(5 More Of The) 25 Timeless Leadership Lessons That Just Plain Work

Posted by on Feb 21, 2014 in Terry Starbucker | 0 comments

images25cIt’s the third week of my 5-week series outlining 25 timeless leadership lessons.

I hope you’ve already seen the first two installments (if you missed them, here is Part 1, and here is Part 2).

Here’s a summary of all 25, and the lessons discussed today are in bold (past lessons are underlined and linked).  There are 10 more lessons arriving over the next 2 weeks.  Lead well!

  1. Practice Full Spectrum Management 
  2. Teach Instead of Tell
  3. Be an Enabler, Not a Disabler
  4. Develop a Zen-Like Mantra
  5. Avoid Inertia (and Push Forward)
  6. Trust the Facts
  7. Words Alone Don’t Make the Leader
  8. Blend Will and Humility
  9. Know “The Secrets of Work”
  10. Do the Unexpected
  11. Think Like an Interior Designer
  12. “It is Solved by Walking”
  13. Take the Leadership Litmus Test
  14. Bad News Can Be Good News
  15. Don’t Do Second Things First
  16. Avoid Nightmares in the Ivory Tower
  17. Pause and Refresh
  18. Shore Up the House of Cards
  19. Get a Life (If You Don’t Have One)
  20. Beware of the Accountability Trap
  21. Do Some Den Mothering
  22. Be Ever the Statesman
  23. Use The Seven Most Important Words
  24. Stay Away From the “Buts”
  25. No Square Pegs in Round Holes

11. Think Like an Interior Designer

I am a big fan of those home improvement shows on TV, and I have found a great piece of leadership advice by watching interior decorators work with their clients.  Good decorators always use the process of elimination in making color and design choices – that is, they find out what their clients DO NOT want before they figure out what they want.

They typically start with a very wide range of choices, and then ask a simple question – “tell me what you don’t like”. Before too long everything is narrowed down to just a few selections, and the end game becomes much easier.  Effective business decision-making ideally should follow the same process – laying out all the alternatives, and systematically eliminating the unacceptable ones.

It is amazing how in practice I have seen it handled much differently in the boardroom – more of “which one do you like best”? This approach typically results in a much longer discussion, since it is much harder to get a fast consensus on what is best, versus what is worst.

So the next time you are faced with a decision with many choices, think like those designers on TV and use the process of elimination– who knows, you might end up repainting your office or boardroom too!

12. “It is Solved by Walking”

Sometimes just showing up is great leadership.  That’s right – just hopping on a plane, renting a car, driving up to a branch or regional office, and walking through the door.  If you are a manager that has staff in other places, even a couple of thousand miles away, you need to go to those places once in a while.  Even once a year will do.

And what do you do once you get there?  Just chat folks up.  Listen.  Laugh.  Buy them breakfast or lunch.   Maybe even sing a karaoke song or two.  The net result can make a huge difference -I have lost count of how many times I have heard my teammates tell me “I really appreciate you being here – we NEVER used to see corporate people under previous owners“.

That is music to my ears – I have made a huge difference just by my physical presence. There’s a Latin expression that sums it all up for me – “solvitur ambulando”.  It means, “it is solved by walking”.  Out of the office and into the field.

13. Take the Leadership Litmus Test

Once I was speaking at a training session for a group of our newer teammates, and I was asked this question:

“How do you know if you are a good leader?”

I replied by saying that good leaders should be able to lead their teams up any hill without looking back.  They get to the top confident that when they turn around, the whole team is standing right there behind them at the summit.  Over-confident leaders can also get to the top without looking back, but they will see people still at the base of the hill when they turn around.  Doubtful leaders may get everyone to the top, but not without turning around often and zig-zagging up and down exhorting their teammates, perhaps even dragging some people with them.

The real litmus test of great leadership is that mutual trust – when the chips are down and the battle must be joined, can you trust your team to execute, and will they trust you to lead?

You will really never know until that first real crisis – but in any business, it ultimately happens.   So the next time it does, step up, gather the team, issue the call, and then take the test by climbing that hill.   When you get to the top you will know if you passed. Good luck!

14. Bad News Can Be Good News

There are always going to be problems out there – nobody, and no business, is perfect.  If you are not hearing about them from your teammates, not only are you failing as a leader, you are being lulled into a false sense of security about what is really happening – a real double whammy.

We must inspire trust and confidence as leaders, and the best evidence of this is a stream of bad news coming your way.  It sounds counter-intuitive, but it really is not. The upshot of getting bad news on a timely basis is that we oftentimes can take speedy action to fix it, thus minimizing any damage to the business.  Sometimes, the action can even have a net positive impact – really making “lemonade out of the lemons“.

Making sure we get our share of bad news is an excellent “gut check” we can periodically make to be sure we are on the right track as leaders.

Colin Powell summed it up when he spoke about military leadership:

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”

15. Don’t Do Second Things First 

I am a big list maker – I have a yellow legal pad with me at all times, and I am always jotting down my “to dos“.  I keep all these pads, because I like to look back and see whether the priorities I set were correct – and, more importantly, whether I went after the right ones first.

How often do we come up with a list but avoid the first thing we write down, because it is probably the most difficult one?  I think it is human nature to want to do the easier things first, but good leaders need to resist that temptation and have the courage to take on the big and hairy stuff.

A classic example is diving into a spreadsheet or another “depersonalized” project instead of dealing with a critical teammate who is not performing and needs to be held accountable. That really is the hard stuff, and typically are the “first things” we need to do to keep our goals on track. I know that has happened to me now and then – the evidence is apparent when I look back at my yellow pads.   Doing so redoubles my resolve going forward to keep my courage up when those tough tests of leadership happen.

Don’t do second things first – trust your instincts, go to the top of the list, and get ‘er done!

Don’t miss lessons 16-25 over the next two weeks – if you haven’t already, sign up below for email delivery of my posts.  Thanks!

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