Leadership Columnists

Good Leaders, Poor Leaders

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As you read this, the 2020 presidential election is over, but as I write this column, the race is still raging. This election, more than most, has me thinking about leadership. What is good leadership? Who’s qualified to lead? What makes a leader good or bad, effective or ineffective?

Todd Henry, an author and friend, recently posted a list of good and poor leadership practices on his Facebook page. His list distilled a lifetime of reading, studying, learning, and practicing leadership. As you read it, keep this in mind: There’s no point in reading the list with anyone in mind but yourself. You’re the only person you control.

Read the list with your own practices as a shop leader in mind. Always know that your team is watching you, watching you closely—closer than you may realize, closer than you would likely be comfortable with if you knew exactly how close. What kind of leader do they see when they look at you?

  • Good leaders take accountability for their decisions. Poor leaders blameshift bad outcomes, while taking credit for good ones.
  • Good leaders surround themselves with others who think differently. Poor leaders push those who disagree away.
  • Good leaders realize that others know more than they do about a lot of subjects and lean into that expertise. Poor leaders just go with their gut and complain or blame others when it goes wrong.
  • Good leaders try to inspire. Poor leaders use fear as a mobilizing tactic.
  • Good leaders are willing to suffer on behalf of those they lead. Poor leaders believe others exist to serve them.
  • Good leaders use "We can ..." Poor leaders say "I'm the only one who can ..."
  • Good leaders tell people what they need to hear. Poor leaders tell people what they want to hear.
  • Good leaders focus on actual effectiveness over time. Poor leaders focus on the appearance of effectiveness right now.

Thought provoking, right? My daughter has a sweatshirt that sums up a lot of this. It says “We > Me,” as in, “‘We’ is greater than ‘me.’” One of the first lessons that Keith, our COO, stressed to our team, is that when we talk about our accomplishments, we always, always, always say “we,” and never “I.”

In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins says the best leaders look out the window to praise others when things are going well and look in the mirror when things are not going so well. The worst leaders do the opposite of that. I recently coached a leader who was feeling unappreciated by her team. She felt that no matter how hard she tried or how much she accomplished, her boss just never praised her. The conversation meandered a bit and she talked about how she felt like the only person on her team that could really do a good job was her. She told me story after story about how her team members let her down. Toward the end of our coaching session, I asked her if she had ever heard of the “golden rule.” The homework for her, for me, and for anyone who wants a different outcome is to first give what we want to get.

It sounds a little counterintuitive at first. But I’ve verified this over and over in my own life. If I want respect, I need to show respect. If I want kindness, the first step is to practice kindness. If I want more effort from those I lead, I have to first give more effort. In short, we get more of what we give. Try it for yourself. What do you most want? Now, do that for others for 30 days and see what happens.

How can we become the kind of leaders who others naturally want to follow? It can be a life’s work for a leader to be both effective and humble, proficient, and vulnerable. At a minimum, we can banish the words “I” and “me” when talking about accomplishments. We can look out the window and see who else has contributed to our shop’s success. And we can look in the mirror when things aren’t going well. We can figure out how we might have contributed to a setback or a missed goal. We can also discover what we can do to turn it around.

In a sense, every day is election day for your shop’s leadership. People vote with their feet. If they stay with you, then they are saying you are a leader they want to follow. If people leave, well, that’s like them voting for someone else. Are you the kind of leader people want to follow? Read over that list again and see if there might be something you could do to become the obvious choice.

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