Truly great leaders can transform lives and yet on the world political stage, many of the great offices of leadership seem to have been invaded by people more motivated by their own celebrity than in genuine service to society.
Great world leaders like Jacinda Ardern are around but they seem increasingly more the exception than the rule and there’s always the risk that people in positions like hers’ can so easily become something less than they were (though I suspect she’ll fight that tooth and nail).
Of course, most people reading this never plan to hold political office (more’s the pity) and are more concerned with day-to-day organisational leadership and how to do the best we can given unpredictable people, markets, customers, shareholders and sometimes even regulators.
I’ve been fortunate to work with leaders all over the world, in a wide variety of organisations for almost 17 years and as a former leader myself I’ve experienced a thing or two about those crucial first few months. Whether that’s you now or a role change might be coming up or even if you know someone about to change leadership role, the following three simple suggestions might be helpful.
Don’t make big promises until you are certain you can deliver them.
Far too often new leaders are in an enormous hurry to make great sweeping promises only to find that for a variety of reasons they had not yet understood, these are not possible. Whether you are tempted to do this out of ego or because your new boss has egged you on, resist. Whether you’re a first time manager of a small team or the President of a world power be sensible and take a few weeks to get the true lie of the land before making bold proclamations. Your reward will be that your credibility with your stakeholders will grow rather than being (probably irrevocably) damaged by your haste.
Get out to the ‘coal face’ of your organisation.
This one is especially for managers of managers, people with titles like VP, SVP, Director (sometimes real but usually not), MD, CO, Global Great Emperor of Customer Services, etc. In these positions we can easily convince ourselves that back-to-back meetings at head office are far more important than quality time spent on the shop floor, out on the road, on-site, in the call centre, etc, etc. I don’t mean the pre-announced, red carpet, perfunctory tour visit where everything is miraculously (and totally unrealistically) perfect but instead quality time really listening to and experiencing the day-to-day reality of non leaders in your organisation. Working in these locations for a day will teach you more than you’ll ever learn at HQ. I know one CEO of a hospitality group who spends several days a year doing a housekeeping shift making beds and cleaning toilets and she says the value is immeasurable.
Operate as you mean to in the long term.
If I had a pound (not worth much at the moment I know!) for every time a new leader told me they will have to work longer hours in the first few weeks or months I reckon I’d have almost enough to buy me one of those bitcoins! By slaving excessively during that formative period you perform the amazing double of both irritating your family and friends as well your new team and other work colleagues. At one stage in my corporate leadership career I asked a boss why I wasn’t getting further promotions. They simply replied that it appeared I was struggling to do the current one in anything remotely like normal hours and so definitely wasn’t ready for anything bigger. Duh! I’m not saying you’ve got to be a 9 to 5’er but I am saying that once you are in a work rhythm where leaving the office at 8 almost every day is the norm it’s damn hard to get out of.