Lead or get out of the way

U.S. President and five-star general Dwight D. Eisenhower used a simple exercise to illustrate the art of leadership. He laid an ordinary piece of string on a table and explained, “Pull the string and it will follow you wherever you go. Push it and it will go nowhere at all. It’s just that way when it comes to leading people.”

The word “boss” comes from the Dutch word “baas,” originally a term of respect used to address a person in charge. We use “boss” purposely because that is what you are — someone in charge who leads and manages people. We urge you to wear the title “boss” with pride. You’re in charge. Be in charge. Don’t be apologetic or tiptoe around it.

Leadership + management = accountability

There is a distinct difference between leadership and management. Leadership involves working “on” the business. It entails providing clear direction, creating an opening for people, and taking time to think. Management, on the other hand, involves working “in” the business: creating clear expectations, communicating well and ensuring that things get done.

Being a great leader doesn’t make you a great manager and vice versa. To become a great boss, you must consistently do five things as a leader and five things as a manager. We call these things “practices” because it takes a consistent practice of each of the five to become great.

5 leadership practices

1.   Give clear direction. Great leaders are masterful at providing a clear direction and creating openings for their people. When you create an opening, it produces a vacuum that is always filled. The best way for you to create an opening and provide clear direction for your people is by sharing a compelling vision. This consists of conveying clarity around your culture, your core focus and your goals. After you have shared the vision with your people the first time, we urge you to continue to share it with your team every 90 days.

2.   Provide the necessary tools. Once you’ve provided clear direction for your people, you must give them the tools and support they need to succeed. It’s debilitating to get your people excited about the direction you’re headed, only to fail them by not providing the necessary tools to get the job done. Necessary tools include such resources as training, technology, additional people and your personal time and attention.

Of all the resources that you can provide, the most important one is your personal time and attention. Ironically, this resource is the least expensive to provide, but when you don’t have the few hours per week that one of your people may need, the cost in terms of poor communication, stalled projects and lower productivity can be enourmous.

3.   Let go of the vine. Now that you’ve provided clear direction and given your team the necessary tools to succeed, it’s time to let them run with it and get the heck out of their way. Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

There is a story to illustrate this. A leader is walking along the edge of a cliff. Suddenly, he slips and falls over the edge. As he’s falling down the side of the cliff, he manages to grab onto a vine. In desperation, he considers a prayer to the heavens, and shouts, “Is there anybody up there?”

To his utter amazement and relief, a deep voice booms down from the clouds and asks him, “Do you believe?”

He’s desperate and with nothing to lose, he yells back, “Yes! I believe!”

The voice replies, “Then let go of the vine.”

Terrified, the leader hesitates and gasps, “Is there anyone else up there?”

Before you just let go, we must share an important disclaimer: You cannot let go until you are certain that you have the right people in the right seats. You must have direct reports to whom you can let go — reports who get it, want it and have the capacity to do it.

4.   Act with the greater good in mind. Ask yourself, “Am I walking the talk? Am I setting the example? Do my actions, decisions and personal example align with the company’s greater good?” This means that whatever vision you’ve conveyed to your people, your actions and decisions are aligned with that message. As Warren Bennis said, “A leader doesn’t just get the message across, a leader is the message.”

5.   Take clarity breaks. One discipline that all great leaders have in common is that they take time on a regular basis to rise above the everyday demands of their jobs to reflect and think from the 30,000-foot level.

A clarity break is time you schedule away from the office, out of the daily grind of running the department, to think and to work on your business, department or self. In his book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” Stephen R. Covey calls this discipline “sharpening the saw.” Bill Gates calls it “think weeks.” He would take one week twice a year to do just that — think. This is important because the normal course of day-to-day business pulls you deeper and deeper into the minutiae of your work.

Use this scheduled break wisely, though. This is not time to catch up on email or complete a to-do list. It’s time to think, to see things clearly and restore your confidence.

Are you contributing to a crisis of engagement?

We’re facing a crisis that is not just measured by a lack of opportunity for the work force, but also by the lack of enthusiasm that the work force has for their jobs. You cannot expect to meet your goals with half of your team sitting on the bench — and 17.5 percent actually heckling you. You need an engaged, raring-to-go work force.

If you are constantly frustrated with people who don’t meet your expectations, but you don’t explain your expectations, you may be part of the problem. Acknowledging and taking responsibility for poor employee performance and engagement is the first step. Poor bosses don’t grasp this and will blame factors “beyond their control.” Great bosses will rise to the challenge.

Your choices are to lead, follow or get out of the way. You must decide. And remember, choosing not to be a great boss is OK. Just get out of the way and be willing to follow.

Excerpted from “How To Be A Great Boss” (BenBella Books, 2017) by Gino Wickman and René Boer.


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