1 Leaders Are Made, Not Born
2 A sense of mission
– Strive to Be the Best
As a leader, the most important vision you can have for yourself is to be the best. And that same vision must apply to your business or your organization. You will accept nothing less for yourself or your company than to be the best at what you do. In business, that means asking:
What quality about your product or service is most relevant or important to your customers?
3 Action Orientation
Be Forward Thinking
Leaders are forward thinking. Most leaders live in the future. They are continually focusing their thoughts on the future—what will be and how to create it. Most nonleaders focus on the present and the past. To be forward thinking means establishing a set of goals and focusing every day on moving toward those goals.
Leaders follow these seven steps for achieving goals:
- Identify your major goals. Decide exactly what you want to achieve, whether it’s for your business or your life. Clarity is essential.
- Write it down. Be specific and detailed. Make it measurable. As an example, your goal might be to double your sales in the next two years. So, write it down. If your goal is not in writing, it’s nothing more than a vague fantasy.
- Set a deadline for the achievement of the goal. If it’s a big goal, then break it down into pieces and set deadlines for each of those pieces. We are energized by time-specific goals. Give yourself deadlines.
- Make a list of everything that you have to do to achieve each major goal. Be comprehensive. As you think of more things, add them to the list until it is complete.
- Create an action plan. This is where you take the list and turn it into specific steps. There are two things to think about: priority and sequence. What items on the list are most important? What must be done first? When setting priorities, remember the 80/20 rule: 20 percent of the things you do will account for 80 percent of your results. You don’t want to spend your time on unimportant things. You don’t want your people spending time on unimportant things. Identify what’s really going to help you and your organization to achieve your goals. As for sequence, you have to identify exactly what needs to be done before something else can be done. Any plan is going to have activities that are dependent on certain other activities being done. Also, identify the limitations, constraints, or obstacles that stand in your way. Priority is again important. What are the most important obstacles? What are the things you will absolutely need to overcome before you can achieve your goal?
- Take action. Now that you have a plan, and you know the hurdles on the path before you, you must act—immediately. There can be no more delays. Many people fail because they don’t take action on their goals and plans. Leaders don’t make that mistake.
- Do something every day. When you get up in the morning, plan your day and then do something, anything, that moves you toward achieving your goals.
Peter Drucker wrote, “The responsibility of the leader is to think about the future; no one else can.” Strategic planner Michael Kami says, “Those who do not think about the future cannot have one.” Author and management expert Alec Mackenzie says, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Leaders create the future by setting goals and moving forward, step-by-step, every day, toward those goals.
Building a Strategic Plan
Leaders must have a strategic plan for their organizations. There are six key questions you must answer to develop an effective plan.
- Where are you now? Any strategic plan begins with a complete assessment of the company’s situation. If you don’t know your current situation, you won’t know what steps your company needs to take to achieve its strategic goals. Be specific. For each business unit or product area, determine your sales, profitability, assets, trends, and competitive position.
- How did you get where you are today? Honesty is the key here. What decisions have led to your current situation? What activities are you doing that are important to your current success? What activities are unnecessary to acquire and keep profitable customers? What activities could be outsourced but are still in-house?
- Where do you want to go from here? Once you’ve determined where you are today and why (steps 1 and 2), you now must identify where you want to go. Be detailed. Identify, for example, the products you are selling, the customer base you are selling to, and the financial results you’ll be achieving in the ideal world five years from now.
- How do you get from where you are today to where you want to go? Make a list of everything that you would have to do to achieve the ideal future you just described. Every time you think of a new task, add it to the list.
- What obstacles will you have to overcome to achieve your strategic goals? There are constraints and limiting factors that are preventing you from being the ideal company described in your strategic plan. What are those constraints and factors, and what are you going to do about them?
- What additional knowledge or resources will you need to achieve your strategic objectives? There are always new core competencies that a company needs to acquire or develop to stay relevant to customers and ahead of its competitors. For example, many companies now have social media experts on their staffs.
The first step is to understand what motivates people, what is going to get them to do that extra 30 percent or 50 percent. We have identified six motivation factors that are key to turning average performers into exceptional performers.
The first motivation factor is to give people challenging and interesting work. When employees aren’t engaged, non-leaders will look to blame the employees. But are those employees only given mundane tasks that are not interesting in any way? Leaders understand that to motivate people you have to give them a reason to be motivated. Give them work that will stretch them and move them out of their comfort zones and help them grow.
