Leadership is not a Solo Sport: How to be a Successful Leader in Business
My experience with leadership has been a lot like an experience I've had lifting weights, and I wanted to start this off using that story as an anology to lead into some of my deeper thoughts on leadership, as I've experienced it, and the form leadership takes as you work your way up in business.
When I first started to lift, I didn't have any weight on the bar. I was taking a private lesson, and the instructor wanted to make sure I had the form down, before he started to increase the weight. The issue was that there was so little weight on the bar, that I could lift the bar through pure muscle - my form was not improving.
Finally I just told the guy - "Look man, you gotta trust me here - put more weight on, so I can feel the bar... I can't get this form with the weight so light". He was a little hesitant, but eventually agreed. As the weight increased, my form got better, and finally we got to a point where I was lifting a lot of weight. Enough weight where I couldn't just muscle the bar up. I was forced into having proper technique. I started to practice proper form, because there simply was no other option. If I had tried reverting back to my old ways, I would have failed to even move the bar.
For me, leadership has, in many ways, been similar to that experience. There has always been a "Natural Leader" inside of me, but at times it wasn't coming out because it was easy to get away with succeeding without leading properly. It's very difficult to see that you have shitty form if you are constantly succeeding. It isn't until you can't muscle the bar up anymore, sotospeak, that it starts to hit you that something needs to change.
For a while I was able to get away with my ego getting involved. I could get away with imposing my will, demanding authority, and being dictatorial. I'm good with people (so I could mask the "dictator" thing, like spraying fabreeze to cover up a bad fart), I naturally speak//act from a place of an almost uncanny level of confidence, particularly in situations where I may not even know what I'm talking about or doing. Needless to say, I was a big guy just muscling up a weight-less bar.
Leadership in Business: At a certain point on your way up, you hit a stage where your success is no longer in a vacume. You reach a point where your success is directly impeding other people's success. If you succeed, it means someone has to go a different path. It's unavoidable:
Politics get involved.
Egos get involved
Lots of money is involved
People's livelihoods are involved
The individuals who you are interacting with get better and better at their own jobs
These things are simply the "weights" on the bar. They aren't obstacles, they aren't "negative" or "positive" - they simply are weights on the bar. The higher you climb, the more weight is going to be on the bar. That's the name of the game. The more weight on the bar, the more "technique" becomes important.
In business, leadership isn't about authority. It isn't about telling everybody what to do. It isn't about other people getting everything done on your terms. Leadership is simply about uniting a team to accomplish a larger goal. "Leadership", simply put, is the "force" by which that unification happens.
What does proper "technique" consist of? For me, the three pillars of proper leadership technique are:
There are plenty of other factors that go into proper leadership: Active Help, Discipline, Confidence, Positivity, Being Firm in One's Beliefs, and yes, even a certain ability to be a "Dick" if necessary...
But it is my firm belief, that successfully executing the three pillars allows these other factors to fall into place. The pillars are the ground from which these other factors can grow. If you base your leadership on other factors, you may not be building from a firm base.
Leadership Is Not Dictatorship:
It is incredibly important to lead with a vision. It is important to know exactly where you want your team to go, and to be very clear in this. It is equally important to immediately set that vision aside. Communication is as much about listening, as it is about talking. Listen to what your team has to say.
Listen to your team's vision
Listen to what motivates your team to succeed
Understand your team's personality
While it's important to always understand that you are the leader of your team. It's equally important to keep in mind what your goal as a leader is:
Your goal is to facilitate the unification of your team, in order to accomplish the larger goals for your organization.
Towards this end - understand who the leaders within your team are. Understand your team on as much of an individual level as possible. As you gain more and more responsibility, it may become impossible to interact with, and understand, everyone within your team, on an individual level. Understand the leadership on your team. Facilitate their growth.
Lastly, it's important to understand from which direction this "force" of leadership comes:
The best type of leaders, after they get to the top, go to the bottom, and push everyone up
It needs to come from the bottom-up. This unification process occurs as a result of your team "Buying-In". Your team begins to be capable of "Buying-In", as they are allowed to grow both as individuals, but also within their role, purely in a professional sense. As your team goes through this process of growth, they will become more and more capable of "Buying-In", as a result of gaining a certain level of ownership of what they're doing.
