Leader Volume 8, Number 7
Tips For Leaders at All Levels
Smith is the President of Visionary Leadership of Augusta,
e mail firstname.lastname@example.org; members.aol.com/genpsmith).
He retired from the Air Force as a major general and served as
CNN's military analyst. He teaches leadership, ethics and
strategic thinking to executives and middle managers, and is
author of Rules and Tools
for Leaders (Avery, Garden City Park, NY, 1998) and A
Hero Among Heroes (Marine Corps Association, Quantico, VA,
I have the great
privilege of teaching leadership to military schools, non-profit
organizations, government organizations, and private and public
are a few of the tips which I share with these diverse groups. I
call these tips my "Blazing Flashes of the Obvious"
Each one of us is
really five people. You are who you are, you are who you think you
are, you are who your subordinates think you are, you are who your
peers think you are, and you are who your boss thinks you are.
Leaders who work hard to get feedback from many sources are
more likely to understand and control their various selves and
hence be better leaders.
Leaders must be
brutally honest with themselves or they will slip into the
terrible habit of self-deception. Even the best leaders make
mistakes. By smoking out these mistakes, acknowledging them and
correcting them quickly, a good leader can become a superb one.
Leaders who share
their power and their time can accomplish extraordinary things.
The best leaders understand that leadership is the liberation of
talent; hence they gain power not only by constantly giving it
away, but also by not grabbing it back.
Squint With Your Ears
Listening is the
most important skill for leaders. Introverts have a great edge,
since they tend to listen quietly and usually don't suffer from
being an "interruptaholic." Too many extroverts are
thinking about what they will say next, rather than hearing what
is being said now. This is called, "fake listening"
which is so nicely covered in Kevin J. Murphyís book, Effective Listening, which I recommend to leaders who are
Protect the Innovators
For three years,
I had working for me a Medal of Honor recipient who is the most
innovative person I have ever known. Although well over 50 percent
of his ideas were awful, buried among the bad ones was an
occasional pearl of great wisdom. I learned to protect Jack from
his bad ideas while encouraging creativity so we could use his
best suggestions and insights.
Donít Become Indispensable
indispensable organizations, but not indispensable people. Leaders
should not allow themselves, nor a staff member, to become the
only individual who can perform a necessary task. When that
indispensable person gets sick, retires, or gets transferred, the
organization is sure to suffer.
Avoid the Cowardice of Silence
so-called leaders often sit on their hands when itís time to
speak up. Leadership requires courage--courage to make waves,
courage to take on bosses when they are wrong, and the courage of
Donít Waste Peopleís Time
The best question
a leader can ask a subordinate during a counseling session is,
"How am I wasting your time?" Not everyone will tell
you, but cherish the ones who do, for they will help you keep your
priorities in order and dramatically increase the value of your
own, and their, time.
Observe, Thank and Reward the Invisible People
There are lots of
fine people doing great work who seldom get thanked because they
are "invisible." They work so quietly and so competently
that they often are not noticed by the leader. Over time their
morale suffers because they are not recognized. Conversely, beware
of those who try to get a great deal of "face time" with
the boss. These folks are often primarily concerned with serving
their ambitions or their egos.
Avoid the Lurk of Cronyism
Too many bosses
push people into higher positions because of friendship rather
than competence. This not only undermines morale, but also moves
people into positions where they reach their level of
incompetence. Everyone suffers.
Smoke Those of Low Integrity
sniff the air constantly to ensure high standards of integrity are
maintained. In almost all large organizations, someone is walking
out the back door with something. Expense accounts, personnel
records, training reports, travel requests and contracts need
regular scrutiny. Also, beware of the
"integrity-once-removed" problem. Just because you are
honest doesn't mean there aren't integrity problems within your
Concentrate on Performance, Not Just Results
How you get
results is vitally important. Leaders who don't concern themselves
with both process and performance are making a big mistake.
Constantly ask yourself what it took to get those great results.
Maintain a Sense of Outrage
There are too
many super-cool managers who constantly worry about keeping the
boss happy or staying out of trouble. As a result, they never
allow themselves to be outraged when the system is doing serious
damage to those who work for them. The best leaders get mad
occasionally and, using controlled outrage, correct the wrongs
that are being levied on their people. When CNN ran the nerve gas
special in the summer of 1998, I used my sense of outrage (and my
resignation in protest) to help the senior executives at Time
Warner realize they had made a major mistake.
