Monday, June 30, 2008

Leadership Rules

Rule: a principle or regulation governing conduct, action, procedure, arrangement, etc.: the rules of chess.

When a new leader takes over a team or organization, they’re often asked about their leadership style, philosophy, or beliefs. People want to know how you’re going to behave, and how you’re going to lead them.

There’s been hundreds, if not thousands of books and articles written about leadership. It seems everyone’s got the key to leadership enlightenment, and is willing to share it with you for $22.95 and/or a $10,000 speaker’s fee.

How about you? If you were asked to do a presentation tomorrow about what’s important to you as a leader, could you do it? Do you have a set of lasting, consistent “rules” you hold yourself accountable to as a leader? Or are you a “book of the month” kind of leader?

Up until now, while I’ve had them in my head and like to think I practice them on a day to day basis, I’ve never taken the time to write them down. I found it to be a valuable exercise, and would encourage every leader to give it a try.

So here are my own leadership rules, in no particular order. They’re mine, and only mine, and I’m in no way saying they should be everyone’s. However, they’re certainly not proprietary, so feel free to use any or all of them.

Dan’s Leadership Rules:

1. I fully appreciate and embrace the awesome responsible that comes with being a leader and never take it lightly. I’m responsible for the success of the unit I lead, and contribute to the success of my company. I have a huge impact on the success and lives of my employees. I also have an indirect impact on the community in which I’m a part of, and that my employees are a part of. So if I screw up, it’s not just me that impacted, I’m messing with the lives of others that are depending on me.

2. As a leader, I hold myself accountable to the highest standards of behavior. When making a decision, I ask myself “would I be comfortable with the details of this decision plastered all over the Wall Street Journal or company intranet?” I look at myself as a role model, for my team and others. If there’s even the slightest chance of offending someone, then I keep it to myself. If I see a wrong, I’ll speak up. I won’t “let my hair down” after hours or off-site - as a leader, there is no “on” and “off” switch.

3. One of the most important things I’m responsible for is the development and growth of my employees. It’s up to me to make sure they are engaged in meaningful and challenging work that helps them stretch and grow. And in order to help develop others, I need to development myself.

4. I’m responsible for creating a team of “A” players. My goal is to hire, retain, and promote only the best. If someone is a C player, my job to is turn them into an A player or help them find another role where they have a better chance to be an A player. I will hold my team accountable to the highest standards or performance and behavior, and offer no apologies for expecting my team to work harder and behave more professionally than other teams around us.

5. It’s my job as a leader to ensure my organization’s work is strategic. That is, all of our goals and activities need to be aligned with the overall goals and mission of the larger organization. I owe it to my organization and to every member of my team to ensure our work is meaningful, and will have little tolerance for non-value added work.

6. Any organization I lead will always have a strategy and goals. Any individual I lead will always have a set of objectives and a development plan.

7. I understand and embrace the importance of team meetings and individual 1on1s. These meetings are not a nuisance or distraction – they are the day to day manifestation of leadership.

8. I need to be an advocate for my peers and my manager. Their success needs to be as important as my own success. I’m responsible for their development too.

9. I should be positive and optimistic – about my company, our products and services, our clients, our goals, other departments, etc… I’ll challenge when appropriate, but it will always be with the intention of constructive improvement. Humor is OK – cynicism and sarcasm are not.

10. As a part of a leadership team, it’s up to all of us to challenge, debate, and speak up when we disagree. But when we leave we leave the room, I’ll respect the final decision, publicly support it, and do all I can to help successfully implement it.

11. My employees are bright, capable, responsible adults and I need to treat them that way. I am not all-knowing or blessed with superior judgment because of my title. I don’t need to be aware of all details, be involved in all decisions, or dictate how they do their work. Treating employees like children and micromanaging is the ultimate form of disrespect and poor leadership.

12. I’m still working on this one – but I need to listen and ask questions, and be open to possibilities. Listening as a leader means fighting the natural urge to evaluate and react, vs. listening to truly understand another’s worldview and consider the possibilities. (Then I can evaluate and react).

I’m sure if I continued to think about it, I’d come up with more, but these are the ones that just flowed from my head to the keyboard without thinking. So for now I’ll leave it at a dozen and continue to work on holding myself accountable to these.

What are your own leadership rules? I’d be glad to publish any and all in the comments section.


Anonymous said...

Just recently, I was talking with someone and the question 'what is your Leadership Style'?

I always take a short pause when i am asked this, because I try to condense it into a short answer, but my beliefs are broader than that. I have never thought to 'line list' them like you have, but I generally say:

'I believe in being Firm but Fair. My job is to Lead, and I want my like to both like and respect me. I prefer to use some humor in my conversations and keep rapport built. I want them to WANT to follow me. But if I have a situation where I cannot get an employee on board with the project, then I have to stop being a 'friend' and handle he employee more seriously.

"I also believe that a large part of Leadership is Teaching. My previous managers who I liked and respected the most were the ones who voluntarily put themselves in a 'mentor' phase and taught me not so much TO do something, but WHY we do something and what we do NEXT. As a Leader, if I can also be an effective Teacher, I am satisfied.

"And lastly, as a Leader I try to read and learn enough to stay in front of the curve. It's not enough to simply get the project done on time and under budget (although it's useful!) but also to know the industry trends, to trends of your team, and what needs to be done to stay fresh and competitive. This is hardly easy...especially when you are trying to be as good a husband/parent/friend/coach/etc and your time is limited...but it's a valuable Leadership trait."

So this is my Leadership Credo. I have a lot more to learn, but it keeps me in the right direction.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks, Jeff. I hope you found the exercise to be valuable.

Anonymous said...

Dan - Powerful post and a great list of personal leadership rules... an exercise all leaders should strongly consider undertaking.

I've selected this post as one of my Rainmaker 'Fab Five' blog posts of the week as found at the following address:

Be well!

Chris young

Dan McCarthy said...

Chris -
Thanks! It's always an honor to be selected as one of your fab fives!

Anonymous said...

Dan- This blog has been very informative and I bet I can use it in future. I would like to ask you of your opinion of marketing based on opinion leadership. Do you think it is essential for a company as a strategic point of view? I would be happy to read more of your blogs.

Dan McCarthy said...

Anonymous –

“I would like to ask you of your opinion of marketing based on opinion leadership. Do you think it is essential for a company as a strategic point of view”

If you’re asking me for my opinion on the strategic importance of marketing, I’d say it depends. First of all, I have a lot of respect for the marketing function; some of the best and brightest leaders I’ve known have been CMOs and marketing professionals. However, the kind of marketing a business requires depends. If you need to do a lot of “demand generation”, than you need to apply your efforts to marketing. If the demand is there, and you just need to capture it, than your shift your effort to sales.

I’m certainly no expert in marketing and sales, but it’s been my experience that most companies would be better off with a strong CMO and marketing function.