[November 04, 2014] When General Dwight D. Eisenhower was promoted to the flag rank of Brigadier General (the first rank after Colonel), he noted that the decisions he was required to make were of a different nature. Different, not because his decisions were now more important. He discovered to be a better leader he had to also stop making certain decisions. The question most asked among leaders is, “How can I be a better leader?”
While Brigadier General Eisenhower’s experience may seem counterintuitive it actually makes sense when we look to what leaders do. What Eisenhower discovered was that he had to stop doing things that he was really good at doing and start doing things he’d never done before. He learned that he needed to also be part cheerleader, part dad, and part teacher.
Leadership is not difficult in concept but it can be immeasurably thorny in execution. I know of no one who has achieved true success as a leader and has not had great disappointment mixed with joy and personal satisfaction. In my opinion, one of the enjoyments in being a leader is having the ability to see how you have made the lives of people better. When they come back to you years later to say “thanks” for holding them to and supporting them on a difficult task, then you know you have succeeded as a leader.
Conceptually we know that people want good leaders. They want to know that what they are doing makes a difference, that they are in a group that accomplishes its mission, and that they are on the winning team. Therefore, one of the most useful ways to be a good leader is to follow the Golden Rule; which is based on treating others with respect and based in conflict resolution. Humans have evolved socially and intellectually over their history yet there are clear patterns in their needs and wants. Respect goes a long way to meeting that need.
There is a distinction between basic leadership and the more advanced senior leadership. Leadership requires a complex web of interacting characteristics for the basic leader. Here are some of the most important aspects of that leadership:
- Know what is required of you. If you are not aware of the mission and the tasks that must be accomplished, then you cannot lead. Find out those things needed for success and then pursue them.
- Connect with People. Develop you ability to understand what people want. Show them the respect they deserve and do this by taking the time to talk with them, listen to what they have to say, and respond to everyone on your team.
- Be the Team Cheerleader. You are the one who motivates others. The passion you have as a leader must infectious to the team. Create a positive atmosphere whereby people want to be with you and on your team.
- Keep it Simple. Translate complexity into easy-to-understand words. Breaking down the tasks required of the team into its basic components is an old technique to help people stay on track.
- Be Humble and Honest. You are human and have the same needs and wants as others. Let the team see you and let them see that you are similar to them. And, always be honest and open to the team.
- Embrace Adaptability. Change is the only constant, we are told. Build your team so that it can turn quickly onto any path that is laid before it. You don’t have to be fast or smart, just flexible enough to change as conditions require.
- Set Expectations. Your team needs you. Keep them informed. Seek information and insure your team has all the information required to be a winning team.
- Listen to Your Team. Always listen to what others have to say and acknowledge that you hear what they have to say. Sometimes it is better to accomplish the mission inefficiently with input from your team than to do it your way efficiently.
- Take Care of People. Ensuring their needs and wants are met is what leadership is all about. Go out of your way to find out what they need and take the steps necessary to go there.
- Make Decisions Required of You. Don’t procrastinate or delay making those decisions. Know what is required and quickly make a good decision.
Remember that people respond well to people who are willing to try. Basic leadership is the crucible where you as a human can learn to be better and enjoy life. There will be obstacles along the road to leadership and those bumps in that road may be large. But never give up on moving forward; just don’t forget the people on your team are traveling with you.
This short series will be in two short parts. Part 1 is about basic leadership. Part 2 is about senior leadership.
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