Think about the many top execs in recent years who have crashed and burned after a long ride at the top. Or maybe the people you have known or come in contact with who were spearheading change initiatives in their companies only to suddenly find themselves out of a job. What about you? What kinds of leadership positions have you been in? Have you ever felt like you were competing in Survival of the Fittest?
The fact is that to lead is to live dangerously. While leadership can be exciting and glamorous, it’s also possible to get knocked off course or out of the action. This survival guide to leadership offers advice to help protect you so you can complete your initiatives.
Different Leadership Approaches
First of all, it’s important to understand what type of approach your company needs based on your specific circumstances. Different circumstances ask for different leadership approaches. One of the ways to be a great leader is to know what role you need to play to best serve your organization.
Turnaround: When an organization is in trouble, it needs leaders who will take charge. Difficult circumstances or an existential threat require that people take action now, without having the time to debate the choices of action, without a chance to build consensus around the approach, and without concern for tradition. The turnaround leader can break things on their way to making things better, and they can create ill will along the way. But when survival is at stake, this approach is necessary.
Change Agent: A turnaround is a shift of 180 degrees; the organization is moving in the wrong direction. A change agent needs to adjust the organization’s direction by degrees, more than 1 degree and less than 180. The strategy isn’t quite right and needs to be significantly adjusted. The business model isn’t producing the expected results, and the go-to-market strategy need to be significantly modified. There isn’t all the time in the world to debate the choices and build consensus, but there is some time to enlist the support of other leaders to help make change. When things aren’t working, a leader has to make change.
Execution: There are some circumstances that require a leader who can execute and deliver results. The organization is in no danger and doesn’t need real change other than better execution of what is already in place. This choice is often overlooked by new leaders, who believe they must be a turnaround leader or a change agent. But sometimes all that is necessary for the leader to help the organization reach its full potential is to create accountability for executing on what is already in place. The execution leader has time to build consensus, build traditions, and inspire greater action.
When your organization needs better execution, being a turnaround leader or a change agent will prevent you from producing the results you need. The flipside is also true: If something is actually broken, execution isn’t enough to realize the organization’s potential.
Leadership Choices and Consequences
Leadership is the ability to get the people you are leading to take action to accomplish specific goals. There are choices available to a leader to motivate their team to act. Some choices are healthier and more effective than others.
The steps you take along the way toward a goal are just as important as the goal itself. You want to implement the best choices in your toolkit. Here is a breakdown of some of the most important leadership choices along with the consequences they bring.
- Force: It’s tempting to think that force doesn’t belong in a leader’s toolkit, that it shouldn’t be in the range of choices available to a leader. But a leader may, from time to time, need to rely on force in emergency situations. If the threat is great and doesn’t allow for time, doling out orders and requiring people to respond might be the right choice. You may need to make people do what is necessary under extreme circumstances.
You should only use this choice in the rarest of circumstances, and always take great care to ensure that it isn’t needed. The military needs this choice. So do the police and fire fighters. Business people almost never do.
- The Threat of Force: The threat of force, demanding something or else threatening consequences will be forthcoming, shouldn’t be a go-to choice – and never take it lightly. The price to relationships is too high and the effectiveness too low. Ultimatums are a horrible way to produce results, and long term, they destroy the team you lead. This is the choice of last resort, and good leaders should rarely exercise it.
If you’ve gotten to the point where an ultimatum is necessary, you have made mistakes as a leader and allowed a problem to go unaddressed too long.
- Manipulation: Manipulation is another extremely negative choice. Unlike force, there is never a reason to use manipulation to produce results. It does tremendous damage to your relationships, and it demonstrates to your team that you want what you want, and you’ll make whatever Machiavellian moves necessary to get your result. Manipulation is the choice of the sociopath.
Manipulation sits in the middle only because it is something less than force and to remind you that it is a choice you may unknowingly make . . . read on.
