7 Things All Great Leaders Do (Part II)

Last week I began our conversation by asking the following question, “If you were asked, ‘What are the handful of things that all great leaders do?’ what would you say in response?”

After giving you a moment to answer, I then began sharing my list with you. Unfortunately, the text below my first three items expanded beyond my original intent so I decided to chop my answer into two posts in order that you didn’t have to read a 3,000+ word post.

That said, my first three responses were that great leaders

1. Clarify what really matters. 
2. Cast vision continually
3. Assemble the best team possible (and leverage them) 

Note: If you didn’t read Part I, you can access it by clicking here >>

Now, here are the remaining four things I think all great leaders do (and how you can make sure you’re doing them)

IV. Solve Problems (usually collaboratively)

All great leaders know that delegating and leveraging the time, talents, intellectual property, networks, resources, etc. of other people is essential to getting the work of their business done. To get to the next level, you can’t be primarily engaged in doing the work, you need to empower others to do the work. However, there is one area of the work where all great leaders get engaged and that is in solving problems.

Why? Because it’s another leverage point. If you’ve hired others to do the work (i.e. hired them to leverage their time, talent, IP, etc.) and something is hindering their ability to do the work, then eliminating that obstacle/constraint is the best way for you to leverage and accelerate the success of that person/team/process/department.

However, one of the things that separates out great leaders from average leaders is that great leaders rarely solve problems on their own (even if they know the solution ahead of time). Why? Because part of creating leverage is increasing the capacity of the people you’re leading as well as creating ownership for the solution. If you keep solving all the problems on your own, then you’re simply creating a group of people who are dependent upon you. Similarly, since people tend to own what they create, if you keep solving problems on your own, the ownership level will be low and you’ll have to spend a lot of energy convincing people what needs to be done.

That’s why I say that great leaders solve problems—usually collaboratively—because they want to increase the capacity of the team they’re leading, while increasing the ownership of the team for the solutions they arrive at. Even if you know the solution, it’s far better to engage your people in finding the solution by asking questions and drawing the solution out from them than it is for you to offer up the solution right away. By asking the right questions and offering the right insights at the right time, you can lead people to the right answer (and sometimes, I know this is hard to believe, going through the process will lead you to an even better solution than you would have come up with on your own).

So, how are you doing at solving problems? Are you good at analyzing the right problems to attack? Are you good at being objective? At you good at seeing the implications of decisions on others and processes/systems? Are you good at engaging others in the process? Etc. 

If you want to be a great leader, you have to be great at solving problems that hinder the forward progress of your people and business.

V. Study Voraciously

Great leaders are great students/learners. They are carnivorous consumers of content, as well as great students of experience. Why? For a number of reasons. First of all, as I’ve said before, leadership is a forward-looking endeavor. It’s a journey to a new place—and that usually requires something new from the leader. Second, you can’t continue to lead people to new places if you’re relying on old content. Third, very few leaders are great at all six areas of executive attention (strategy, leadership, management, marketing, money and you). 

Fourth, it’s hard to lead if you’re not constantly studying your field and its trends (so you’re on the front end, not the back-end). Fifth, in a similar fashion, it’s hard to win if you’re not constantly studying your competition and learning from them. Sixth, creativity relies on having a big well to draw from. You never know where the next new idea will come from so being a carnivorous consumer of content creates the kind of deep well you can draw from. And finally, the last reason for today’s list, if you don’t learn from history (or experience), you’re doomed to repeat it. 

In fact, from the time my two daughters were born, the first phrase they both learned was “Leaders are readers and readers are leaders.” You can’t separate the two. All great leaders are great teachers. And no one can be a great teacher if they’re not a great reader/learner/student. It’s impossible.

I was reminded of how critical constant learning is to business success the other day while reading an article about Warren Buffet. The article was discussing how Buffet and his business partner, Charlie Munger, believe their primary job is to read all day (as in 6-8 hours/day). They both credit their success to their commitment to reading massive amounts of information on a wide variety of subjects on a daily basis.

