Do you listen and provide value or do you talk in order to advance your own agenda? There is a big difference.
In a conversation with a client recently we were discussing what are the attributes of successful leaders? I believe that there are four key ones.
The first attribute is adaptability, which means that a leader must be able to lead in varying environments whether it be a crisis, a boom, moderate success, ambiguity. A leader must be able to understand and then adapt to the environment around them.
The second attribute is being perceptive. Leaders must know what is going on around them, the different personalities of the teams they lead, the different agendas people may have and how the leader is perceived by others and use that information to determine how to best achieve their goals and objectives.
The third attribute is being decisive. This means balancing the desire for consensus with the required speed of decision-making. It also means that in most cases some action is better than no action.
The fourth and final attribute successful leaders have is being humble. We often read about leaders who give most of the credit to the people around them when things go well but shoulder most of the blame when things go awry. A leader needs to recognize that he/she needs smart people around them and that they can’t do everything on their own.
I will also let you in on a little secret. Great leaders aren’t always at the top of their organizations. There are many great leaders we have never heard of yet show all of the attributes I have just discussed. Do you know who those people are in your organization?
Yesterday, I was privilieged enough to attend a lunch event where Frank McKenna was the keynote speaker. The event was hosted by Leadership Sinai, a group of young professionals committed to volunteer leadership and philanthropy and advancing the mission of Mount Sinai Hospital, and sponsored by TD Commercial Banking. The event was amazing. We had a great turnout and Mr McKenna was an amazing speaker. He told many great stories about some of the great leaders who he has had the pleasure of knowing and also talked about some of the characteristics of a great leader. What were they, you might ask? Hard work, collaborating with a great team, having passion for what you do and giving praise as often as you can. These are great leadership lessons from a great leader and we should all remember them to improve our lives and our businesses.
Being a solo practitioner, or a lone wolf, it sometimes gets lonely. No one to discuss business ideas with, no one to help make important decisions and no one to give you advice when you are off track. That is why it is so important to surround myself with a good support network. I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who are there to help and offer advice when needed. I am also fortunate to be a part of a global community of consultants who, like me, run their own practices. I have a forum to test out new ideas and strategies. How else can one be successful?
You cannot make business decisions in a vacuum and it is impossible to know all angles of an issue or solution without outside help. Some of the loneliest colleagues I meet are Presidents and CEOs because they have a great deal of responsibility and ultimately the final decision-making power.
Life is better when you have a support system, regardless of your job or your pastimes. We need to spend more time developing personal relationships and spend less time making faceless connections through technology. Those personal relationships are rewarding and beneficial, so why not spend more time cultivating them?
Last week, my wife and I spent four days in Algonquin Park, about three hours north of Toronto, camping and canoeing. Beautiful wildlife, beautiful scenery, great exercise…but the best part about it – no cell phone reception. Now I am the first to admit that I rely fairly heavily on my Blackberry to stay in touch with clients and friends and family, but this was a nice change. No email, no phone calls, no text messages and no interruptions for four whole days. It made me realize that life without my Blackberry goes on.
Does this mean that I had some epiphany that will change my life? No, but it was nice to get away from things for a few days and it made me realized that instant communication is not always necessary. Email and cell phones have created an expectation of immediate results, that we need to return emails and phone calls within minutes. This is not always the best way to do business. Sometimes we need to spend some time thinking about our decisions before we communicate them.
Try going a day without you cell phone and see what happens. It is a liberating experience and one that may change your perspective just a little on how to best use technology.
I don’t usually purport that we can learn good life lessons from most athletes, but I think we can learn something from Lebron James, the NBA’s best player and a free agent. With Lance Armstrong accused of doping, Tiger Woods an admitted adulterer and many other superstars convicted of gunplay, there are few elite athletes who have (or at least appear to have) no baggage or bad habits. Lebron seems to be one of those athletes. His handling of his current free agent situation has been admirable. While many of his peers are discussing how much money they are going to make, what celebrities they have met with and which billionaire is taking them to dinner, Lebron has gone about his business, meeting with a few different teams and quietly making his decision. One would not think a lesson in humility would come from the NBA’s best player and one who has the opportunity to turn the league upside down depending on with which team he signs. You get the feeling that this is a smart man who understands the magnitude of this decision on him as well as others and also realizes that only he can make this decision. Lessons in humility come from strange places and it is nice to see them coming from a 25-year-old athlete about to make $120m. Some of our politicians and business leaders could take a page out of Lebron’s playbook on how to handle success.
Which one has provided more humour to us recently? I have not heard much from Billy Crystal lately, so I am going with the former.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander for the war in Afganistan, reminded us recently what it means to be a leader. It means accountability. After recent comments came out from McChrystal and his staff about very senior people in the US administration, McChrystal was forced to do some serious damage control and was quickly removed from his post. What did he expect would happen if a magazine reporter was given unfettered access to he and his aides? The reporter would inevitably hear things not meant for public consumption. As admirably as McChrystal has handled the situation, the error in judgment came long before the comments were ever made public. Let’s hope that this situation does not define the perception of the General’s successful career, but there are good lessons for all leaders – think about the consequences of your actions and act swiftly when required. President Obama tried to quell the situation by giving the General a chance to tell his side of the story and then dismissed him from the post. Now the US can move forward and put this debacle behind them.
But when you read some of the comments made by the General and his aides, you have to wonder “what were they thinking?” I am sure everyone has said things that they don’t want their boss to hear, that is sometimes the nature of business, but use some judgment and understand with whom you are talking. A reporter’s job is to get the inside scoop. There is nothing wrong with someone challenging their leader and having some dissension in the ranks behind closed doors, but it is unacceptable to do this in public. Interesting that it comes from military men who should better understand the chain of command and the consequences for ignoring that chain of command. I guess McChrystal understands that pretty well now.
My son is three (almost four) years old and I am amazed each day what I can learn from him. Today I learned the art of listening. This morning, we were at my wife’s convocation (she graduated from Teacher’s College) and as the President of the university was speaking, I started to zone out. About every third word, my son would ask “what does that mean?” or “what did he say?” He was picking up every word so I was forced to listen to the speech. It ended up being a terrific speech. It was about how teachers are challenged today more than ever because of the diverse cultures and backgrounds of the students, the constant budgetary pressures schools face and the current lack of teaching positions as older teachers stay on past retirement.
I walked out feeling very proud of my wife for her accomplishment, feeling energized and inspired about how to be successful in today’s world, and dumbfounded that it took a three-year old kid to open my eyes to all of this. You never know where your inspiration will come from, so take it all in and make every life situation an opportunity.