charge spends too much time on one and too little on the other. Perhaps the most difficult but endearing trait is admitting you made a mistake. The typical excuse (usually self- imposed) is you will appear to be a less effective leader if you do something wrong. Keep in mind the famous saying, “That’s why they put erasers on pencils.” And celebrate the “wins”; everyone takes pride in an accomplishment.

So there you have it. Not exactly the complete recipe for being an effective leader but some simple, practical steps you can take each day on your journey to success.

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Leadership; You Will Know It When You See It

“I always admired a subordinate who could stand up and say ‘you said it, chief.’” – quote from a long-time entrepreneurial client

We have all had experience with leaders, and I would be the first to admit that I openly copied the leadership traits of those I admired. The above quote came from a client years ago as I was asking how he instilled the “followship” that is an important part of leadership. His backhanded comment was a reminder of the fact that without some respect (admiration and even fear), the effectiveness of a leader can be somewhat diminished.

I thought about this when I recently attended a session / presentation on leadership. A panel of successful leaders responded to questions and provided some guidance on this topic to the audience. As enlightening as it was, I was somewhat taken aback by the commonality of the message on leadership. While each took their turn at eloquently explaining what they believed a leader was, none captured more than one or two elements of what I thought made a leader. It was at that point that I realized that no definition could capture the wide range of effective leaders I have known.

What I also began to realize as I reflected on my role models was that it was an event or opportunity that allowed that person to become a leader in my eyes. It was action more than executive presence that defined them for me. While I had known most of my leaders and knew what they were capable of, it was an event that brought out their best. Two situations, both related to initial public offerings (IPO) come to mind.

If you have ever been involved in an IPO process, you know it is one of the most intense processes known to man. While not quite like sending someone to the moon, it relies on very timely coordination and execution from a diverse team to come to the right point in time where everyone can “sign off” and give the go signal. At times, that window is only open a day or two at best and if you miss it, you have to revisit the process. At the time of this decision, expectations are high as are the attendant professional fees.

In two separate cases, we were at that go or no-go point and each CEO stepped up and determined the time was not right and the deal was pulled. In one case, it was an experienced professional manager who had been through the process before, but in the other case, it was a business owner with a very unsophisticated business who saw certain parties in the process being pushed to the edge of the envelope. While he was not sure what was going on (and he had the most at risk) he sensed it was not right and stopped the presses.

Crisis, personal issues, conflicts, financial distress, loss of major customer – – I have seen various owners respond to these traumatic events, but it was the true leaders who did not let the situation control them but stepped up to show they were leaders. It was obvious to all present that they saw leadership.

So, as an owner, be prepared to show you a leader. You may in fact be a good mentor and coach to your team, but when the opportunity presents itself, be prepared to step up and do the right thing. The ultimate success of your company may depend on it.

Start Up Phase Over – Now What?

“Communication breakdown.  It’s always the same Having a nervous breakdown Drive me insane”

Lyrics from Communication Breakdown by Led Zeppelin

One of the real thrills of being an advisor to entrepreneurs is getting the chance to watch a fledgling startup evolve into an early stage growth company.  Like an adolescent moving on to adulthood, you suffer through the pains of minor failures and rejoice at the success maturity brings.  As is usually the case, after witnessing this phenomenon hundreds of times, it is easy to make some observations about what seems to have worked.  While many facets of an evolving entity are involved here, these are my top five focus points which seem to foster success when they get into the sight of an emerging entrepreneur:

  1. Communication – you can probably guess from my sighting above that first and foremost, there has to be a focus on communication.  Expectations are higher as you reach this stage.  What you expect from others, the ability to talk to every employee every day and other techniques that were your modus operandi begin to get challenged.
  2. Build your team – you by now realize you can’t do it all so finding the right people to help execute your vision is key. This is another “says easy; does hard” challenge. Use all the tools you can from word of mouth to social media to attract the right talent. Do not skimp on the time you spend in this area. It is your most important task.
  3. Direct vs. do – instructing others instead of doing it yourself requires a different skillset. It means planning and setting goals so others can help to move the business forward. Letting go a bit becomes the biggest barrier to success but soon you realize you can’t just cram for that exam the night before and ace it. Not enough hours in the day for that approach.
  4. Establish processes– yes, as non-entrepreneurial as it sounds, those that are successful in executing a growth plan follow processes. There is a reason places like Zappos achieve their levels of customer satisfaction – there are tested processes to cover every situation
  5. Formalize measurement– you can’t just look around and see what is happening anymore. You need formalized goals and ways to measure progress against those goals. You can’t see product going out the door if your distribution center is now hundreds of miles away.

So, as you take your journey to success, reflect on these points of focus and never lose sight of the “culture” which is your company and which in many ways, helps to determine not only what you are but what you will become.  Have a great trip.

It’s Just Personal; Nothing Business – A Lesson for Family Business Owners

Quote: “No good deed goes unpunished”  – Clare Booth Luce

In the “typical family business,” many of the issues which arise appear to be centered on one common thread; a lack of clear communication.  To illustrate this, I will recall one of the more unique family business problems I was asked to help resolve.

IThe-Godfather-marlon-brando-9109847-1191-842 assume most of you will recognize my “twist” on the famous line from The Godfather.  I must admit, I struggled between this and the famous quote from Clare Booth Luce and decided to sight both.  The relevant background (modified to protect the innocent) is a parent of a very prosperous family-owned business who decided at the end of one particularly successful year to bestow upon his four children an equal and substantial amount of money.  It should be noted that all four were shareholders as well as employees in that business.  So far, so good; so what can go wrong?

The answer is misconception due to poor communication.  While each of the siblings was involved in the business, they all played significantly different roles.  So, immediately, each sibling reflected on what they received and each thought they were entitled to more because they felt their contribution to the business was more substantial than any of their siblings. The infighting began, became very intense and eventually led to the inclusion of the second parent who began chastising the first parent for being insensitive.  (Booth Luce was right!)

Astonished, the parent who gave the money could not believe what was happening and asked me to intervene” to straighten things out as they’re getting worse by the day.”  The solution, though relatively simple, took a bit of time to communicate.  Each of the siblings had interpreted the amount received as a “bonus” for a job-well-done when in fact, it was nothing more than a gift from a thoughtful parent.  While their roles may have been different within the company, as siblings they were on equal footing and thus were given an equal amount of money.  It was personal; nothing business.

In a typical job environment, employees and their bosses are communicating in a bit more of a structured fashion and it is usually clear when conversation is drifting from business to personal topics.  This is not the same in a family business.  It is not unusual for business to work its way into discussions at family events and soon lines get blurred between what is business and what is family.  I think the average family-owned business has to concentrate a bit more to ensure that business communications remain just that and that it is clear when the conversation is drifting to the personal side.  All that was required here was to state the reason the sibling was receiving their money – – it was a gift and this never would have been an issue.  Interestingly, this did have a happy outcome.  The client subsequently put in place some simple position descriptions that helped each sibling better understand their role in the business and so far, that seems to have worked just fine.