Want to be a Great Leader?

Success comes to those that learn and grow. Preparing yourself for the next step in your career is critical to achieving not only that next job… but the one after that.

This involves thinking and learning. If you desire to be a good leader of people – even a great leader of people – you need to really understand what leadership is all about. The libraries are full of books on leadership and new ones are hitting the street regularly. Yet, the basic principles remain the same. A brief self-analysis on your part will be helpful to gauge where you are on the leadership path.

george-hw-bush-pictureThe following is a re-print (with permission from NRI, Inc.) of one of the essays I wrote for NRI’s “Managing for Excellence” series. To what extent can you grade yourself B+ or better on the following six aspects of leadership?

Want to be a Great Leader?

A Leader Whose People Will Always Deliver the Goods?

The principles are simple and easy. Mastering them and then living them to a high degree is not so easy. Successful people have a healthy degree of humility and self-doubt that keeps them doing tough self-evaluations. As Mitch Fromstein – the late CEO of Manpower –  used to say: “great managers sweat the small stuff”. Sooner or later you’ll make enough mistakes to really learn what follows. The key is to learn them before the mistakes become job-ending ones.

1. Be an expert delegator. Understand that to delegate effectively you need to be specific about what the expectations are… the desired results. You need to be confident that whomever you have delegated to do a task or project has the capability to do so… and the tools and resources to do so. And once delegated – don’t meddle. Get progress reports, but don’t tell staff “how to do it” unless it is clearly going poorly.

2. Make sure your expectations are clear to all. And those expectations are two-fold: yours as a boss and those of the organization. Remember that “he who aims at nothing is likely to hit it!” All who look to you as a leader need to know what is expected of them and how it all fits together to achieve the organization’s objectives. Re-state those expectations periodically; they will fade from staff’s memory if not re-stated in the right context.

3. Never take credit for success – give it to others. Remember the words of President George H.W. Bush –  “mother would lecture us – “give the other guy credit. Nobody likes a braggadocio, George. Don’t talk about yourself all the time.” Wise words for us all. Recognize immediately and publically when people rise to the occasion. Recognize incremental success; not everyone will hit a home run every time… and there are times when effort also counts and also needs to be recognized.

4. It is indeed true that honesty is the best policy. Managers and leaders are judged daily by what they do and say. Straight talk and being forthcoming is critical for people to trust you. Trust lost is virtually impossible to regain. That is not to say that there isn’t a time for ambiguity – there is…but never downright dishonesty.

Hellmans Mayo Lid5. Don’t come unglued. Keeping your cool is critical to being a great boss and leader. Remember the directions on a jar of Hellman’s mayonnaise …. “keep cool – but do not freeze”!  Keep your eye on the target…the big picture….and remember that people are looking at youand to you for guidance. No one has confidence in a boss who gets rattled when the going gets tough.

6. Have a sense of humor. Gotta be able to laugh at yourself…. gotta be able to see the irony in things… gotta “lighten up” when it is called for – but never at someone else’s expense. Humor is a universal ice-breaker.

Learn these lessons… put them in practice… coach your subordinates to do the same. Develop a healthy degree of humility and master the process of evaluating how close to the ideal you are in thesesix dynamics. It takes time and discipline to develop the skills to be a great leader so work on it diligently.