Leadership is a team sport. It involves being in-tune with your team, and having an extremely firm grasp on what it is you want to achieve, and how you're going to achieve it, while simaltaenously being capable of setting that aside entirely and listening to your team.
Not everyone is cut out to be a leader, but those who are cut out for it, quickly learn to forget themselves in the process.
Excellent post, thank you.
I had to learn the hard way that dictatorship does not work. Ultimately holds back the entire team and becomes destructive. It's not until collaboration and understanding occurs that everything begins to flow right.
Really awesome post.
Do you have any book recommendations on leadership?
I need to get better at leadership.... I can see I'm making some of the same mistakes you talked about(especially not finding out what people on my team want and their motivations).
Hmm, I've never read any books on leadership. I'm more about talking with people--Like if you see someone who is clearly a successful leader (maybe it's someone you even look up to) - talk to them about it. For example, the head of digital sales for all of Yahoo! is a distant family friend, and lives in my city, so when I got here, I went out of way to get in touch with him, and now we talk a lot. People like that are literally GOLD. No no no, they raen't gold.... uhm they are like fucking astro-gold or something crazy....
I also am constantly observing, and noting successfull things I've seen, and also leadership techniques that I've noticed that really tear people apart. That's the other thing you can do, if you don't know the person well... just observe like crazy. When I really thikn about it - observation - is probably the single biggest learning tool I've had when it comes to leadership. Both observing others... but also observing myself.
Hmm, I honestly think for me though, at least at first, it's been more about tapping into who I am, moreso than "learning" the best way to do it. I'm a natural at this, so I've literally always been perfectly built to be a leader, it's just a process of clearing out the bullshit, so I could get at who I really am. Intense observation is probably the best, and maybe the only way to really do that on your own.
Business is just THE game of life though- it's fun. Like I don't want to be amazing at business for the money... I just love the fucking GAME of it... Like I wanna give it everything I have, for as long as I have it and just see how far I can go. I still haven't decided if I can have more impact making it to the very top of a fortune 500 company, or building my own product, but hopefully I'll do both. But yeah, I've heard it's unrealistic for most people to want to be a CEO of a fortune 500 company, and idk if that's true or not, I just know that it's not true for me. I was born for this shit. In 20-30 years, that's exactly where I'll be.
You know.. it's a funny thing you bring that up. I think in this day and age you could do both a lot easier than before. I think it's doable. I'll probably end up doing it at some point, I'm not even trippin'. But what I think is even a little bit more interesting is the fact that this whole digital communication age is in its infancy. E.g. I'm the "talent" yet I'm STILL coding and designing and microFUCKINGmanaging on a level that defies yo momma's expectations. It's shit like this that they invented adderal for. There's a fucking valley between the two points you talked about Potted, and I'm in that n*gger right nao!
By the way I'll be in Colombia for the next month. If anyone wants to head down there and have dinner, it's my treat.
It's funny we're all in this thread together. You're all assholes.
Yeah, it's one of my best ever. I felt it as soon as I finished writing it. Slight twinge because I was being super vulnerable, quickly followed by a really firm feeling.... that's when I know I put together something special
You had another amazing post about three months ago. Actually it was a comment, it was out of the blue you hadn't posted in a bit and wouldn't again after for awhile. Not totally sure the context but think it had something to do with texting? Maybe I'm wrong, but I know you know the post. I on purpose ignored it 'cuz I was still upset with you but it was very good the guys need to get a look at it.
Yeah, I absolutely know the one you're talkin about, I knew you were ignoring it purposely though, so it's cool.
Hmm. Too bad no one will ever read it
It's important to take the people we collaborate with and elevate their voice. It can be vulnerable doing this, especially in high-intensity business situations. It brings out the worst in our insecurities around our own success and abilities. But that vulnerability is just an indicator of taking authentic action.
Not everyone is capable of this. Infact, being able to be vulnerable in this way is a sign of an amazing leader in the making. Being able and willing to give others a voice and elevate other people's ideas is a skill in and of itself. If we aren't able to do that, the team as a whole will be worse off.
Being a leader isn't about being the one to have all the ideas, it's simply about being able to elevate everyone, together, in a way where the good ideas always find a way to get to the top.
When leadership's egos get involved, we add barriers to that flow of ideas which in turn harms the success of the team.