7 Reasons Leaders Can’t Transfer their Success to Other Organizations
I am often asked whether people that are effective leaders in their current organization can lead as effectively in any organization. My response: only a few can – and they are able to do so because they have an intuitive sense about how to lead people, cultivate relationships, be authentic, manage change and navigate the political landscape that exist in every organization as well as their respective industry.
Leadership is a funny thing. You either are a leader or you are not. You either have the ability to inspire and guide others to perform and be successful or you don’t. Leadership can be taught, but leadership is more of an attitude than a set of learned skills. Leaders know when they are leading. They recognize and are aware that others are paying attention and taking note. Great leaders have the intangibles that translate and shine in any environment.
President Reagan was able to take his leadership from Hollywood into the White House. Steve Jobs took his leadership from Apple to Pixar Animation Studios and back to Apple. Phil Jackson took both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers to three-peat championships.
Leadership is always being purposeful and mindful of your actions and how they impact those around you. That is why the selfish know-it-all type leaders fail in environments they can’t control. In fact, the very best leaders are less concerned about controlling others and more concerned about creating the environment that allows those around them to be successful. People love to be led by those that help them mature, develop and prosper.
So what makes these great leaders tick? To get the conversation started, here are seven of the most important areas that you must master:
1. Lead people (don’t treat them like puppets)
Employees (regardless of hierarchy or rank) want to know that their leaders are paying attention to them. People want their leaders to be knowledgeable of what they are truly capable of achieving. Great leaders have an ability to detect great talent. In many cases they are able to unleash the hidden talents in others.
Leaders that treat people like puppets are short-lived leaders. They drive talented people away. And they destroy organizations. Look at the dismal series of recent leaders at Hewlett-Packard for good examples of how to destroy a great organization.
2. Earn relationships (don’t use your power to manipulate others)
Too many leaders use their power to manipulate and purposely create confusion in their organization to maintain control of others. This is artificial leadership and I have witnessed this too many times in my career.
Great leaders take the time to earn relationships. They cultivate them by being responsible for them. This approach injects confidence and builds trust. People in the organization begin to feel that you care about them and are able to view them as peers not subordinates. This is the only successful form of leadership in today’s global marketplace with its instant feedback and 24/7 news cycle.
3. Be Authentic (don’t hide behind the title)
Reveal who you really are as a person. Whether you like Bill Clinton or not, in person he makes you feel like he is approachable, and fun. How about Tim Tebow? His popularity is not an accident. He is as authentic as it gets and extremely humble and grateful for the opportunity to lead the Denver Broncos as their quarterback. Tebow’s leadership style will transcend and be equally as effective in any organization he leads. Pepsi CEO, Indra Nooyi – is another great example. Her warmth and eye contact make you feel that she is listening to you and that you are able to have a candid conversation.
Too many leaders hide behind their title instead of delivering the responsibility that is inherent in the title. Are you always impressed by those you meet that have important titles? Of course not. It’s because they lack authenticity and deep down inside they also lack self-esteem.
4. Manage change organically (don’t try to control outcomes)
Great leaders have a way of going with the flow. They don’t panic and are incredibly strategic about how to handle change and uncertainty. They step back, carefully assess the situation and utilize points 1 -3 to when communicating and working with their teams to resolve problems.
The leaders that try to control the problem believe that they are at fault and don’t want to be exposed. During times of crisis, it’s about solving the problem not identifying the culprit.
5. Be Politically Savvy (don’t create the politics)
Every organization has its inherent dynamics and no one individual can completely control them. They’re just part of the company DNA. The most effective leaders embrace that and don’t try to change too much too quickly. They observe and give people the benefit of the doubt. They don’t attempt to create their own political web to override the current culture.
6. Serve the Industry your lead (don’t disrespect it)
Just because you were a hero in your previous industry, doesn’t mean the industry you are about to serve will easily accept you. Believe me, I have lived this first hand when I entered the seafood industry after being an executive in the beverage industry. It took time, but I was able to use what was unique about the seafood industry to incorporate the best practices that I had brought with me from the beverage world. Ultimately, my peers respected the fact that I was trying to make the industry better.
Don’t undermine the industry. If you do, it will undermine you. It doesn’t matter how powerful you are, the industry defines the ground rules – not you. Respect it and learn to grow with it.
7. Know the Organization and its History (don’t ignore it)
This probably is the most valuable point: know your employer and its backstories (both internally and externally).
The smartest thing I did when I moved from one company to the other was to understand the organization’s past. I found that the most effective way to do this was by leading Town Hall type meetings and asking the employees to share their perspectives about the organization’s future -- because when you ask about the future, they always tell you about the past. This helped me connect the dots more quickly and allowed me to plan more effectively. It also helped me accomplish points 1,2,3, and 5 quickly.
Leadership is a rare quality, and those that can lead in more than one organization are rarer still. These 7 characteristics form the basics of the intangibles that distinguish great leaders. Study them and make them your own, especially if you are moving up – or over – in the leadership ranks.