The second factor that motivates people is open communication. Leaders don’t just tell employees what to do without any explanation of why they are doing it. Employees will be inspired and motivated if they understand how their tasks fit into the overall picture.
The third factor is responsibility and accountability. If employees are held responsible for the tasks, they are much more likely to be engaged in the task. It also builds up their confidence and self-esteem. Leaders know how to support their employees while at the same time stepping back and giving them full responsibility.
The fourth factor is personal growth and promotion. If employees feel that they are advancing in the skills or learning something new and important, then they will be much more motivated to work as best as they can.
As for the fifth and sixth motivating or inspiring factors, they are the ones that most people think of first! I’m talking about money and working conditions. Money and working conditions will motivate people. But contrary to popular wisdom, they are not the most important motivators.
The Leader as Communicator
Leaders are excellent communicators. The ability to communicate is a core quality of leadership. That’s because 85 percent of your success as a leader is determined by your ability to communicate effectively with others. After all, being a leader is about dealing with others—their success is your success. If you cannot communicate, you cannot be a leader.
Communication is a skill that can be learned. The first step is to understand the five goals that you want to accomplish through your communication:
- You want people to like and respect you. Leadership is not about making friends, but if you are liked and respected, people will be more willing to listen to you. They will want to hear what you have to say.
- You want people to recognize your value and importance. The objective, again, is to give people a reason to listen to you.
- You want to be able to persuade others to accept your view. Leadership today is more about persuasion than commanding. You have to be able to persuade others to see your point of view and agree with your position.
- You want to get people to change their minds and to cooperate with you. You cannot be a successful leader if you have people who are against you or who refuse to change their previous positions and opinions. Leaders are often change agents, and the key to change is effective communication.
- You want to be more influential overall in your relationships. Leadership is about power and influence, and power and influence is best achieved through effective communication.
Always Be Visible
The best way to communicate with others is face-to-face. In person. If you look at the great generals and other great leaders, you will find that they are always in the field. Very seldom do you find them hiding behind desks. As a matter of fact, the further up you go on the managerial ladder, the more time the individual leader spends in the field actually talking with people.
Visibility is especially important in communicating with and learning from customers. Leaders should spend a minimum of 25 percent of their time with customers—not sitting behind a desk or looking at numbers and statistics, but actually going out into the field and taking care of customers.
Always Be Selling
One final point about communication: Leaders are excellent low-pressure salespeople. Leaders are always selling. They are selling people on the organization, on the vision, on the goals, and on the reasons. They are selling people on working longer, harder hours, making more valuable contributions, coming on board, and taking greater responsibility. All great leaders can sell.
In addition to being able to sell, leaders can negotiate, and they can compromise. They have the capacity to find win-win solutions. It is a key part of leadership to take people with different points of view, different needs, and different attitudes, and harmonize those points of view so that they all work together in cooperation to achieve the goals of the organization.
One of the key skills to getting results is to know how to set priorities. It’s not enough to identify your high-value activities. Leaders prioritize ruthlessly so that that they are working on only the most important, highest-value activities.
One of the most effective methods to prioritize your tasks is to use the ABCDE method. This method requires you to list your tasks and give them a priority rating.
An “A” task is something important, something that you must do. If you don’t do this task, there are going to be significant consequences. You will have more than one A task. In that case, label them as A-1, A-2, A-3, and so forth. A-1, of course, is the most important task of them all, with A-2 next.
A “B” task is one that should be done, and leaving it undone will also lead to consequences. However, the consequences aren’t as bad or as dangerous as the consequences for an A-level task left undone. Never work on a B task when there’s an A task yet to do.
A “C” task is something that would be nice to do, but for which there are no consequences. Reading a magazine or newspaper might be enjoyable and lets you keep up with politics or sports, but this is not a task that will make any contribution to your work. Never work on a C task when there’s a B task left undone.
A “D” task is anything that you can delegate to someone else. One of the important leadership rules is that you should delegate to others anything that can be delegated. You have enough work that only you can do; you should not be spending your time on tasks that can be done by others. Ask yourself, “What can I and only I do that will make a major difference to the company?” If a task doesn’t fall into this category, give it to someone else. The priority rule continues: Never work on a D task when there’s a C task left undone.
An “E” task is something that needs to be eliminated. It shouldn’t even be on the table. It has no consequences and is of no use. Perhaps it was a task that was important in the past but is now obsolete. Or perhaps it should have never been done at all! At any rate, now is the time to eliminate it.
