In one of his must read books, author and researcher Jim Collins was determined to find the key factors that made companies transition from Good to Great. At the onset of the research, Jim refused to believe that leadership played a role in becoming great.
After months of research and analysis, Collins’ team called him into a room, locked hands and confronted him. The research team found that there was “something consistently unusual” about the executives at great companies.
The following “consistently unusual” traits are based on my experience and observations.
Leaders look at the landscape and see growth opportunities, but they aren’t the workers.
I’ve seen executives too lost in the foliage to see the horizon. Leaders tasks are strategic, not tactical. The rest of team can do the grunt work – and do it better if you’ve hired a good team.
Grunt work is safe. It’s methodical, repetitive.
Setting the strategy, negotiating deals and managing people is risky and emotionally taxing. There is no manual. No process to follow.
Bad leaders use grunt work as an excuse, as a distraction from doing really important and meaningful work.
Lesson: Set the direction. Make the big decisions and then have us do the work.
Passion is the ability to effectively inspire us to follow the company’s vision.
We follow someone not for his or her sake but for our own sake. Passionate leaders excite emotion in us. Through their eyes, we see new possibilities and what we can achieve.
Steve Jobs’ biography often mentions his reality distortion field. Steve saw things differently than everyone else and made employees do things that they said were “impossible.”
A passionate leader doesn’t have to be loud but IS powerful. The room is either in complete silence because you don’t want to miss a word or the group is on their feet in an enthusiastic frenzy.
Leaders who lack passion stand in front of the group and the group mentally checks out.
I’ve been in year-end meetings where the executives outlined the new year’s goals and objectives without as much as a twinkle in their eyes. At the end of the meeting, we left the room and left the goals behind too.
Lesson: We need you to excite us. To will us in the right direction.
Many people seem to believe that everyone else is a mind reader.
Let me give you an example. I know an executive who will have a conversation with a manager believing that he has fully and clearly explained himself. But because he tends to dance around a topic rather than be direct, the manager leaves without an accurate understanding of what has been asked of him or her.
Later, when problems arise, the executive says, “I don’t know what the issue is. I clearly explained the task.”
The problem is that he didn’t. He assumed that the manager could read his mind. Unfortunately, none of us are mind readers.
Effective leaders are concise and subordinates leave understanding what is expected.
Lesson: Don’t ramble, beat around the bush, manipulate or lie. Set our expectations so we can live up to them.
Collins’ team found that humility was a key attribute of great leaders.
Specifically, there are two ways that humility exhibits itself in leadership.
First, great leaders look outside of themselves when assigning credit. They attribute success to the team. They look for ways to give recognition both inside and outside of the company to team members.
Second, great leaders look inside of themselves when assigning blame. They don’t point the finger.
David Neeleman of JetBlue faced a trial by fire several years ago when passengers were stranded for 10 hours in an airplane on the tarmac.
Unbeknownst to the general public, a member of his management team bore much of the fault. However, David publicly and personally took all of the blame. In fact, he proactively apologized and accepted responsibility.
David lost 20 pounds from the stress and extra hours working to fix the problem.
Lesson: Be one of us by giving us the credit for success and accepting responsibility for mistakes and failures.
What have you found to be key traits in leaders?