Leadership can take many different forms. Being a “leader” could mean being a manager in a company. Or, it could mean raising your kids, or even just being someone in your friend group who people tend to follow.
Here are a few thoughts on what it means to lead well.
Leading by example
“Do as I say, not as I do,” is a well-known satirical statement that’s used to parody parents who tell their kids what to do, while doing the exact opposite themselves.
As we all know, though, kids are very likely to ignore the things their parents say, and to mirror the things that their parents actually do. And what’s true for kids in this case is true for everyone else.
No one likes taking advice, much less orders, from people who apparently consider themselves the exception to the rule. For one thing, it shows that the individual trying to “lead” you doesn’t have skin in the game, and isn’t holding themselves accountable to their own supposed standards.
One of the cornerstones of good leadership is leading by example. If you expect something from the people you are leading, you’d better be willing and able to do it yourself. Certainly, you should never be in a position where you are actively flouting the instructions you’re giving to others.
“Leading by the front” naturally inspires others and encourages them to follow along.
Maintaining personal accountability
The former US Navy SEAL Jocko Willink and Leif Babin promote an idea they refer to as “Extreme Ownership” in their leadership training business, Echelon Front.
Essentially, their advice – which they say proved invaluable in intense combat situations – is that a leader should always hold themselves completely accountable, first and foremost. If something goes badly with the team, the leader first points a finger at themselves, instead of trying to shift the blame or pass the buck.
If a leader is too quick and eager to pass the blame onto others and to avoid responsibility, that sets a precedent and sends a clear message to the people who are being led. It says, loud and clear, “shift the blame, look for whose fault it is other than yours.”
Personal accountability, or “Extreme Ownership,” can keep a leader honest and prevent them from turning a blind eye to their own faults. More importantly, it encourages general accountability throughout the team, which then leads to better collaboration, less backbiting and office politics, and more productivity.
Avoiding the urge to micromanage
A good leader has to, on some level, become comfortable with the idea of delegating duties to others. For an entrepreneur who is responsible for their own start-up, this is often difficult advice, since for a long time – maybe for a good number of years – they have been used to being totally in control of everything.
When that same entrepreneur begins to hire employees, the nature of the game shifts dramatically. Because, for one thing, no one has the time or energy to oversee absolutely everything that’s being done by a full team of professionals.
The same principle applies more broadly, too. Parents have to try to inculcate the right values in their children so that they will behave properly even when not being observed. If the parent’s strategy is to constantly dictate everything the child does, then that strategy is sure to fail dramatically, sooner or later.
Avoid the urge to micromanage, and you become a better leader. Make sure that everyone knows what they should be doing, and then step back and review things more broadly. Let the people you are leading do their jobs.