Leaders should never stop learning
Over many years and many professional endeavors, I have been an observer of leadership.
I’ve learned from great leaders. Leaders who have led businesses to great success and improved themselves along the way.
I’ve also learned valuable lessons from not quite so great leaders. Leaders who were unable to hold the reins on their enterprise and worse.
Regardless of the success of a leader, there are lessons to be learned from their experiences and ways to improve your own effectiveness by observation.
I want to share with you the lessons I have learned as an observer with what I call my 7 hallmarks of profound leadership. They are 7 beliefs and practices that make leaders efficient, respected and prosperous.
1. Leaders follow the “Law of Or”
When you are a leader, you have to make choices as to what leader you truly want to be. The Law of Or means having to make those decisions with the most productive and actionable result in mind. You can be this kind of leader or that kind of leader.
As a leader you are either a thermostat or a thermometer. A thermostat as a case in point, sets the temperature, creates the feeling of an environment. A thermometer helpfully says it’s currently 72 degrees. One is helpful data, one is significantly more influential.
Good leaders are thermostats.
There are certainly facets of administration which require less binary thinking; it’s possible to be stern and friendly so long as you know how to balance them out, for example. However, lines need to be drawn in the sand sometimes to make sure a leader is consistent.
Know the kind of leader you want to be and make that decision in good faith.
2. Leaders Mow their Own Lawn
In other words, they stay vigilant with their responsibility.
Leaders do what needs to get done, whether it’s their job or not. They do not get distracted by their successes and forget to take care of the homestead.
They are prepared to revel in a big moment, and get right back to work towards the next achievement. I have seen leaders get a big win and try to ride that high for far too long. It looks bad, it works badly for a team, and it ends badly.
I believe that leaders should never believe their own press releases precisely for those reasons.
3. Leaders Stick with the Details
A great leader understands that minutiae matters.
My good friend Todd Smith wrote a book, Little Things Matter, in this regard. The macro-goals of an operation are surely important, but if they are being examined and prodded with no perception of that organization’s finer details, then you run the huge risk of running astray.
Know the details, improve on them when you can, and be sure that they are considered before big decisions are made. If you don’t know them, ask around and ask for help to understand them. Just because you are a leader, doesn’t mean you cannot keep learning about your production.
So long as you do not get hung up on them, their consideration will pay off in your final product.
4. Leaders are honest
Leaders are honest with themselves and they’re honest with their team. Transparency allows communication to stay free-flowing and attractive as a means of getting things done. There is little to gain by withholding information or altering the facts from your team because everyone is working towards the success of the company.
Now there’s brutally honest and the negative influence of that, but there’s also appropriately framed, well delivered honesty. If a leader errs on the side of brutal, they threaten stifling the important conversations that need to be had. Always be checking in with others to make sure that you aren’t the office jerk in this regard.
Having a check-in here and there ties in perfectly to my next point as well.
5. Leaders Have Mentors
Everybody anywhere in the corporate food chain has a boss. The CEO reports to the board, the chairman of the board reports to the shareholders or whatever the case may be, etc..
Great leaders set up their environment with fail-safes to make sure that they are on track, even with people separate from their organizational superior.
One of the things I’ve created many times in my career are what I call an MIA, a Mutual Improvement Association. MIA’s are where I sit down with someone I respect, who may or may not be above me in the food chain, and I say to them, “I give you my full permission to help me be better. When you see me operating sub optimally or otherwise, I give you my permission to give me brutally honest feedback”.
I admit that I’m not typically pleased to get that brutally honest feedback, but once I settle from the emotion of the moment, I’m able to look at it and accept that they are trying to help me.
Self-accountability is one thing, but accountability with others is what keeps leaders from inflating or imploding themselves.
Have a mentor and be the mentee when others try to help.
6. Leaders are well read
You know what you know, but you don’t know what you don’t know.
Read and listen to podcasts and other forms of media in a meaningful way to make yourself better. No leader should ever be without current perspective on their industry or culture at large.
If that means making time in your busy schedule to read a few chapters from a best-seller or to watch bits of a TEDx talk, then so be it. Find those publications that inspire you to be a better person and use them to improve yourself in any way possible.
There are always people out there with ideas that will resonate with you and help keep you sharp, so go find them!
7. Leaders Have Consistency
They are consistent in mood, direction, and instruction.
The analogy I like to use is that of a big cog or gear. Think of Big Ben in London — there’s a whole bunch of cogs that work together for the clock to function properly. There is also a primary gear that all the others take their lead from. When the primary cog is inconsistent, all of the little cogs take that improper speed or direction and ultimately have their teeth broken off.
Inconsistency and confusion can fracture productivity, ruin morale, and hurt the bottom line.
When people disengage at work, they rarely reengage. If they do, your own inconsistencies will linger because people are wary; they’re never sure which version of the boss is going to show up today.
Find your consistency and do everything possible to keep as stable as you can.
I may not be an expert with answers to every business predicament, but those 7 hallmarks are what I have learned from personal experience and the experience of others. Try some of them for yourself, and adjust them to fit your own needs.
Find your necessary consistency, maintain your responsibilities, and never stop trying to evolve as a leader!
Aaron Webber is a serial entrepreneur and CEO of Webber Investments LLC, as well as a Managing Partner at Madison Wall Agencies.
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7 Hallmarks of Great Leadership was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.