I’m in the mood for a metaphor today, so here it is: leadership is like a blanket. You can use it to provide others with warmth, comfort, and support. You can use it as protection against dangers like smoke or fire or flying debris.
Or you can use it to smother the life out of people.
You probably already know the life-smotherers. They bark and rage and refuse to listen and think only of themselves and their own tiny climb to the top; they endear themselves to no one, and they may or may not end up arrested. You probably also know the nurturers. They get to know everyone by name, have a seemingly limitless amount of patience, and are almost overeager to hear everyone’s ideas; they tend to be loved and respected, but they are rarely what you call a visionary. Somehow, being a nice, thoughtful, attentive listener tends to prevent these people from taking their leadership to the next level. It’s depressingly similar to the way that the super-nice guys in high school almost never got a date.
You want to take your career to the top. But how are you supposed to do that? Do you have to choose between endearing mid-level manager or cutthroat executive?
Absolutely not. In fact, there are really only two things you need to do if you want to become the kind of leader they’ll write books about.
Step One: Stay True To Your Vision:
This is where you should compromise the least, if at all. Your vision might change, and you might incorporate others’ ideas into your vision, but it should always be clear to everyone that anything less than the realization of your vision will be seen as a failure. This is where you’ll ask questions your team will often be unexcited to hear: “What do we need to do to penetrate the Latin American market by the end of this year?” “Is what I’m asking for technologically impossible, or do we simply need to invent something new in order to make it happen?” If your vision is firm and relatively inflexible, you’ll be surprised at how creative people can be in finding ways to turn it in to a reality.
Step Two: Be Very Flexible On Execution:
This is where you’ll earn people’s respect and admiration. You’ve annoyed them with your seemingly impossible demands, so now it’s time to give them some ownership over how those demands are met. There will probably be some failures along the way; but if your people start to realize that they are the reason your vision is taking shape, two things will happen. They’ll become even more eager to see it through, and they’ll be grateful that you pushed them to heights they themselves didn’t think they could reach.
And that’s it. The only thing missing is to make sure you have a worthwhile vision in the first place, but that’s something you’ll have to come up with on your own. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find myself a blanket. The guy next to me has been talking about his workout regimen for the entire time that I’ve been writing this, and I simply can’t handle another mention of his VO2 max.