By default, anyone who owns a business or manages a team has the title of leader, but in my consulting experience, I find that just having the title doesn’t make most of us a true example of the word.
Of course, everyone thinks they know what it takes to make a great leader, and many books have been written about the subject. Yet I haven’t found many that offer practical recommendations and examples.
In this context, I was impressed with the new book The Intelligent Leader, by executive coach John Mattone, whom I respect tremendously from my years of consulting in Silicon Valley.
John distills the work he’s done with clients over the years into what it takes to lead, empower, and inspire others. I recommend these actionable principles of leadership for the rest of us, which we can use to evolve ourselves as business leaders as well as owners, including the following:
1. Consistently strive to think differently and think big
Most of the people on your team have to worry about the current crisis, and getting their job done today.
A leader has to keep the big picture in mind, and keep people focused on the long-term vision and mission. Home in on alternative ideas that are actionable, no matter how revolutionary.
Steve Jobs had many faults, but he was perhaps best known for his marketing slogan “Think different” and his commitment to a vision of new and better products, inspiring consumers to demand products and services they never even knew they needed.
2. Create a culture of vulnerability and be the role model
Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and transparent to others makes it possible for them to trust you. Without vulnerability and humility, real change and growth isn’t possible. You need to be willing to open yourself up to others’ feedback, and acknowledge flaws in order to correct them.
Jack Welch, CEO and chairman of General Electric for many years and well-known for being a strong leader, set up a “reverse mentoring” process by pairing younger, more internet-adept employees with older members of senior management so the former could teach the latter about new technology.
This made his leadership team stronger, and built huge bonds with his team.
3. Replace a mindset of entitlement with a mindset of duty
The duty mindset is a perspective in which you see yourself as a key cog in a much larger wheel. Having this bigger picture empowers you to better identify the areas where you need improvement, and set yourself on the right course to positively impact those around you.
4. Prioritize leveraging your gifts over closing your gaps
First, don’t hesitate to solicit input to get the most accurate possible picture of yourself. Then don’t take your strengths for granted or overreact to gaps.
Develop an action plan to lead from your strengths, and seek outside support or complementary partners to shore up leadership weaknesses.
In the early days of Microsoft, Bill Gates recognized his technical leadership skills but relied on partner Steve Ballmer, trained at Procter & Gamble, to lead the marketing and business development efforts. Both learned from the other, and became even stronger.
5. Cultivate the courage to execute with passion and precision
Some never make the shift from perspective to action; it takes you outside your comfort zone. But only then can you identify the opportunities for change, and make the mistakes leading to growth and learning. Fearlessly executing with pride and passion inspires others to follow you.
6. Take the time to stay present, listen, and be vigilant
Leaders often make the mistake of thinking that their time is more valuable than anyone else’s, but this breeds resentment and takes you out of touch with reality. In this age of distraction, you need to slow down and absorb each situation, decision, or moment to provide the most effective leadership.
7. Make course correction both a mindset and an action
As an action, course change leadership is what you do in the moment, when you need to pivot. As a mindset, it’s a way of life.
You need to be aware that the world around you is in a state of constant evolution, and your leadership must stay balanced in the face of inevitable change.
Ironically, despite all these positive action items, intelligent leadership in business isn’t really even about you–it’s about both the culture and the teams you create, who really are the leadership interface your customers see and depend on.
Your challenge is to be the steward and model for the leadership that inspires the success and legacy that we all want for our business.