Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way!

Updated: Jun 3, 2020

Why leadership development is a lifestyle and not an event.

There are tons of great books about leadership. A quick search on Amazon for books on leadership returns more than 60,000 titles. So, if you want to do a deep dive into leadership studies, there are plenty of books on the subject. A couple of great ones are peppered throughout this blog.

Leadership development is not an event. Leadership development should take a prominent place in the culture of every business. Here are just a few of my random thoughts about developing great leaders along with a couple of good book recommendations.

Talent is everything

I do a fair amount of public speaking. A frequently requested topic is leadership. To me, the secret to great leadership is the ability to surround yourself with really smart people and motivate them to go beyond their own expectations. I often joke that the most important role of any CEO is to realize that they are the dumbest person in the room. What I mean by this is that great leaders should always work to surround themselves with the very best talent, even if those talented people are smarter than they are. My theory is that by surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me, we can accomplish great things together. And, by the way, by doing so, paradoxically I am the smartest person in the room.

In his classic book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins tells us to get the right people on the bus, and then make sure they are all in the right seats. He goes on to explain that, “If you have the wrong people, it doesn't matter if you discover the right direction; you still won't have a great company. Great vision without great people is irrelevant.” Now that is some solid advice. In my experience, whenever I’ve come to the realization that I have the wrong person on the bus, the dynamic of the entire team is diminished.

There is something interesting about leadership. Whenever I have the wrong person on the bus, or in the wrong seat on the bus, I am sometimes slow to take action because I want to motivate that person to higher performance. However, I can’t teach desire, only skills. And by the time I make the decision to remove that person from the bus, the damage to the team is significant, and I usually realize that I should have taken action sooner. I recently heard some advice that at least makes me ponder - “The time for a leader to remove a person from a role is the first time that leader thinks about it.” Letting it drag on is bad for the business and everyone involved.

Adjust the Thermostat

When Karen and I received the gift of pre-marriage counseling from my parents, the most important thing I learned is that communication is the thermostat to any relationship. When things get hot, you adjust the thermostat. When things get cold, you go back to the thermostat. That advice works with any relationship - personal and business.

How you communicate with your team is important. I’ve had to learn better communication styles as I’ve matured as a leader. So, if you had the misfortune of only knowing me in my early career, please don’t judge me by my 25-year-old self who was leading a team for the first time. Back then, I took a “my way or the highway” approach. Back then, I didn’t understand that different people communicate differently. Thankfully, I matured as a leader.

I wish that I could have read Meaningful Alignment by Susan Steinbrecher and Robert Schaefer, Ph.D. back then. Of course, I couldn’t have because they hadn’t written it yet. By the way, be sure to check out our recent podcast with Susan.

In the book, the authors talk about interpersonal behavior styles - the way we choose to behave in social interactions involving two or more people, where alignment and deep understanding are potentially vital to a successful outcome. There are four dimensions that shape our beliefs and habits - control, achievement, affiliation, and security. They go into great detail on these dimensions in the book. I highly recommend it as a way to better understand your own behavioral style - and perhaps the styles of your team. You can learn more about the book and Steinbrecher & Associates at MeaningfulAlignment.com - where you can also take a free assessment (for a limited time only).