I’m fortunate to have worked for several outstanding leaders. I believe that the humility of exceptional leaders makes them hard to spot until you listen and watch closely for lasting results and personal growth in their teams. I have some simple ideas to keep my own leadership journey on track.
My personal experiences
I’ve been fortunate enough to directly work for several senior leaders who achieved great results whilst consistently building their teams. I loved working for these people: they brought out standards of excellence in myself that I was surprised by, and I trusted them to “pull my head into line” when I needed it. One team achieved spectacularly positive 300%+ growth results over two years within a depressed market. This leader simultaneously turned around staff morale and built loyal clients through 360° positive relationships built on listening, involving others, personal integrity & diligence. The business grew from 25 to 75 staff whilst also growing profitability. The other leader headed an enormous program of hundreds of people to achieve an almost impossibly aggressive transformation of a $4Bn company, whilst building up the capabilities and leadership of this large team. For these leaders I’m unsure if even their next level up managers realised the extent to which their humble, listening approach and high standards powered success.
I loved being in these teams and working for these leaders. I learnt a lot. We shared experiences. All their teams enjoyed working for them, even when occasionally they were tough task masters. These experiences lead me to the “do every day” side of leadership for leaders at all levels
“Do Every Day” actions for leaders at all levels
- Listen to your team, ask their advice, seek their views, get their help – all the time. Even the Prime Minister or President has advisers always with them.
- Praise heartily and often. Do this one in public. Correct / criticise rarely, gently, and always in private. Correct through questions that allow learning, try to avoid lecturing.
- Celebrate and share small and large wins frequently. Share generously when good stuff happens. Be present and never blame when inevitable losses occur.
- Be with your people. Walk the floors. Get to know your people one on one. Listen and care; and when you hear of problems take these as opportunities to support.
What about senior leaders – how to make outstanding organisational impact?
To guide senior leaders in seeking outstanding impact I believe we need to also look at some company research. One famous study on the effect of great leaders is Jim Collins’ “Good to Great”. This study looked across 50 years to understand what made companies spectacularly improve. To qualify as a “Good to Great” company Collins’ team looked for 10 years of average results followed by 15 years of sustained extraordinary performance. Eleven companies were found, some in quite mundane industries. Once Collins and his team found the point of change they did extensive work analysing data and talking to the people involved to understand the cause. They found great leadership was the most influential “point of difference” in the good to great change. This research gave some really valuable insights.
Organisation changing leadership – Humble with a Strong Professional Will
Collins’ team found what they termed “level 5 leaders” in key leadership positions including the CEO in all the “Good to great” companies. These leaders’ common traits included:
- Personal Humility and Integrity. Taking personal responsibility for failures and sharing the credit for successes. High values, ethics and personal integrity.
- Incredibly high ambitions for the company and its higher purpose. Inspiring others through a positive shared vision. Personal charisma was optional, not mandatory.
- An unwavering resolve to do whatever must be done to produce the best long term results for the company. Setting consistent and enduring high standards.
- Building strong teams and deeply mentoring successors so they might create even greater success.
Strategic leadership actions for consistency and depth
Collins’ work lines up with what I’ve seen in large organisational transformations. For this I’d recommend some simple but longer time frame actions.
- In any senior position, first invest in your team building a shared vision of how you can together leave your customers, your company, and your people better off.
- Take the time to properly understand your place in the world and how to best deliver your shared vision. Where does your vision intersect with areas you can realistically be the best at, whilst still turning a good profit? Build plans around these areas.
- Deeply consider and agree the principles, values and high standards that would see your team consistently delivering against your plans: and then lock these in for the longer haul. Frequently test, measure and review against these standards. Take time to ensure goal posts are dug deep and don’t have to continually move.
- Always make time for your people, first and foremost. In senior positions, as much as managing results and solving crises appears ever pressing, always keep an open door and make regular time for your people. Never lose sight that continual investment in building your team is the core to any long term success.
Thanks for reading
Please share and add your comments or tips you’ve seen to work!
Some other material worth looking at:
- Resonant Leadership – How to care for and inspire your people
- Five things I learnt from Unify’s High Performance Teams
- 7 Geese Blog – Transform your Tech Company from Good to Great
- Blog from Brian Chesky, CEO of AirBnb – Don’t F*ck up the Culture