10 Leadership Practices – Zimmer Principles.
Successful organizations and senior leaders share a symbiotic relationship, but it’s the aspiring junior leaders that both will come to depend upon for their future successes. Cultivating junior leadership should be a key goal for organizations seeking a formative future. For consideration are ten leadership practices, or leadership principles that may prove helpful to the young, aspiring leader, and may serve as a reminder to a few old ones as well.
1 – Be You
Many junior leaders select an exemplar to model themselves after by emulating their style in an attempt to achieve their exemplars’ abilities and successes. Learning from others is a great way to seek self-improvement, but trying to be someone else is no substitute for the leader that you could be. Blustering through your work site by channeling George Patton or Steve Jobs will not fool your employees into giving you the same levels of respect and support they earned. Strong leaders develop their styles from years and years of hard experience.
While their style works for them, it’s presumptuous to believe that without the previous hard work and experiences, their styles will work for you. Don’t be the new Patton or Dalai Lama or Jack Welsh. Be you. Employees and (most) bosses see through fakes and will distance themselves from them. However, along with this advice, there is a caveat. After trying it your own unique way and you find the ‘you’ isn’t getting the job done, then you must improve you! Uniqueness, devoid of talent may be interesting, but not enough to succeed. Take the effort to grow ‘you’ into a unique formidable force and leader.
2 – Don’t be an Ass
People often conflate strong leadership with the Hollywood inspired examples of tough leaders bullying, condescending or shouting with loud authoritative assertions to their underlings. Conversely, some confuse stern enforcement of the accepted standards and norms with being an “ass.” I offer that the two roles are reversed; the bullying leader is an “ass,” and the boss who firmly adheres to the standards is the strong leader.
Strength in leadership comes from the resolve to do right and an uncompromising commitment to standards and excellence. With confidence in what’s right, a leader can effectively counsel or offer guidance and direction to an employee without demeaning or intimidating them. Disparaging or bullying often stems from a lack of confidence in skills, imagination, or experience and the need to demonstrate control. Granted, a few genuine “asses” rise to the top, but successful leaders generally grow away from this immature style and develop more refined techniques of calmly providing vision, inspiration and internal motivation within their employees. Don’t be an ass (even if it is the real ‘you’).
3 – Lead by Example
This is a trite phrase, more often used to censure bad examples; but it’s often used because it is excellent advice. A wonderful narrative of this advice comes from a few quotes in Steven Pressfield’s book “The Tides of War.” A question was asked about how to lead free men. A character in the book wisely rejoined with by “summoning of each to his nobility.” “By being better than they.” “A commander’s role is to model… excellence, before his men. One need not thrash them to greatness; only hold it out before them. They will be compelled by their own nature to emulate.” A leader ennobles his employees by personally exposing them to what excellence looks like and motivating them to imitation. That’s good advice for war, governance and office leadership – emulate it.
4 – Compel employees to grow
Compel employees to grown, but not in a supervisory vacuum. Failure is the playground for future success. To develop employees skills to more fruitfully serve your organization’s future, give your employees room to grow, and fail. Micro-management often stems from insecurity rooted in ignorance. As a leader, you assume risk when you delegate tasks to another. Hence, work-place survival tends to drive insecure or mediocre leaders to micro-manage their employees. However, micro-management is an anathema to the employee development necessary to sustain your organization’s growth. Development comes from success, but more often, from failure, as failure better highlights limitations and weaknesses to overcome. Let your employees risk failure without it being terminal to the organization or their career.
To do this successfully, you must genuinely know your employees’ strengths and weaknesses; what makes them tick. The Break Room familiarity is not enough. If you know them, you can confidently assign each more than they think themselves capable and shepherd them to reach further than they thought possible. By knowing their abilities, you can provide less oversight to those tasks where you know they are strong and reinforce, with greater personal oversight, those areas in which they are weak. With proper supervision, failure can be identified early in the effort and mitigated before its impact is terminal. Employee growth comes from their victories and non-terminal failures. Your success as a leader depends on their successes, as your workforce becomes more competent your mutual successes will grow. A leader’s true legacy lies in those successful employees that remain after your gone.
5 – Clarity and simplicity of intent
Napoleon is said to have found a brutish Corporal to whom he explained his battle plans. When, and only when, the Corporal was able to understand his simplified plans, did he brief them to his General Staff. Leaders develop complex ideas to achieve organizational objectives. However, if one can’t effectively communicate those ideas to management or employees, so they are executable, the undertaking could be for naught. Genius is in simplicity and simplicity is ingenious. Take the time to develop your original ideas into compelling and straightforward messages with clearly definable objectives, metrics, and end-states.
