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The ABC’s of Leadership

ABC BlocksWho doesn’t love the alphabet?  Think about it – every book, blog post, memo, and any other document is simply a rearrangement of the same 26 little letters (mind = blown).  So since the alphabet is so awesome, I figured I’d share 26 leadership thoughts and ideas related to each letter of the alphabet.  Enjoy and good luck getting the ABC song out of your head by the time you’re done!

Authenticity: it sounds like a challenging concept but it’s actually quite easy – simply be yourself.  No B.S.  No facades.  That authenticity builds trust between you and your team.  If you’d like a quick assessment of how authentic you are and how much your team trusts you, CLICK HERE.

Bench Strength: if you’re not thinking about and doing rigorous succession planning, you’re wrong.  Flat wrong.  Your job as a leader isn’t just managing today’s team – it’s also preparing tomorrow’s team and being ready for the inevitable turnover that comes with any organization.  Build your succession plan.  Now.

Courage: take a stand for your beliefs.  Don’t let people get thrown under the bus – instead jump between them and the bus and take the hit.  Have some intestinal fortitude to right the wrongs around you despite the cost and risk to you personally.

Delegation: you can’t do it all yourself (even if you know you’ll do it better than they will).  The hallmark of a great leader is being able to let go and let one’s people do things while the leader sets direction, procures resources, and provides motivation.  Let go.

Entrepreneurship: foster it.  Even huge companies were start-ups at one point in their growth.  Encourage your people to take risks, to build new things, and to challenge existing ways of doing business.  Your business will change.  Either you can change it or the world will change it for you.

Feedback: if you’re not delivering difficult messages to the members of your team when they need to hear those messages, you’re doing them a disservice.  Delivering tough feedback is one reason you get paid the big bucks.

Gratitude: demonstrate it.  Let people know you’re thankful for all they do to make you look good.  Your team needs to know you appreciate their hard work.  A simple thank you note can go a long way.

Humor: see the funny in the frustrating.  When you step back from the frustration and the seriousness, work is pretty absurd and silly.  If you can see the humor in it (and help others to do so as well), the stress level in your organization will be significantly lower than it is today.

Initiative: take it. Yes, this requires you to assume risk.  That’s the mantle of leadership.  Go out and make mistakes.  Who knows? You may actually get it right and have a huge positive impact.  And if you don’t you’ve certainly learned something new.

Justice: dish it out.  When you see unjust behavior, no matter how small, if you let it go unpunished, you’re implicitly condoning it.  Be fair, be fast, and be just.  No one said your job was easy and this will require you to deliver some tough messages.  That’s why they pay you the big bucks.

Knowledge: build your knowledge daily.  Read.  Do research.  Look up words or facts you don’t know.  Talk with experts outside your field.  If you constantly seek new sources of knowledge, you’ll be better at spotting risks and opportunities than your competitors.

Leadership: you manage things; you lead people.  Remember – leadership is the art of influencing, setting direction, and inspiring others to take action because they share your vision and goals.  Stop thinking the management tasks you’re performing are leadership.

Managing Up: a major part of your job is being a human crapshield for your team.  You need to protect them from distractions and stupidity so they can get their work done.  You’re their only buffer between them and corporate demands and stupidity.

Negativity: cut the crap.  When the team hears you complaining, not only does it destroy morale, concern them, and make you look immature, it also gives them the right to complain themselves.  Negativity is a cancer.  Prevent it starting with yourself.

Opportunities: are you creating opportunities for your people to grow, fail, learn, and succeed?  You have to create those stretch assignments and projects if you ever expect them to become more than they are today.

Philosophy: every leader should have and share their own personal leadership philosophy.  It’s a simple statement of your beliefs and it will help you set expectations and maintain standards.  If you’d like to craft a clear, compelling philosophy, I can’t think of a better resource than this book.

Quitting Time: we work to live, not live to work.  You set an example for balance for your team.  If you don’t know when to quit and go home, they’ll follow your bad example and you’ll burn them out.  Be reasonable about what you ask of yourself because implicitly you’re asking the same of them.

Responsibility: accountability is an external force holding you to a standard of performance.  Responsibility is holding yourself accountable to meeting the standard.  It’s intrinsic.  Make the leap from accountability to responsibility.

Strategy: Have one.  I don’t care how big or small your organization is – as a leader you need to articulate a clear destination, goals, and define the path to get there.  If you don’t, your people are wandering aimlessly.

Thinking Time: carve out at least 4 hours per month to do nothing but think.  Remove distractions and evaluate the major issues your organization faces.  Your job is to look out over the horizon – not to look down at the road you’re driving down.

Underpromise, Overdeliver: make commitments you know you can keep but always seek to surprise to the upside.  Too many people overpromise and underdeliver which is a recipe for disaster.  Manage expectations well but then give people more than they thought they’d ever get.

Vision: you need to look into the future and tell people what to expect.  Their job is to drive and maintain the bus.  Your job is to set the destination and keep your eyes on the horizon to look for unexpected bumps in the road.

Why?: ask this question a lot.  Ask why you do things the way you do and if there are new/better ways to do it.  Ask your people why they did something or why they feel a certain way.  You’ll understand them better and be better able to lead them.  Ask “why?” all the time.

Xenophobia: avoid it. We’re increasingly global and interconnected.  Celebrate the diversity of your team, your partners, and your customers.  Go to faraway lands to find new people, new opportunities, and new perspectives.  Stop being so insular.  (I’ll bet you thought I would do something dumb like “xylophone” or “x-ray” for this one, huh?)

Yelling: seriously?  Are you a cro-magnon man?  No yelling in the workplace unless you’re trying to get someone’s attention as a 1 ton anvil falls from the sky toward their head.  Yelling is crass not to mention ineffective.  Besides, speaking calmly and softly is much, much scarier.

Zebra Cakes: always have some on hand.  They’re good for boosting blood sugar during afternoon doldrums.  I mean, who doesn’t love Zebra Cakes?

There you go – 26 leadership tips, techniques, and ideas courtesy of your kindergarten teacher’s ABC’s.  Which letters are your favorites?  What would you add to this list?

Mike Figliuolo at thoughtLEADERS, LLC

7 Responses to “The ABC’s of Leadership”

  1. Ulick Stafford says:

    Great list. But I have no idea what a zebra cake is. Other possible z – Zone, stay in your best zone of operations or look for others. Zeal – enthusiasm. Zoom – focus on the important details. zest – same as zeal.

  2. Judith Waite Allee says:

    I especially appreciated the reminder to confront even small injustices when they occur. A leader takes responsibility for creating a non-toxic environment.Thanks.

  3. Curt Sumners says:

    That is the most complete description of leadership I’ve ever seen! It’s funny that you used something as basic as the ABC’s to spell it out for us.

    Great work.

  4. I like them all but I’d have to tag my two favorites as:

    Humor. I find myself laughing a lot more these days and it truly is good for the soul. You can get through any day, no matter how crazy with a bit of humor.

    Knowledge. Given what I do, how can this not be one of my favorites. I love knowledge, people who seek knowledge, and people who seek to dispense knowledge. The search for knowledge is a boredom cure-all.

  5. Joe Zenevitch says:

    Good stuff. But be aware the assessment under “Authenticity” doesn’t seem to work. You enter your email address and continue, but you get a PHP error.

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