The key to making this ABCDE method work is to never work on a lower-priority task when there is a higher task still undone. I emphasize this rule for each task, because it is easy to say but harder to remember or to do.
Take on the Responsibilities of Leadership
A leader has seven key responsibilities that never change in any situation or organization. Those who want to lead work hard at becoming the best in all seven of these areas.
Responsibility 1: Set and achieve goals. The best leaders have identified what needs to be accomplished in every area of importance to the organization and are able to achieve each of those goals. For business, that means setting sales growth and profitability goals and then leaving no part of the business untouched in the strategic and market planning to reach those goals.
Responsibility 2: Innovate and market. Don’t keep doing what you or the organization have been doing all along. That’s not the way you are going to get new customers. That’s not the way you are going to achieve those goals that you embraced in the first responsibility. Innovate, and then sell—sell what you do, and sell what you’ve created.
Responsibility 3: Solve problems and make decisions. It is up to you to overcome setbacks, to hurdle the barriers on the path to success, and to make the difficult decisions that come with the position. Every unachieved goal is a problem unsolved. If you did not reach your sales targets, that’s a problem unsolved. If you are still getting beat in your market, that’s a problem unsolved.
Responsibility 4: Set priorities and focus on key tasks. No leader has unlimited people, money, or any other kind of resource. It is the job of the leader to know how to deploy the resources of the organization in the way that best contributes to the overall success of the organization. The fourth responsibility is also about time management. Time is the scarcest resource of all, and leaders who don’t know how to allocate their time will fail.
Responsibility 5: Be a role model to others. People watch their leaders and emulate their behaviors and attitudes. Through your character, personality, and work habits, you must set the example that you want to see in others.
Responsibility 6: Persuade and inspire others to follow you. Leaders motivate their teams, their departments, or their organizations to believe in the vision, mission, and specific goals that they have set for the organization. A leader without followers is not a leader, no matter what his or her position may be.
Responsibility 7: Get results. Leaders are expected to perform. There are no excuses. There are no acceptable reasons for not achieving results. The seventh responsibility is the most critical responsibility of all.
Like an athlete who wants the ball, a leader embraces these responsibilities. Leaders want to be held accountable; they want to be responsible for motivating the people in the organization and achieving the results required for success. Leaders recognize that success comes from a partnership with their people, but ultimately, they want to be the ones in command.
Become a Better Leader
Leaders are always looking to improve themselves. In four basic steps, you can improve your leadership skills and qualities:
- Do more of certain things. Do more of those things that are of greater value to you and more important to achieving your results as a leader.
- Do less of certain things. At the same time, you must deliberately decide to reduce the amount of time you spend on certain activities that impede your success as a leader.
- Start to do those things you aren’t doing that you need to be doing. What are the skills, competencies, or knowledge that you need in order to succeed as a leader? Identify them, and then either acquire them or learn them.
- Stop doing certain things altogether. There may be activities that are no longer relevant to your goals as a leader. Step back and evaluate all your activities from the perspective of what you are trying to achieve. You may find that what was once important is no longer important and should no longer take up your time.
Power Through Cooperation
Leaders recognize that they can’t do it all themselves, so they are always alert to enlisting competent men and women who can help them achieve their goals. Leaders recognize that the greatest single limitation in any endeavor in human society is talented people. So leaders are always seeking out talented people, one way or another.
Seek out the advice of others. One of the most important rules of success I ever heard is that you need to ask your way to success. Ask other people for the help you need. Ask for advice. Ask for counsel. Never assume that you know it all or try to learn it from the ground up. As they say, you’ll never live long enough to make every mistake. So ask others and learn from them.
Also, compensate for weaknesses. Be very alert to your weaknesses and figure out how to compensate for them. The fact of the matter is that if you can compensate for your weaknesses and build on your strengths, you can become an exceptional leader.
All leaders have peaks of tremendous strength and valleys where they are weak. Good leaders are able to find people who are strong where they are weak; that way they can concentrate on developing their own strengths to even greater heights. Don’t worry about being weak in a few areas because it doesn’t matter, as long as you bring along other talented people who can help you achieve your goals.
Steps to Cooperation
Here are three important steps to achieve power through cooperation. First of all, identify the key people in your life who can help you, whether you work with them or whether they work in parallel organizations. Identify these key people and think of how you can align yourself with them. One of the best and most powerful ways to get people to help you is to help them.
Second, take the time to develop relationships with these key people. Everything in life today is about relationships. Your success in life is going to be determined by the quality and quantity of successful relationships that you can form with other talented people.
