I’ve been fortunate to learn from a number of leaders who’ve made major impressions on me over the course of my life.
My exposure to leadership began at an early age, in a place that’s familiar to all of us — home. My Dad retired from the Air Force as a brigadier general after almost 30 years of service. I have tons of memories stamped in my brain of how he both looked after and got the most out of his teams.
In the corporate world, I’ve similarly had the opportunity to learn from the best of the best. Pat Lencioni, Michael Hyatt, Mary Dridi, and countless others have reaffirmed for me what leadership really looks like and what it requires. While it’s hard to boil the many intangibles it takes to be a successful leader down to 3, these are the ones I’d peg as the absolute must-haves.
Leaders accept that their role is a responsibility, not a right
Leadership is a responsibility, not a right. If you’re in it for the acclaim or the power, your run in whatever leadership opportunity you’ve been presented will be a very short one.
The best leaders are willing to get in the foxhole with their teams when the going gets tough. Sometimes that means you’re the one who’s burning the midnight oil to make sure the analyst briefing the next morning will be pitch perfect. If you want to get the most out of your teams, they have to know and see that you’re willing to make sacrifices on their behalf and put in just as much as you’re asking them to.
Leadership, at the end of the day, is about building teams where trust and collaboration flourish. That’s really hard — I’d go so far as to say impossible — if teams don’t feel like their leader will go to the mat for them. Simon Sinek writes about this dynamic eloquently in Leaders Eat Last, which is one of the 3 books that has taught me the most about leadership. I also recently read and loved Patrick Lencioni’s The Motive: Why So Many Leaders Abdicate Their Most Important Responsibilities.
The trick here is knowing when to dive in, make those sacrifices, and show the team that you’re willing to do the hard work alongside them, and when to take your hands off the wheel and trust them to run with it. If you’re constantly getting involved in every situation, you run the risk of creating bottlenecks where everything under the sun requires your stamp of approval. That’s one reason why the next competency is so important…
Leaders tap into the intrinsic motivation of others to drive progress
All of the most innovative thoughts in the world about business strategy pale in comparison with a leader’s ability to tap into others’ intrinsic motivation to drive progress.
Several years back, 3Pillar was struggling to hire new team members quickly enough from our two existing offices in Romania. We’d established solid footholds in Cluj-Napoca and Timisoara. The company had a stellar reputation in both locales thanks to the type of career opportunities we’d become known for and our superstar recruiting teams in both locations.
As good as our reputation was, and as great as our recruiting teams were, that didn’t change the fact that demand for our services was far outpacing supply.
Everyone involved had different ideas about ways to ramp up hiring in Romania. Some advocated for additional recruiters in each location. Throwing more people at the problem couldn’t hurt. Some argued we should ramp up our marketing spend to reach a broader set of candidates. Spending a little money to get our open positions in front of more prospective hires made a lot of sense. Some suggested that we needed to open a third office location in Romania. Tapping into an untouched talent pool seemed like a good idea.
After going back and forth with the team for weeks on what the “right” approach would be, we decided that the most drastic one — opening a third office location in a different city in Romania — was also the best one. In retrospect, it was a decision that worked out incredibly well. Cata Stef, our SVP of International Operations at the time, did an amazing job giving our team a purpose that they could rally behind and a North Star to guide them.
And so it was that, “We’re going to Iasi!” became one of Cata’s favorite phrases for a span of about 2 months in 2017 before that vision became a reality. The team pulled together to stand up a brand new delivery center in Iasi, where they were able to rapidly bring on a number of new team members for roles we’d been struggling to fill in Cluj and Timisoara. The returns on our third location in Romania quickly surpassed our expectations.
The moral of the story? You’re in a leadership position for a reason. There will be times where consensus is not in the cards. In those times especially, it’s up to leadership to point the team in the right direction and give them a North Star they can all drive toward.
Leaders understand that we can accomplish more by working together
Leadership, at the end of the day, is all about molding a group of individuals into a cohesive team. The most impactful teams are driven more by what they can do together than they are by what individual accomplishments or accolades they can rack up along the way.
You should spend at least as much time focused on strengthening your teams as anything else in your day-to-day. Teams don’t magically form bonds over an afternoon on a ropes course or in an escape room (although those kinds of activities never hurt). It takes time working together, and careful consideration from leaders like you on what mountains to climb, for teams to develop chemistry and really hit their stride.
In the example I shared above, I could sense that we needed to find a summit that would require everyone moving in the same direction to effect the kind of change we needed. Putting the onus mainly on HR by hiring more recruiters, or mainly on Marketing by ramping up our ad spend, wasn’t going to be enough to get everyone pulling in the same direction. By choosing to scale a summit that required ideas, buy-in, and execution from HR and Marketing (and a number of other areas), we were able to deliver a true #OneTeam effort with our office in Iasi.
Wrapping It Up
While leading others has its challenges, the rewards are immense and far more than commensurate with the work you put in. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing countless teams flourish and accomplish things that would have been beyond their wildest dreams when their leaders (usually someone other than me) display each of the 3 vital competencies of leadership. If you’re feeling stuck, try making each of them something you come back to over and over.