Keys to Leadership Success: A Simple Primer

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In previous posts, I have shared many thoughts on what I’ve learned as a manager/leader over roughly a quarter century. I’ve been asked for a short version of the most salient points, so here it is:

Have Great Clarity On What Success Looks Like

Everyone reports to someone and that person or people have (or should have) a clear idea of what success looks like, for you and your department/division/organization. Make sure that you have clarity from those to whom you report on what they are going to hold you accountable for and what it will look like if you are successful, then plan your priorities to achieve that definition of success. You can always include things that are important to you personally, but relative to accountability, what matters is what matters to those who employ you.

Learn the Invisible Rules of Organizational Culture that Lurk Below the Surface

As the famous management guru of the 20th century, Peter Drucker, said decades ago, culture eats strategy for breakfast. That is true. But the reason it is true is because it is culture that drives behavior—not management directives or mission statements or memos. It is also true that most of the cultural values in an organization are not what you easily see in mission or value statements on your website. Most of the unwritten rules for how an organization behaves are below the surface. Watch how people actually behave and that will tell you what the culture actually supports. If its aligned with your strategy, great. If not, you have a lot of hard work to do.

Make the People Who Work for You Successful

The “higher” you rise in leadership positions, the less your success is about your own technical knowledge or the tasks you complete and more about how effective you are in making the people who work for you successful. This also relates to how you treat people. There is no legacy worth having, no matter how much you achieve professionally, if you have hurt people a long the way.

Have a Plan and Work Your Plan

This may be the most simplistic piece of advice I can provide, but even the greatest ideas are just ideas without clear action plans and focused effort. In other words, really good leaders also care about and are good at execution of ideas, strategies, plans, initiatives, etc.

Develop Your “Soft” Skills as Much or More Than Your Technical Skills

As operating environments become more complex, ambiguous and driven by hyper-change, traits such as anticipation, intuition, and empathy become more important than budgeting or goal setting. Giving yourself and others freedom to fail will support risk taking and innovation, which will be far more effective to address constant change, for example, than building your accounting skills.

Integrity and Humility Will Sustain You Over Time

You can certainly achieve short-term wins with “flexible” ethics or by using/abusing people or by saying one thing and doing another. It’s also true that you can operate with unimpeachable integrity and experience failures. But your longevity as a leader, and sustainable success, requires integrity more than just about anything else. As for humility, it’s important because although ego gets attention, you don’t learn from your own ego. It is when we are most vulnerable and humble as leaders that we are the most empathetic and the best listeners and learners.

Of course, the list above is a very small sample of all of the skills and aptitudes and experience that successful leaders rely on to achieve success is ever more complex operating environments. You can see over 40 leadership related articles here. But, as a high level primer, the five items above are a good place to start!

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