Over my life, I’ve been through a lot of training outside the traditional classroom. Starting in Scouting and then transitioning into my professional life, I’ve been exposed to a lot of different Leadership principles. When mixed in with my professional experience, I think I have a firm understanding of what it takes to be a Leader.
I have read a few books on Leadership in my day. I’ve been impressed with none of them. When I saw this Dilbert strip, it all made sense to me.
No system works for every organization. No system works for a single organization all of the time. The Leadership style that creates a startup may not work when that startup is a market leader. The Leadership style for a software product company may not work well for an Association.
Some Basic Advice
So how do you become a good leader if the odds of you finding the perfect book are slim? I have a few pieces of advice derive from experience, observation, and from reading too many “Leadership” books.
- Set the Example: When you want people to take risks or put in the extra effort, make sure they see you doing it yourself. Never ask anyone to do something that you aren’t willing to do yourself.
- Talk to People: Talk to everyone. To be a successful Leader, you have to understand the people you are leading, with whom you are working, and serving as your mission. More importantly, they should understand you.
- Take Responsibility: Things rarely go perfectly. When they don’t, take responsibility. If you start offering up scapegoats from your team to the organization, then you’ve lost your team.
- Praise Publicly: On the flip side, praise individuals of your team publicly when they do well. In general, it is your fault when things go wrong and your teams’ efforts that create success.
- Know Your Weaknesses: You aren’t perfect. Make sure your team has people to offset your weaknesses.
- Keep Learning: You don’t know everything. Accept that and keep learning new things.
- Be Flexible: Every situation is unique and there are exceptions to every rule. You have to adjust or you will be left scratching your head when things fall apart.
Every Leadership and Management book hits on these points in one fashion or the other. Keep these in mind, understand that you will fail at times, and learn from your experiences.
Becoming a Better Leader
It isn’t just knowing how to be a Leader or knowing the qualities of good Leadership. You are unique and the application of these traits will require work. There is no one way to do it but it is harder to do it by yourself.
- Mentor: Find a leader you respect and see if they will mentor you. Your company may have a mentorship program that you can leverage. However you do it, find one.
- Live Training: A large chunk of Leadership training is as generic as the books. The difference is the opportunity to talk to other Leaders and participate in the exercises. These things can make it worthwhile. I found a mentor at one such training, making it well worth it.
- Coaching: There are career coaches that specialize in helping people become better leaders. These coaches have seen a lot of potential Leaders in their day. They will work with you, push you outside your comfort zone, and help you experiment to find the most effective way for you to increase your Leadership capabilities. They cost money but they can help you make real progress.
The key point, feedback. Find a way to get it.
How do you know when you are a good leader? When people start coming to you for advice, you are likely a good Leader. Writing a book or a blog post doesn’t mean you are a good Leader. It just means you’ve got an opinion on Leadership.
I obviously have such an opinion.
My point is that you can’t execute against a checklist, have a successful project, and be a Leader. That is how you become a good Manager.
You have to strive to do the right things the right way. Always. Even when you have been recognized as a good Leader, you can’t think, I’ve made it. You have to keep working to improve as the next challenge will be different and “coasting” is not a characteristic of Leadership.
The Bottom Line
Unless you are directed to read it by your management, just say no.