- Persuasion: It might surprise you to find persuasion so close to manipulation. It doesn’t carry the same baggage as “manipulation,” but the only thing separating the two is your intentions. Making a rational, reasoned argument to convince someone isn’t negative. But anything deceptive or self-oriented quickly transforms persuasion into manipulation. Persuasion, in the positive sense of the word, is a choice a leader will need available to her.
You will need to make reasoned, rational arguments to persuade others as a leader. But there are better choices that will limit the amount of persuading necessary.
- Influence: Influence is better than persuasion. When you have influence, your relationship does the necessary work in helping you to achieve results through others. Your character makes it easy for people to follow your lead without your having to persuade, manipulate, or command them.
When you have influence, you never have to worry about whether or not the people you are leading are doing what they should be doing; they wouldn’t do otherwise. They know you care about them, and they would never dream of letting you down.
- Inspiration: There is a higher choice than influence. That choice is inspiration. When you lead through inspiration, you help people find and develop into the best version of themselves. You help them find meaning in their work, and you help them identify their purpose. The more you lead from this choice, the less you need to rely on any of the other lesser, yet still sometimes necessary choices.
When you inspire people, not only would they never let you down, more importantly, they wouldn’t let themselves down.
The higher you climb on this spectrum, the greater your relationship will be with those you lead, the better your results, the greater and faster your growth, the more leaders you will create, and the greater your legacy will be.
Responsibilities of a Leader
Here are 9 responsibilities of a leader.
Caring: No one wants to follow a leader who doesn’t care about them personally. They don’t want to follow someone who doesn’t care about something that creates meaning and purpose and mission. It’s your job to care so deeply that your passion spills over and literally creates followers.
Listening: Leaders spend time listening. Listening is one of the ways that you learn. You constantly take in new ideas and new information so that you can improve your own performance, and the performance of the organization and the people you lead. Great leaders know that they don’t have a monopoly on good ideas and seek them from outside themselves.
Reading: Leaders read. Leaders read about the type of organizations they run. They read about leading and about other leaders. They read the news, nonfiction, and fiction. They synthesize all they read, finding connections and themes that they can use to become better, more effective leaders. You need to surround yourself with a stack of books, magazines, and papers.
Thinking: Leaders spend time thinking. They literally make time to think. Even if it means they have to unplug and go offsite to have the time they need to do nothing other than engaging in an internal dialogue with themselves, asking themselves questions and pondering the answers. Thinking is some of the most difficult work a leader will ever do.
Helping Others Grow: Leaders help others grow. You help others find something inside themselves that they didn’t know was there. Great leaders help guide the people they lead to their best performance, and they challenge them to stretch beyond anything they believed possible. You have to see something inside the people you lead and help them become that.
Shaping Values: Shaping values is what allows the leader to share what is important, what matters, and what is necessary for the people and the organization they lead to live its purpose. Find and tell stories to bring your values to life. Find a way to catch people doing things right and shine a light on them so that they can serve as an example to others. And protect the positive culture you build from anything that might damage or destroy it.
Envisioning: A leader must provide a vision of the future. You have to know where you are taking those that follow you, and where your organization is going. That future needs to be bigger, better, and brighter. It has to provide meaning and purpose. Your vision has to compel others to act and inspire them to do whatever is necessary to bring it to life.
Persuading: You get results by persuading others to change, to do things differently, to grow. Good leaders know that they can’t make anyone do anything. They know that the most powerful tool for change isn’t demanding it but persuading people to make the necessary changes. Your formal authority is nothing compared to your moral authority and your ability to persuade others.
Deciding: Leaders make decisions. You can’t afford to wait passively as events unfold around you, paralyzed by fear, and failing to act. You will get some big decisions wrong. You will only get some of the big decisions right. You will always have to make adjustments. Come what may, you have to make decisions.
As exciting as it can be to lead your team through good times and bad, leadership also comes with a lot of tough stuff. To lead through change and turmoil, or even in the best of situations, you have to be sure you have all the tools and skills you need to survive.