Looking for Leaders
Having the right leader changes things. For so many businesses, bringing in the wrong person to lead at a critical time spells disaster, and the right person can turn around even the most perilous situation.
I always think of Apple. It was on the cutting edge technologically and one of the biggest up-and-comers in its early years. Then they decided that they needed to bring in a professional manager, John Sculley from Pepsi, and a couple years later Steve Jobs was run out of the company. It was a colossal error, and the company was on the brink when they brought Jobs back to run the company again in the late 90s. Bringing in the right leader worked, because the business didn’t just survive, and didn’t just reverse its decline, but boomed into the biggest company in the world.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but these are some of the things that I think are very important in identifying a great leader, and becoming a better one.
I think great leaders have to focus not on themselves, but on helping others. As a quarterback, my job was to make my teammates better—not to compile statistics and do things to make myself look better. Successful leaders are thinking about helping people—the mission of business is to help people. A great leader empowers his people, creates value in the lives of customers, and adds to the community. When you are focused on other people and successfully doing those things, then the money will come. But when a leader puts the money and personal acclaim first, then those things that are supposed to be the foundation of the organization are lost, and the structure collapses.
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A person shouldn’t just fall into leadership for no reason. A leader needs to have a purpose, a vision. A leader is going somewhere. So you have to know where you are trying to go, and work to find ways to get there. If you are the leader and you don’t have a meaningful, compelling vision of what you’re trying to do, why would anyone follow you? And without that deeper purpose, every action is strictly reactive, bouncing from one crisis to another, and often going opposite directions at the same time. When you make decisions based on a mission, then everything you do is moving toward the same goal, and you inspire people to whom your vision appeals.
A good leader has to be able to gather all the information possible, to make informed decisions. It’s why you can never stop learning. At the same time, a leader must be decisive and not hesitate to make a tough decision and commit when the time is right. It’s a balancing act—be deliberate and curious, constantly learning, while also being clear and decisive. Many would-be leaders are unable to maintain that balance, either rushing too quickly into ill-informed action, or being so cautious that they miss their opportunities and do nothing.
Great leaders don’t wall themselves off from the world. Great leaders are involved in the real world, and ready and willing to connect with people. I’m reminded of Bernie Marcus, the founder of Home Depot. When he started the business, he could have spent all his time in the corporate office and in meetings with big-shot executives. Instead, he spent his days in the parking lots outside his stores. He talked to customers, to learn about their lives, and to get feedback on what he could do to improve the business and its products. Successful leaders are engaged with real people, and they are in tune with the problems people are facing in their lives. That helps them focus on finding solutions to problems, and not just coming up with ideas that they find personally appealing but have no practical application for their audience. Staying grounded and accessible isn’t always easy when there are so many potential distractions, but it is absolutely essential.
It doesn’t matter how big a business is—a single sole proprietor, 10 employees, 100, or 1,000. Leadership matters, and the right leader can make all the difference.
This article was originally published by AMAC SBS