Likewise, if you want to be a great leader, you have to make a commitment to being a voracious learner—and not just in your direct field of endeavor—but widely. As Steve Jobs famously said, it was his course on calligraphy that led to the use of different fonts on the original Mac as well as his love for and commitment to design. 

So, don’t just study business, study history and biology, physics and art, politics and communication, mathematics and Greek mythology, economics and philosophy, religion and cooking, sports and entertainment, design and language. Take it all in. Build a big well. And then start looking for connections because you never know where the next new idea will come from … which leads us to practice #6.

VI. Work on the Next New Thing

As I’ve repeatedly said, leadership is a forward-looking endeavor. As such, it is essential that every leader be working on the next new thing. Why? Because nothing lasts forever, especially when money is involved. First of all, every product goes through a predictable life cycle—the S curve  (it takes a long time to get launched, then it hits its stride and grows fast, then growth slows down while it begins to plateau and eventually it dies). This is true of every product and every market—and every great leader knows it.

That’s why every great leader is always working on the next new thing. While others are focused on optimizing the growth of the current product offering, great leaders focus their time and energy on figuring out what will create the next S curve. By creating a succession of S curves, great leaders know that by the time their current market offering starts hitting stage 3 (the plateau phase), their next new product will be hitting stage #2 (the rapid growth phase), which will ensure a continual growth curve.

In addition, whenever a business has a predictable growth engine, others (i.e. competitors) begin to copy and duplicate that market leader (i.e. Apple introduces the iPhone and others copy it and try to improve on it. Apple creates the iPad and others copy it and try to improve upon it). 

So, if you’re not constantly working on the next new thing, even the thing that you have will end up with a smaller market share simply because others will copy what you’re doing/have created (and try to add new features/benefits to draw people to their solution over yours)

This is why all great leaders invest a fair amount of their time working on the next new thing for their business because someone needs to be thinking beyond what needs to get done this week/month/quarter—and that someone is you.

So, how are you doing at working on the next new thing?

VII. Keep Morale High

When morale is high, there are few things a business can’t accomplish. When morale is low, there are few things it can. Everything works better with high morale, everything takes more time and encounters more problems when morale is low. That’s why great leaders focus on raising morale. It’s another great leverage point. 

Average leaders don’t get this, but great leaders do. And here are several ways to attack it.

1. Keep your own energy high.

If you’ve watched my video on Leader Draft (if you haven’t, click here >>), you know that I learned this lesson back in the early 90’s. People draft energy from their leaders. So, if you’re not up, your people won’t be. However, if you are, they will be. So, no matter what’s going on in your life or the company’s, don’t let that get your energy down. Stay up and you’ll reap the benefits of high morale.

2. Be a cheerleader

Everyone does better when they feel appreciated and encouraged. So, be the cheerleader. Even if it’s not part of your personality, make it a part of your practice to encourage and cheer others on. As an INTJ, it’s not part of my makeup to do so but when I’m leading, I make sure I’m constantly spreading “Leader Dust” (kind of like pixie dust) to inspire and encourage others.

3. Eliminate systems and obstacles your people dislike

Every business has junk that drives employees nuts. Figure out what that is and eliminate as much of it as possible. You’ll immediately see the improvement in morale.

4. Don’t tolerate poor performers

Keeping under performers on staff is a morale killer. The longer you tolerate them, the more that will kill morale. If an employee doesn’t respond to incentives and performance improvement plans, let them go. Morale will rocket.

5. Trust your people

No one likes being micromanaged. So give your people responsibility and then trust them to get the results you want. They may not do it the same way you would, but if you focus more on the results than the process you’ll see morale shoot through the roof.

So, how are you doing as the morale booster for your business?

If you want to be a great leader, then I’d highly encourage you to use the following seven items as your rubric for what great leaders do.

1. Clarify what really matters. 
2. Cast vision continually
3. Assemble the best team possible (and leverage them)
4. Solve problems (usually collaboratively)
5. Study voraciously
6. Work on the next new thing
7. Keep morale high

To your accelerated success!

P.S. If you have some other ideas or comments on what great leaders do, make sure you add them in the comments section below (or click here >> if you’re reading this by email or RSS) 

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