6 – Prioritize your efforts
Leaders always balance necessity with desire. Your organization’s interests (necessity) require prioritization; you can’t do everything. The challenge is to know which ‘glass balls’ you can drop with mitigate-able ill effect, while you juggle the rest. Desire (your overwhelming urge to reorganize your email inbox) always competes for your limited time and directly takes away time from priorities. Focus on your priorities first, if a clean inbox is that important, time enough will present itself for its cleaning.
7 – Mentor, Mentor, Mentor
Successful, senior leaders focus on their organizations’ long-term interest such as developing aspiring, talented employees who will manage the growing requirements of the organization. Giving those employees room to grow helps them develop necessary organizational skill sets. However, a successful leader can also succor development by sharing their own insights and experiences and help their employees negotiate their way through byzantine processes of their chosen career paths.
Presumably, successful leaders did the right things right. They not only performed well at tasks but also excelled in the organization’s culture, politics and practices. They learned where the organization’s taboo mines lay, and how to avoid tromping over them. If one performs their job well but fails to impress their leadership in ways they recognize, the organization may never enjoy the employee’s full talents with increased levels of responsibility. By giving junior employees the room to grow, you foster their potential to advance, by mentoring them on how to succeed; you secure your mutual success as they develop.
8 – Management by “idle curiosity”
We’ve all had bosses that serve as the epicenter of their organization, literally. They never left their office, and every meaningful engagement occurred around their desk. Rather than being the impetus to quick, efficient decision-making, they retarded it. Many limited their information sources ability to access them through self-imposed formal and informal barriers such as secretaries or Chiefs of Staff. A more effective technique comes from the idea of “meandering the hallways with idle curiosity.” The military often refers to “Battlefield Circulation” when the boss gets away from their inner-sanctum and out into the workplace to mix with the workforce on their ground, in their comfort zones.
This technique gives a leader and entirely different and unfiltered view of their organization, one not controlled by intermediate managers who may be inclined only to pass along information beneficial to their position. Schedule time to get out of your office; ‘curiously idle’ throughout your organization to see how others see it and to learn what problems are relevant to them. The richness of perspectives is invaluable to your understanding of your organization and its issues. But again, there’s one important caveat to this practice. One must consider that this ‘tactical’ level perspective may not be truly germane to solving your ‘strategic’ level problem. You as the senior leader must learn to discriminate between good information and pertinent information when populating your Decision-Making Process. Eliminate as many filters as possible and curiously idle throughout your organization.
9 – Clean out ‘Poor Fitting’ Employees
Don’t be afraid to clear out the dead wood early. Leaders often bemoan spending 95% of their time fixing the problems from 5% of their employees. Hopefully, that’s an embellishment, but it does highlight the point that non-productive labor can consume a leader’s time. Every minute you spend fixing problem employees is time taken away from those employees who serve the organization well. Unfortunately, some employees are a terrible fit for the job or organization. Even after getting to know, them, giving them room to grow and mentoring them, sometimes the mismatch persists.
Fortunately, most organizations have concrete HR plans that prescribe a proper path to eliminate problem or under-performing employees. A leader’s job is to identify the under-performing, ‘poor fits,’ and help them move along to opportunities that may prove a better fit for them and your organization. You and your performing employees will be grateful. Firing people is hard, but it’s a necessary part of leadership when called for.
10 – Improve yourself
Improve yourself, continuously. It’s the rare leader who joins an organization equipped with all the knowledge, skills and talents to succeed at all levels, or even the one to which they’re currently engaged. To live up to your leadership potential (your employer and employees demand that you do) you have to fill in the missing, or awaken the dormant pieces of your talents and skill sets. The Chinese sage Lao Tsu once commented that “It is wisdom to know others; It is enlightenment to know one’s self.”
As much as you should know your employees, you should honestly know yourself. Genuinely assess, and understand your limits and strengths. If your character is lacking, buttress it. When your knowledge is short, grow it. If your skills are insufficient, develop them. From your self-improvement efforts, you will gain talent and then confidence in your abilities; your unique character will develop. The result will be the genuine ‘you,’ and if you develop well, others will recognize your talents, and your leadership skills will be in demand; others will follow you. Perhaps in time, other aspiring leaders will channel you. Leaders do not spring from the HR pool; they develop through wisdom, experience and tolerance, and most of all, hard work.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of exhortations guaranteeing leadership success, but its start. If you have others that come to mind, share them below in the comments section.
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