Finally, make the effort to preserve and enhance those worthwhile relationships. One person who is in the right place at the right time and with whom you’ve developed a relationship over the years can save you five years of hard work.
I recommend setting up mastermind groups. Mastermind groups can be structured or unstructured. In a structured group, there may be a brainstorming session around an assigned topic or question. Members of the group will often be exposed to new ideas or perspectives that they can apply to their businesses. In unstructured groups, the members simply get together and discuss whatever topics they might be preoccupied with.
A mastermind group doesn’t have to be external. As a leader, you should develop a mastermind group of key people in your own business or organization to meet with regularly in order to get a general sense of how business is going and what problems are coming up.
The Power of Mentorship
Most successful leaders had mentors who helped guide them to the top. Here’s some advice on how to build better and more successful mentor-mentee relationships.
Set clear goals for yourself in every area of your life. You won’t know what type of people can help you until you know exactly what you want to accomplish.
Identify the obstacles and roadblocks on the path to your goals.
Identify the areas of knowledge, skill, and expertise you need to acquire to overcome these obstacles. This will tell you what you need to learn from your mentors.
Look around you and select the most successful people in the areas where you will need the most help.
Join the clubs, organizations, and business associations that these kinds of people belong to. It may take a little bit of research, but this information can be found.
Once you’ve joined these clubs, organizations, and associations, become actively involved. Volunteering for assignments and taking on tasks will bring you to the attention of the kind of people you want to meet faster than anything else.
Work, study, and practice continually to get better and better at what you do. To attract the best mentors, you need to develop a reputation for being an up-and-coming person in your field.
When you find a potential mentor, remember that you are dealing with a very busy person. Don’t make a nuisance of yourself. Instead, ask for ten minutes of the person’s time, in private, to ask for advice. Nothing more.
When you do meet with a potential mentor, explain that you want to be more successful in your field and would very much appreciate a little guidance and advice. Ask for an answer to a specific question, or a recommendation of a specific book or other resource, or a specific idea that the individual found helpful in the past.
After the initial meeting, send a sincere thank-you note to the person. Mention that you hope that you can call the person again if you have another question.
Each month, drop your mentor a short note about your progress and about what you are doing. Make it clear that you are listening to your mentor’s advice. You are reading the recommended books, taking the recommended courses. There is nothing that makes a potential mentor more open to helping you than your making it clear that the help is doing some good.
Arrange to meet with your mentor again, perhaps monthly or even more often, if you and the other person work closely together.
One final note: As you grow and develop through the course of your life and career, move on to mentors who can give you more and different and better advice relevant to where you are now.
Lead by Consensus
leaders rule three ways: by command, by consultation, or by consensus.
The traditional way of leading was by command. A leader gave orders and everyone was supposed to follow them. Today, leaders recognize that issuing orders without any consultation or without any explanation of why the orders are necessary is not a good way of getting people motivated to do their best. As Major General Gale Pollock (Ret.), the first woman surgeon general of the U.S. Army, explains: “If you order people to do something that they don’t understand, they won’t give it all they’ve got. The greatest performances and courage come when you show them why it matters.”
The second way to lead is by consultation. The consultation decision is where you ask people for their advice and input, and then you make the decision. This is a more motivating way of leading others than through simple commands. People will realize that the final decision is yours, but they will appreciate the fact that they were consulted in the decision-making process. And even if they don’t agree with the final decision, they will be more likely to abide by it because of this consultation.
Consensus goes even further in involving others in the decision making. In this case, a leader does not make the final decision; that final decision belongs 100 percent to the group. The group must discuss the pros and cons of every action and then finally agree on the action to take.
Leaders will use all three methods, and they make it clear when discussing a critical decision what kind of a decision it is. Not every decision is appropriate for a consensus decision or for a command decision. Although a consensus decision has advantages, it is not an excuse for the leader to abdicate responsibility. What’s important is that people understand when something requires a consultative or a consensus decision and when it is a command decision.
Leaders are paid to make the difficult decisions, and sometimes that means issuing a command. Yet the best leaders also recognize that there is a direct link between ownership of an idea and the degree to which people participate in discussing the idea. Leaders realize that the more people can engage in dialogue about an idea, the more likely it is that they will be committed to the implementation of the idea.
Leaders avoid giving orders whenever possible. Leaders always encourage people to think about and talk about and discuss ideas because they know that the more involved people are, the more likely they will be committed to supporting the final decision.