Leadership qualities are still important in business
April 2, 2012 Leave a comment
Sun Tzu said that if a man fears you, he’ll fight for you, but if I man respects you, he’ll die for you. The Art of War has been used for decades as a guidebook on how business leadership should function. Though many people scoff at the idea of juxtaposing battle command tactics with running a business, a lot could be learned from just the principles of the book. Sun Tzu meant for a leader to inspire troops and demoralize the enemy into retreat to minimize the losses on both sides. Is this not in essence what we seek to do in business management.
There are many types of leaders out there. I’d have to say that most are ineffective at “leading” because leadership training is something that is rarely sought after and few consider it is important as raw office politics. Despite the fall of Rome, most Roman conquerors kept their perspective as leaders until politics became too much for them to control. Behind the Roman conquerer stood a man who would whisper messages to the Cesar as he was cheer and worshipped by the masses. He would whisper, “You are only human and all glory is fleeting.” This was a tactic to keep the leader grounded in reality. Today, no one wants to hear about the poor leadership job they are doing, in fact, most are scared to lose their jobs by criticizing their leadership, even if it is in a constructive way.
I’ve had the pleasure and displeasure of serving many masters over the years. Out of the 40 or so leaders I have encountered, only 3 standout in a crowd, but what made them effective? What made their people choose to fall on their own sword if they had ever been asked to do so? Over the years, I’ve tried to wrap my head around the qualities they had that I believe are the key to success. You will be surprised at some of them.
- A leader leads by example and is not afraid to get their hands dirty. A good business leader has been where you have stood, has moved up through the ranks, attained their position. For example, a Warrant Officer in the Marine Corps is an enlisted man who became an officer. A WO automatically gets more respect from men than a straight officer rank.
- A leader doesn’t micromanage and trusts people to do their jobs and only intervenes when absolutely has to. A good leader surrounds himself with people who can get the job done without them. I know this seems counter-intuitive for some people to comprehend and it leads to the thinking that if your people can move the machine without you, then why are you needed. A leader’s job is to provide cohesion but not be the actual glue. A leader will choose the right people, cull the wrong people and cultivate an environment that fosters autonomy.
- A leader doesn’t criticize, berate, belittle or otherwise demoralize his people, nor does a leader criticize his superiors in front of his people. Tom Hanks character in Saving Private Ryan said, “I don’t complain to you, complaints go up the chain of command… not down.”
- A leader never puts himself in a position to take anything from his people. For example, the main protagonist in Band of Brothers reprimands a fellow officer for gambling with the enlisted men because he was concerned about what would happen if he won.
- A leader knows his people. He should know their names, where they live, what their wife’s name is and their children. He should never struggle to remember anything about them and always be wary if they seem different or distracted. How can you know what is out of the ordinary if you do not know what is ordinary.
- A leader should be decisive but also be open to advice. You should know who your subject matter experts are and lean on them when you need counsel, but when you make a decision, make it and do not appear like you have any doubt. Doubt and uncertainty are deadly adversaries to a leader and they are contagious and easily transmitted down to your people. Also, remember that pride is also your enemy
- Anger should be used cautiously. Anger can rarely be a motivational tool and most of the time anger conveys a lack of control over yourself and the situation which leads to doubt and remember what I said about doubt. Also, anger induces fear in most people. Remember we want respect … not fear.
- A leader doesn’t surround himself with toadies, brown-nosers and yes men. A leader wants people to ground him. Remember the guy who whispered in to the conqueror’s ear… A leader hires people who he feels are better men than he is. A leader does not hire people who are incapable to make himself feel more secure.
- A good leader never throws his people to the wolves. Failure on the part of your people is a failure on your part always. It is a leader’s responsibility to shield, not to push them into the path of destruction to save his own neck.
- Know when you can push your people and know when you can’t. Know when you need to reward them. Know when the need encouragement or when they feel demoralized. Know when you can help to take some of the burden they carry. Know them and know thyself.
- Do not ask anything of your people you are not willing to do yourself. In the Marine Corps, leaders are required to participate in any physical activity that their subordinates are doing and lead by example by doing it better.
- A leader should be strong, confident, fit, clean. Again, you lead by example. Set the example. You want your people to respect you. The people in my life I always respected were the people I couldn’t beat in a run at weightlifting or at figuring out difficult technical problems.
By no means is this an exhaustive list of leadership qualities that are keys to success, but it is a good start. Unfortunately, the people that possess these qualities rare had to work to achieve them, they just come naturally. The people who do not have these qualities are usually the ones who are arrogant enough to think they possess them already. I am fortunate that when I chose Doozer Software as a place to settle down, I recognized the qualities in the leadership of the company and that was one of the many things that influenced my decision.
I’m not advocating that you immediately go out and read Sun Tzu, but I am going to recommend that if you are in a position of leadership, see about getting a professional to come in an give a class or think about taking leadership classes yearly. I do believe that it is a worthy investment and that it will improve the bottom line of your business.