Leading an organization effectively has to be done through principles . . . clear, simple principles that come from the heart of the leader. Principles that don’t change, transcend circumstances, locations, genders, generations, and even faiths. Put the principles in concrete and point to them regularly and you’ll have a team that thinks alike and works together. Here are a few of the principles I believe in and try to practice . . .
- Authenticity – A leader must be real. People know fake in a heartbeat. A leader doesn’t undermine his credibility when he admits he’s human, that he’s made mistakes and that he’s learning as he goes. Humility attracts people, while pride repels. A leader can’t ask others to be honest and real if he’s not. Only hire and promote authentic people. Avoid “mask-wearers.”
- You are “people” away from success – Regardless of what you’re into, you are “people” away from your objectives. Whether your organization is technical, financial, mechanical, spiritual, or anything else, it can’t go anywhere or achieve its objectives without people. It’s hard to give good customer service or make quality products through untrained, unmotivated, unhappy employees. Love people, use things . . . not the other way around.
- To start from where you are, you have to know where you are – Leaders have to know their current status before they decide how to improve it. A thorough review of the existing situation should happen at least every year and whenever a new leader takes over. There’s a famous story about when Andy Grove took over at Intel. He had his leadership team pretend they were all fired. They walked out of the building and walked back in, pretending they were the new leadership team. “Okay, where are we?” was his first question.
- “What business are we in?” – Leaders, especially CEOs, must ask this question and keep asking it. The answer can be tricky. My favorite example is NASCAR racing. When asked, “What business are you in?” track owner Bruton Smith said, “We’re in the drama business.” And he’s right . . . auto racing fans pay for speed, competition, and danger . . . each element adds to the drama!
- The purpose of management is twofold – 1) To make sure every team member knows what their job is and 2) to remove obstacles to their productivity. When you hire authentic people and clearly spell out the job they’re there to do, what’s left is to set up how they’re going to hold themselves accountable (and keep you informed), then get out of their way. When they hit a roadblock, be a safe place to fall. Otherwise, let them run with it!
- Ready, fire, aim – If you have a pretty good idea of what you need to do, get started. In my organizations, ready, fire, aim is a merit badge, not a criticism. I subscribe to the wisdom of General Patton who said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.” Get going. Try it . . . do it . . . fix it. The best strategy is one that’s already moving, improved by a thousand mid-course corrections.
- Structure follows strategy – It’s oh so easy to drum up one strategy after another, but for an organization to have longer-term success, the leader must organize the people with a structure so that the strategy gets implemented with focus and accountability. When the next new thing is inserted into an organizational structure created for an earlier era, success will be hard to come by. Reorganize around your vision, strategy, or markets. Put the talent together in teams and give your people clarity about the mission and their role in it.
- You get what you glorify – What’s celebrated is repeated, and when you celebrate behaviors that add value to customers, clients, members, or attendees, you’re inspiring others in the same direction. To glorify is to manifest the hidden magnificent qualities. If you glorify character, steadiness, good decision-making, frugality, courage, and commitment, you’ll inspire it in others.
- Pay too much – Do everything you can to pay your people above the market. Connect pay raises to contributions, not seniority. Don’t institutionalize prosperity with planned, predictable pay raises because there’s no assurance of prosperity in the future. Also, use the same measurements of success with all your leaders . . . keep everyone equally yoked toward the same mission, vision, and goals.
- Bad news early, bad news often – None of us like to receive (or deliver) bad news. But facts are friendly. They may not be your buddy . . . buddies will tell you whatever you want to hear. But friends will tell you the truth and it’s better to know the facts than not. Also, since leaders often live in denial of bad news, it’s important to share bad news as soon as it’s on the radar so the team has time to prepare and respond. Sometimes we must deliver the bad news multiple times before leaders will believe us. Be courageous. Whenever in doubt, tell the truth and over-communicate.
I love the challenge of leadership. Of knowing that I’m always leading . . . one way or the other. That I’m always visible to someone. It’s critical that leaders live consistently . . . that we don’t say one thing and do another. Since leadership is more through influence than authority, I’m called to be the leader God wants me to be 24/7/365.
. . . and one last thing about leadership. As a Jesus-follower who knows the author of my story, it is my goal to never take a compliment without saying “thank you” and then always deflecting the credit to my Father in Heaven. We all know the fragility of life and how those successful outcomes could have just as easily been failures. Either way, my Heavenly Father would have loved me just as much.
Scripture: Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (Hebrews 13:7)
Mentor Tip: In addition to the information we provide in our module on Leadership, feel free to take some time and share your leadership principles with your guys. It’s likely they will become leaders in the future if they aren’t already.
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