Beware of Intimidation
Be very careful
here. Some bosses allow themselves to be intimated by their
bosses, or by outsiders and, on occasion, even by their
subordinates. An intimidated boss can never be a great leader.
Avoid the Activity Trap
The overly busy
manager seldom plans for the long term. This usually leads to
strategic drift. The micromanager and the workaholic are seldom
visionary leaders. Busy bodies make for "in-the-box"
managers, not enlightened leaders
The very best
executives are brilliant at seeing problems coming, and solving
them before they turn into full-fledged crises. The best leaders
learn how to "look around corners" by asking the right
questions and perfecting their anticipation skills.
If a crisis does come, be a good crisis manager by having a
transition plan, making decisions quickly, and forming an
"opportunity team" to take advantage of the crisis.
Do Some Serious Reading on Leadership
should be reading at least one good book per month. My favorites
on leadership are: Killer
Angels by Shaara, Leaders
by Bennis, Integrity by Carter, The New
Realities by Drucker, Leadership
is an Art by Depree, and The
Microsoft Way by Stross. Leaders who are not readers are
slowly but surely losing their potential value--it is sad to
watch, especially if the person who is not staying intellectually
active is your boss.
Donít Become a Prisoner of Your Own Paradigm
When I was acting
as CNN's military analyst during the Gulf War of 1991, I was
surprised when I noticed that The
New York Times was unable to grasp how dramatically both
weapons and warfare, as used and conducted by the coalition of
allied forces, had changed. For more than twenty years, the Times
had criticized the military services for buying systems that were
overly complex and likely to break down quickly in combat. It took
weeks before the editors finally grasped the conceptual and
technological significance of the new triple paradigm of
reliability, precision, and stealth.
Donít Send Out ďI Donít Trust YouĒ Messages
Leaders who say,
"I never want to be surprised" or "Before
you start anything check with me" or
"When I am on the road, I will call in every morning
for an update," are guilty of sending out ďI don't trust
youĒ messages to their associates. Employees who realize they
are not trusted will never contribute at their full potential.
Find an Anchor and Hold Onto it During Both the Good and
blessed with a number of wonderful anchors. My wife has lifted me
up when I am down and eased me down when I was sky high and my ego
became inflated. My
two adult children have also been very helpful, especially when I
was dealing with issues of integrity. Other close friends have
helped many times when I was in great need of advice, comfort,
solace or support.
Donít Sweat the Small Stuff
This short phrase
has a powerful meaning. It is even more powerful in its more
complete form. "Don't sweat the small stuff.
Most everything is small stuff." I am constantly
amazed by people who fail to enjoy themselves because some little
thing is not quite right. Leaders
who are perfectionists should remind themselves that often
"the perfect is the enemy of the good."
Fight the Natural Tendency to Clone Yourself
Although it is
very common, itís a terrible mistake to hire people who look,
act and think like you do. Every time you are about to make a
decision to hire someone, be tough with yourself. Is this person
attractive to you because he or she brings a fresh background,
perspective or point of view? If not, keep looking. Also, after
you hire someone, actively resist the tendency to encourage that
person to act and be like you.
Constantly Look for Leverage Opportunities
The best leaders
leverage their time, their talent, their technology, their
integrity and their friends. In fact, if you think in terms of
leverage, many things you do will be easier and quicker than ever
before. Let me give some examples:
ē I am a terrible typist. I didn't learn how to deal with a
keyboard until I was 51 years old. So I bought a fast computer
with an excellent spell checker and leveraged technology to
overcome my weakness.
ē I have a braintrust of many friends who give me great help
when I am struggling with a problem and need assistance.
ē As far as leveraging a talent, I am very fortunate in that I
learned to be a speed reader when I was in graduate school. Also,
I love to read--reading isnít a burden, itís a joy.
As a result, I read about 100 books a year and keep up with
twelve magazines each week. By leveraging my talent for fast
reading, I can absorb a great deal of written information in a
Get Ready For the Future
The future is
coming fast. Leaders need to plan for the future and prepare their
associates for it. Attend meetings and read books and magazines
that focus on future-oriented subjects.
leadership is not maintaining control, seeking power, keeping the
boss happy, staying out of trouble, or getting to the bottom of
your in-box. Leadership is serving the mission, serving your people,
giving power away, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and raising
the level of integrity and dignity in your organization.