Last week I did a No-Compromise Leadership talk for the Princeton Merchant’s Association. In attendance were bankers, restaurant owners, retailers, dry cleaners, non-profit associations, local media and others, all representing this prestigious university town. The response to my opening line, “Business leaders exist to drive their employees crazy,” earned the style of laughter that confirmed I was speaking to a group of worthy offenders. They laughed because in so many ways, my opening line is true.
Aboard ships there are mutinies. In countries there are protests and revolutions. In corporations there are work slowdowns and labor strikes. In hair salons there are walkouts. And everyday, in businesses all over the world, there are employees quitting leaders … not companies. Yes, leaders can be jerks, insensitive, overbearing, dictatorial, self-absorbed and egotistical. The more accurate description is that most leaders are a perpetual work in progress to get better at this job called “leader.”
And what exactly is the job of the leader? Leaders must drive sales, manage expenses, create profit, hire and retain the right people, inspire and motivate employees, build a dynamic culture, “wow” customers, create career opportunities, build and manage systems, manage debt, plan for the future, hold everyone accountable, fix problems, be positive and supportive – basically be the human equivalent of a superhero. The byproduct is that leaders can – unintentionally – drive employees crazy.
Here are some no-compromise strategies to help leaders be self-aware of the funk they create in their own companies:
- Every new project is not a priority: Leaders are notorious for coming up with new projects faster than they can implement them. Leaders, especially entrepreneurs, love to innovate new stuff. It’s in their blood. The problem is that piling on one new project after another is guaranteed to make everyone’s blood pressure soar. Quality and world-class results require planning, execution and a reasonable degree of patience. You’ll just drive your people crazy when you say, “This is really important and absolutely must get done,” when they’re full steam ahead working on that other “absolutely must get done” project you dropped on them the other day.
- Stop meddling and taking over: Delegation and empowerment means trust the process. It doesn’t matter how much your employees trust and respect you, if you assign a project or responsibility, and then butt in and take it over, rest assured you will be driving them crazy. Employees process such nonsense as disrespectful and demeaning. Their brains are asking; “Why did you ask me to do this and then take all my hard work and redo it? Why didn’t you take the time to clarify exactly what you wanted in the first place?” Meddling and taking over projects you empowered others to do is not “leadership” – it’s demotivating and demoralizing. No-compromise leaders delegate, empower and get out of the way.
- Respect levels of authority: Two years ago, I promoted Bruce Hourigan to President of Strategies. My intent was to free myself of the daily operational details of my company so I could do what I’m passionate about … speaking, coaching and writing about leadership. As an entrepreneur, I had to work seriously hard at managing my natural tendency to step in and deal with issues that were in Bruce’s area of authority. And as president, that pretty much means responsibility for running the company. Yes, in that first year, I drove him crazy a number of times. Ultimately, we found our stride and the relationship – and the results – have been truly extraordinary. Leaders have leadership teams to carry out the work of the company. It takes discipline, respect and trust to honor levels of authority.
- Finish what you start: As fearless leader, your job is to hold everyone accountable … including yourself. You may not have a boss to answer to, but you do have to answer to your company and your people. If you promise something, deliver it. If you start something, finish it. If you assign a project or task to someone, invest the time to see how it’s going, offer guidance and direction – and show appreciation.
Your career as a leader will always be a work in progress. You must relentlessly practice self-awareness to ensure that you are communicating with clarity and respect. Becoming a No-Compromise Leader is the ultimate test of self-discipline and consistency.
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