ABCs of Leadership

Posted on December 19, 2019 by John O. Burdett
Article image: ABCs of Leadership

AUTHENTICITY. How you turn up is more important than what you turn up with. One of life’s biggest challenges is to be ourselves. You can’t be somewhat authentic, part authentic and/or almost authentic. To be authentic is to be “all in.” It’s the gift we give to those we care about. It’s how we validate that we are living our own story. It’s the one thing in life none of us can fake. And it’s the one thing no one can take from us. A life well-lived is rooted in authenticity.

BUILD A GREAT TEAM. Without a great team you can’t win. The best teams think and act like a jazz band. There is an underlying structure to the music but beyond that they love to build on the contribution of each other. Make stretch a way of life. Make truth telling an anthem. Live the values and challenge those who don’t. Keep in mind; a team can never be better than the least committed member.

COLLABORATE. The natural way for our kind to be is to work in tandem with others. The collective enemy of collaboration is hierarchy, boss-ship, unwarranted rules and a performance management process that ensures team members compete against each other. Collaboration takes off when working to build community overwhelms the false sense of security that comes with being part of a tribe; when people are encouraged to paint outside the lines; and when challenging the status quo is the day-to-day established order of things.

DIVERSITY. If everyone on the team looks and sounds the same know that tomorrow will be a replay of today. Stretch, agility, innovation and seeing new possibility are the ongoing rewards of a team that celebrates different backgrounds, varied experience and multiple points of view.

ENGAGEMENT. Retention and engagement are obverse sides of the same coin. Although other factors enter the mix, engagement is, and is always, about the work. Match opportunity with capability. Allow people to shape the nature of their contribution. Learn to listen in the way you want to be listened to. Know, if you can’t coach, you can’t lead! Become a mentor. Have someone under 25 mentor you.

FEEDBACK. Champions thrive on feedback. They need feedback. If you want your most talented team members to update their résumés, starve them of feedback. If you want to extend permission to those who are less than full contributors, starve them of feedback. If you want the team to embrace mediocrity, starve them of feedback. Keep raising the bar. Work to catch people doing it right. Find yourself doing it right.

GET SIMPLE. Being simple isn’t a process, a set of rules or a formula; it’s a state of mind. Strip away everything that is unnecessary. Think simple! Go home with a clean desk. Stop sending out reports that you’re not sure anyone reads and see if anyone complains. Reduce the number of slides in your next presentation by at least half. Share. Involve. Make “power to” more important than PowerPoint.

HIRE PEOPLE WHO LOVE WHAT THEY DO. Hire people who are better than you. Who you hire today defines what is possible tomorrow. Talent acquisition, when all else is stripped away, is about managing risk and thus about “fit.” There are four dimensions of fit: culture (where are we? where do we need to be?), leadership (role-specific competencies), performance (robust scorecard), and team (team assessment). Each dimension of fit is essential. Dig. Measure! When the work to define fit is incomplete the “best” candidate becomes the default option. It’s relatively easy to find the best candidate. Winning is to hire the “right” candidate. The difference is the difference that makes a difference.

INTEGRATION. Hiring success means landing with no surprises. Self-selection is the best interview tool of all. Be candid. Provide the tools to enable the new hire to integrate him/herself. Know that if they don’t land, they won’t stay! Know that if they don’t land, you won’t stay!

JUST SAY “YES.” Leaders who excel work on the assumption that given the chance people will get it right. Get out of the way. Give yourself permission to get out of your own way.

KEEP PEOPLE INFORMED. Leaders are storytellers. Collect best-practice stories. Share those stories whenever the opportunity presents itself. Use social media to push those stories into the middle of the organization. Translate the strategy into story. Make the organization’s meta story central to any and all talent acquisition initiatives. Ensure that the organization’s website echoes to that story. Keep in mind; whilst negative stories may inform, only positive stories inspire.

LEADERSHIP is a privilege that has to be earned every single day. People need (not merely want) four things from a leader: (1) Direction (where are we headed?); (2) the Discipline of Delivery (defined roles, clear goals, ongoing feedback); (3) Development (currency in the job market); and (4) the Day-to-Day Dialogue is based on respect, caring and fairness. If one of these four leadership pillars is missing the leader in question will be found wanting.

MEANING. Doing good always trumps doing well. The only real measure of success is the difference we make in other people’s lives. Stop asking “why?” Start pushing to understand “How?” Give back. Leave a legacy. Leave a lasting legacy.

NOIS A POWERFUL LEADERSHIP WORD. We all want to be liked. It’s easy to say “yes.” Business development is as much about the opportunities you walk away from as from the ones you accept. The acquisition you reject is a platform for success elsewhere. Integrity isn’t simply saying “no”; it’s about how you say “no.” The team leader who vacillates; who lacks the gravitas to convey “no” in a way that leaves no one in doubt; sows the seeds of their own failure. How and when we say “no” is a measure of character.

