I have long been a student of leadership—I am not an expert, but have observed in others and have felt both positively and negatively how leadership has influenced me and my life. As I too have attempted to be a good leader, there have been a number of attributes that have become clear to me. I’ve distilled them here down to 10 key principles.
Now, this isn’t a full list, and does not cover all the issues or even begin to address the germane issues, but for me, these are ten hallmarks worth studying. To understand what a hallmark is: a hallmark is a quality, ability, etc., that is typical of a particular person or thing. These are hallmarks of profound leadership that I believe, more often than not, are ignored or under appreciated, or do not provide the insight, or that are not usually followed because people haven’t taken the time to observe these particular insights.
Let me give you my list, at the moment, of profound leadership.
Leaders Understand the Law of “Or”
Case in point. Leaders understand the difference between a thermostat or a thermometer. A thermostat sets the temperature and dictates what the temperature in the room will be. A thermometer, on the other hand, really just says, “Hey guys, by the way, here’s the temperature.” It does not drive results, it just reports on them. It’s not a score of point, but rather a reflector or recorder of points. As a leader, are you a lighthouse or a weathervane? Do you stand on the rock keeping people safe? Pointing them in the right direction, helping them be productive? Or are you a weathervane? Someone who just very easily and very simply and changingly demonstrates the way the wind is blowing.
Leaders Mow Their Own Lawns—Or, Said Another Way, Leaders Don’t Believe Their Own Press Releases
I’m not suggesting that you actually mow your own lawn or take out your own garbage or wash your own car, whatever the mundane household task is. Personally, I do all three. I enjoy the physicality of it. I enjoy the distraction and release and sweat that is associated with that because it’s very different from my normal tasks. But leaders do not see themselves as so important that they see a job that needs to be done as beneath them. They, when necessary, mow their own lawns and they don’t therefore, as a consequence, believe their own press releases. As an aside, I get quite a lot of satisfaction from mowing my own lawn. From a job well done, from that smell of fresh cut grass in the season of mowing. There are other auxiliary benefits for doing those, shall we say, mundane things of life that need to be done. Someone’s got to do them, and if I’m available and it’s the best use of my time right now, albeit from the distraction value perspective, I’ll do it.
Leaders Understand and Practice the Idea That Little Things Do Matter
As my good friend Todd Smith says in his blog, little things do matter. Yes, there are the big things that matter more. The macro, the big vision, the “wave your hands in the air” and all that good stuff, but at the end of the day the difference between a leader and manager or a profound leader is that they practice the fact that little things do matter. They don’t lose sight of those little things, which segways nicely into number four…
Leaders Have Big Big Goals
“Bihags,” as they say. Big, hairy, audacious goals. Yet they don’t lose sight of the details. They bounce between those two very extreme parameters. A huge vision, selling the vision of where we’re going, but at the same time understanding that crossing Ts and dotting Is and that following through on the details is usually where the home-runs are made. That twitch fiber that allows you to swing the bat at just the right speed at just the right time creates that home-run: the big picture. There is a quote from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that says, “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.” You have to have the big goals, but simultaneously, don’t keep your head in the clouds and lose sight of the details that are necessary to the execution of what needs to occur as you pursue your big goals.
Leaders Are Honest
Enough said. That’s why, in my mind, with no undue disrespect to politicians, politicians are not leaders. In fact, politicians and leaders are usually anathema to each other because, typically, politicians aren’t honest. Leaders need to be able to be relied upon. Their word needs to be good. I need to put myself into action based on the words and the statements and the direction my leader provides me. I need to have confidence in their honesty and integrity.
Leaders Find Value In All
Anytime you do a Caribbean cruise or go to some tourist cliché place you’ll see someone wearing a t-shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe with their slogan which is, “Love all, serve all.” Good leaders understand that it takes all types of people to succeed. That just because you and I don’t align on everything doesn’t mean you aren’t a valuable contributor to the team. They love all and they serve all and they welcome all that are able to work with all.
Leaders Play The Part Well
You could say they do what Shakespeare says, “What e’ere thou art, act well thy part.” Leaders understand their role. Sometimes they’re a leader. Sometimes they’re a follower. If they’re the quarterback, they’re the leaders but they’re also the quarterback—and so they fulfill their quarterback role with a plum and excellence. That’s what makes them a better leader, because they do what they’re asked to do with excellence to the point where people then have confidence in their ability and therefore also follow their leadership.
Leaders Have A “Report-to” Person or Mentor
Leaders are also good followers. It doesn’t matter where you are in the food chain, you will always have someone to report to. Whether it’s the bank manager, your spouse, maybe the IRS agent. If there isn’t this mentor in your life because you’re at the top of the food chain, find one. The ability to return and report the discipline that it brings, where you have to genuinely report on your performance, to the street or to the market or your wife or the bank manager or private equity fund, it doesn’t matter, it creates a discipline which allows you to do what needs to be done even when you don’t feel like doing it. It creates an inbuilt integrity that allows you to do more than you otherwise would do and at a much higher level. Case in point; the secrets to sales management is just to sit down with the sales person and say, “I was reviewing your numbers” and after that one sentence they will spew forth with all of the reasons and rational as to why they’re not performing and what they’ll do better because they know their numbers and all they need to know is that you know their numbers and that you have access to them and they will work themselves over and beat themselves up to figure out the plan better and more rigorously better than you ever could. They will leave that meeting of accountability with that feeling of, “Wow, what a great boss. I’m going to go to work for him doing more, better, faster and stronger things.” Knowing their numbers and being there to be that report-to and mentor position for them is what adds to to their lives.
Leaders Are Well Read
There is a quote from Mark Twain that says, “Those who don’t read good books have no advantage over those who can’t.” Great leaders are well read. They understand that they can learn from the tuition that someone else has paid. They read histories, biographies and things that make them think and change their perspective on the things they’re engaged in day-to-day, minute-to-minute, trudging along. They understand the value of good books, being well read, being well versed in what’s going on around them currently and historically.
Leaders Are Consistent
The final hallmark on this particular list: Great leaders are amazingly consistent to the point that those who follow them know that they can engage in step with them and together can be a synergistic haul or team that moves forward to produce results beyond which any one of them or the arithmetic few of them could have produced. There is huge value in constancy and consistency.
Certainly, some of these hallmarks are exceptions to the rules or are not commonly discussed relative to leadership, but I believe that many times, as to the statement that little things matter, great leadership is found in the details and focusing on the minuses of the attributes of leadership. That is what creates a true leader, a profound leader.
Now, there is a word that is often appended to leadership, and that is professional leadership. The best way to define professional leadership is to discuss its antonym or its opposite: unprofessional leadership. Any time we have difficulty defining something, we can usually define it quite simply because of its common understanding for its opposite. Most people understand what unprofessional behavior or unprofessional leadership looks like. Professional leadership is exactly the opposite of what you intuitively understand as unprofessional. Be a professional leader. Focus on those attributes. Look for, observe and duplicate those attributes in and from others in your own style, and you will become a profound leader.