Un-Stale Leadership Ideas

There’s an interesting article by Stefan Stern from the Financial Times publication dated November 10, 2008. “While cleaning out his attic, a British business leader stumbled upon some typewritten notes on leadership from the 1950s. ‘Leadership is the art of influencing a body of people to follow a certain course of action, the art of controlling them and getting the best out of them.’” Sounds kind of old-fashioned, doesn’t it? The art of controlling them? That’s an attitude that’s not likely to win many awards in this day and age. The article and this statement in particular got me to thinking about leadership. And because I’ve lived long enough, I’ve had the good fortune to experience many different leadership styles. So, here are some personal observations that have helped me develop my own leadership style.

Entrepreneurs are often “quick on the draw.” A team member asks a question or brings us a problem and our instinct is to provide the answer or solve the problem. Then we move on . . . quickly. In the old days, that would probably have been considered “leadership.” One of my goals is to develop a sustainable organization that is no longer dependent solely upon me. If I answer every question and offer every solution, how does this support others in their quest to step-up and become leaders in their own right? I believe that leadership involves leading people to answers and solutions rather than simply telling them.

I’ve heard certain pro athletes and a number of entrepreneurs who says it’s not their job to be role models. It seems to me that anyone who has the megaphone ought to savor the opportunity to set an example for others. Doing so also enables us to become more accountable to our team. Back to the sustainable organization concept for a moment – do I want to display anger; yell at people; exhibit boorish behavior, and generally put my ego front and center? When I model this way, what message does it send to up-and-coming leaders? Here’s the simple truth for me. I don’t want to show any sort of negative behavior for which I should apologize.

One of the toughest aspects of being an entrepreneur is communicating our vision to our team. Most of us have a vision of some sort locked away in our brains. I was asked for years by my teammates for my vision, but never could figure out how to articulate it clearly until recently. Having a vision and communicating that vision are two entirely different things. When I mentor other entrepreneurs, I ask them a very basic question. What does it look like when we get there? Focusing on this question eliminates the psycho-babble and gets to the heart of the matter. In plain English it requires that we paint a word picture that everyone can understand. We should never forget that people are drawn to leaders who can express a strong and powerful vision.

As a leader, how much time do you spend working on your business rather than in your business? I can tell you that I love doing complicated real estate deals. Without question, that’s working in my business. It would be very easy (and profitable) for me to focus all of my time and energy on buying and owning apartment properties. But that doesn’t advance the cause for the sustainable organization that I have envisioned. Thus, I must spend significant time working on my business. This involves developing a wide range of strategic initiatives, cultivating and educating team members, and helping to define our mission. A great leader will spend far more time working on his or her business than working in it.

While there are many other modern leadership traits to be explored, the last one on which I want to focus is that of attitude. Leaders with negative attitudes generally produce negative results. Over the past four-plus decades I think I’ve become more and more positive and optimistic. I realized that it’s not much fun to work in a negative environment. And as a leader, if I’m down-in-the-mouth it’s pretty hard for that attitude not to become contagious. I’ve come to realize that there’s always a silver lining in every situation and it’s my aim to find it. This doesn’t mean that negative things won’t happen – they do. But the faster we can move on and regain positive footing, the faster we’ll get back on track. It’s my goal to be a positive and optimistic leader every second of the day.

Modern leadership still embodies ageless basics and fundamentals that unlike bread, never grow stale. But there are some “new age” twists that help propel us to new heights of success and create sustainable organizations in the process.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.

The Modern Day Entrepreneurial Leader

Are you an entrepreneurial leader? Leadership is such a broad topic that there are scores of books and blogs that focus on nothing else. Let’s scratch the surface by focusing on what leadership means in an entrepreneurial environment.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is humble. He or she happily gives credit to others for successes realized by the enterprise. By being comfortable in his/her own skin, this entrepreneur delights in shining the spotlight on members of the team who achieve and excel. He or she is also quick to take the blame if something goes wrong. And there’s no pointing of fingers at team members who failed when this happens. This entrepreneur realizes that leadership is all about building other people up – not tearing them down.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is always aware of others with whom he or she is interacting. This entrepreneur acknowledges them and shows genuine interest in their wellbeing. Expressing gratitude and appreciation is first nature for this person. Regardless of another individual’s station in life, the modern day entrepreneurial leader treats everyone in the same positive and uplifting manner. A smile, eye contact and a heartfelt “thank you” are equally extended to the barista in the coffee shop, the checker in the grocery store and the Fortune 500 CEO.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader always eats last. This may occur literally at the company’s annual picnic, or metaphorically on payday. If a venture is struggling to gain traction and is short on cash, this entrepreneur will make sure everyone else on the team gets paid first. In some instances this leader will even max out a credit card to bridge the gap until revenues from the enterprise provide the necessary cash to keep going.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is strategic. He or she understands the difference between strategy and tactics and works tirelessly to refine a winning strategy. This strategy is then communicated effectively to each team member who understands exactly how they fit in the organization and what their roles and accountabilities are. The entrepreneur spends more time working “on” his/her business than working “in” it.

While being strategic, the modern day entrepreneurial leader isn’t afraid to get his/her hands dirty either. If there’s a job to be done and no one to do it, this leader jumps in to fill the gap. This could mean anything from answering a phone on the switchboard, making a sales call, spending an hour on the production line (because the individual normally assigned suddenly became ill), to cleaning snow off the front entry stoop. The entrepreneur never believes that any of these tasks are “beneath” him or her.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is a visionary. He or she can clearly articulate the organization’s vision in a way that is understandable to all involved. And this leader is constantly looking at the industry, the enterprise and the customer to find new ways to innovate. The result may be the creation or refinement of products and services as well as ideas for streamlining the way those products and services are delivered.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader understands the value proposition and can differentiate his or her products/services. This can be a major problem for businesses at all stages of the lifecycle. A muddled approach to the value proposition can lead to confusion and apathy in the marketplace. This leader makes certain that the benefit of his/her products or services is very clear to the customer, and it’s easy to see that such benefits are significantly greater than with competing products or services.

Finally, the modern day entrepreneurial leader is the leading advocate of core values for the enterprise. He or she is always modeling them and high-fiving team members who do the same. These core values aren’t window dressing, but instead are foundational elements for the daily operation of the organization. This leader is also laser-focused on building a strong and positive culture. There is a realization that having the right team members on the bus is paramount and the entrepreneur works tirelessly to ensure that individuals who are not a cultural fit are excused from the enterprise. Further, each team member always knows where he or she stands from a performance perspective. This leader does not use blunt honesty that could harm morale. Instead he or she practices the approach of warm candor where a team member understands where improvement is needed without being destroyed in the process.

The modern day entrepreneurial leader is the complete package. He or she is humble; easily expresses gratitude; puts his/her needs secondary to other team members; is strategic; isn’t afraid to get dirty hands; is a visionary; understands the value proposition, and is the leading advocate for core values and culture.

You can also listen to a weekly audio podcast of my blog. What you hear will be different than what you read in this blog. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also click on this link – Click here to listen to Audio Episode 105 – The Case of the Frozen Hostage.

This blog is being written in tandem with my book, “An Entrepreneur’s Words to Live By,” available on Amazon.com in paperback and Kindle (My Book), as well as being available in all of the other major eBook formats.