OUTSIDE-IN. Successful businesses are managed from the outside-in. The unfolding social, political and economic context must, of necessity, provide the backcloth for even the most rudimentary strategy. Conversely, successful people manage their lives from the inside-out. They strive to understand what their personal priorities are and anticipate what it will feel like when they have achieved those goals. In doing so – we motivate ourselves.

PERSEVERANCE. The race rarely goes to the swift or those blessed with the greatest gifts. The person standing on the winner’s podium is invariably the one with the greatest commitment; the person who didn’t give up; the individual who practiced the most. Don’t wait to be instructed. Read. Learn by doing. Practice. Mastery flows to those with passion.

QUESTIONS ARE THE GATEWAY TO ALL LEARNING. A great question asks for what we want; not what we don’t want. When we are at one with the work; when we are in the moment; when we learn to be still … the right question emerges. When we pose breakthrough questions of others – then we start to ask great questions of ourselves.

RESISTANCE TO CHANGE. People don’t resist change; they hold back when they either don’t trust or respect the person with the baton. People don’t resist change; they are rightly less than enthusiastic, however, about suggested change that they don’t have the opportunity to be part of. People don’t resist change, but are quickly derailed by self-serving language. Language isn’t important; it’s everything. When people hear the word “change” what they really hear is “more work.” When they hear the term “culture change” what they really hear is “a lot more work.” “Shape,” “redefine,” “move in a new direction,” “take to the next level” convey the same thing without triggering a negative response. That said, know that if you don’t manage culture … it will surely manage you. What you don’t measure, you can’t manage.

SELLING. How you make people feel is far more important than what you think they need to know. A successful outcome is the best business development tool there is. Engaging as it may be, at the end of the day, the client doesn’t want a better mousetrap (process); they need to see dead mice! Keep in mind; it takes four or five times the investment to find a new customer/client as it does to keep the one you already work with.

TRUST. There are two forms of trust; what you say and what you imply. It’s the latter that people get wrong. It’s what we imply but don’t follow-up on that first disappoints and then turns off those we need the most. Respect opens a door marked “rapport.” Listening leads to opportunity. Courtesy is the lubricant of trust.

UNDERSTANDING. Before we can understand others, we must first strive to understand ourselves. Know that the leadership of self is the genesis of our path to mastery. Strive to connect with your own “why.”

VISION. Only those who can see what is not there can do what others say cannot be done. Dream! You can’t win big if you don’t dream big.

WHEN YOU BELIEVE IN PEOPLE, REALLY BELIEVE IN THEM … YOU FAN THE FLAMES OF POSSIBILITY. One of the most precious gifts any of us can give is to believe in the person sitting across from us. What we believe is what they will perceive. When we believe in a successful outcome we are taking the first – and most important step – in making it happen.

X-CULTURAL TEAMS ARE BECOMING THE NORM. Be sensitive to the reality that where you were when shapes how you are now. Know that principles such as trust, respect, caring and commitment are universal. Create space for candour. Understand that freedom to disagree doesn’t mean freedom to be disagreeable. Language can bring people together or set them apart. Ensure that words in common use mean the same thing to everyone on the team. Ask each individual on the team how they want feedback. Be loyal. Stick up for those on the team who are different. Be sensitive to religious holidays. Like a master carpenter, work with the grain… not against the grain.

YOU STARVE THE TEAM OF OXYGEN IF YOU IGNORE THE ROLE OF HUMOUR. Like its first cousin optimism, humour offers a new perspective. Humour both removes barriers and builds bridges. The right humour is the light switch in a dark room. It changes the level of energy in the group. It pricks the presumption of the pompous. And it draws out the disappointment of the disillusioned. But it has to be the right humour. Humour that works takes account of context, content and character of the listener. Know that a team lacking humour is easily derailed.

ZOOM IN ON THAT WHICH IS TRULY IMPORTANT. Don’t worry about what you can’t do. Work on what you can. When the river is in full flood it is not the time to reach for an unfamiliar paddle. Winning is about FOCUS. FOCUS.

About John O. Burdett

John O. BurdettBoth as an international HR executive and as a consultant, John Burdett has worked on culture initiatives with some of the world’s largest organisations.
He holds a Doctorate in Management Development and is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. John has authored ten books on leadership and organisation culture. His latest offering is the Talent Trilogy: TALENT (2014), TEAM (2015), and The Empty Suit (2016). John’s new book, the A–Z of Organization Culture comes out in early 2017. His books, articles and assessment tools are embraced by executives on five continents. His company, Orxestra Inc., enjoys a strategic partnership with TRANSEARCH International, a global, executive search firm.


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