New York Times columnist Adam Bryant has spent many years interviewing the world’s top business leaders. His book “The Corner Office” captures the common lessons he learned from the world’s most successful leaders. Here is my summary:
Leadership – something you have or can it be learned?
It’s both. All leaders have a passion for bringing people together and getting them excited about a shared goal, but the skills for successful leadership need to be learned.
The effective leaders said that it took them many years before they felt truly comfortable being a leader. They had to find the right balance between being friendly with their employees, but not too friendly. The right balance between driving for results, but also making people feel cared for.
The best leaders have the self-awareness to know their strengths and weaknesses, but they don’t use their weaknesses as an excuse to cop out in those areas, they are always looking to improve.
The effective leaders learned to micromanage less over time. Rather than be overly specific about “how” to do something, they learned that it was more important to get very clear on “what” was required, and to clearly describe the strategy, the key projects, and the goals. Then give people latitude about how to achieve these goals – in other words, they are more descriptive, less prescriptive.
Management By Wandering Around (MBWA).
Effective leaders don’t just read reports and look at data. Make time to go and see for yourself what is really going on. Make time to speak to your staff at the front lines and speak to customers. If there are any problems you want to see them first hand and not wait for the reports which may be too late (or sanitized to only tell you what you want to hear).
Learning to listen.
The leader’s time is precious, but effective leaders learned that it is important to put aside distractions, to stop multi-tasking, and be truly “present” with people when speaking with them. Listening carefully to your people shows them that you care – and it helps them feel comfortable to tell you what is really going on.
Coach your “A” Players.
If someone is doing a good job, make them feel appreciated and noticed, and genuinely thank them for their performance. Be specific about what you are praising them for. Also be specific about what they can do better, but make sure they can see that you are on their side and have their best interests at heart.
The #1 regret of leaders?
Their biggest regrets were always hiring mistakes (I can certainly concur with this). Sometimes it involved hiring people who had the ability to perform, but were not the right fit for the company culture. Now they only hire people who are strongly aligned to the company Core Values.
Other times, it was spending too much time trying to “fix” performance in someone who was a good cultural fit, but who was not able to achieve the desired results. They spent too long when it was obvious the person would not make the grade, and realized they should have cut them loose sooner.
Other times, it was they were so eager to fill a position that they hired the first warm body, only to regret it later.
Through bitter experience, all the world’s top leaders came to the same conclusion: Hire slow, fire fast.