as a leader in your own image. Great leaders aren't alike. They come
in flavors. The naturally great speakers spend more time speaking. The
brilliant strategists stay in their office strategizing. The masters of
efficiency focus on making every aspect of the business hum. Before you get
your first leadership position, assess yourself: What are you best and worst
at? Mold your leadership style to emphasize your strengths, and plan to
delegate or outsource the rest.
No matter what flavor, leaders must hire wisely. Nothing is more important.
Don't waste time placing ads–there's too much dishonesty in résumés and
cover letters. Better to ask everyone you respect for solid candidates. In
job interviews, don't bother asking obvious questions such as "What is
your greatest strength and weakness?" It's easy to prepare smart
answers to those. Instead, simulate tasks the candidate will do on the job,
then grade his or her performance. When you're down to a few finalists, ask
each for 10 references. Call them at night, when you know they won't be in
the office. Leave a voice mail saying, "I'm considering Joe Amazing for
a very important position. If you think he's truly excellent, call me back.
If not, don't call." If you get seven or more calls, you have the right
I'll be honest with you–if you're a dullard, you could learn all the
speaking techniques in the world and still be a terrible speaker. But
assuming you're bright, here are a few keys to effective speaking: Keep it
simple. Use anecdotes and metaphors where appropriate. Speak at a moderate
pace and in your most pleasing tone of voice. (Try different parts of your
vocal range in a tape recorder. Learn to use your favorite.) Do the same in
everyday communication, but remember that the key to effective conversation
is listening to what is said and what is not said. Also, watch for changes
in body language. Listening well is much more difficult than people think.
And it's crucial.
inspiring vision. You can develop an exciting vision for your
employees, no matter how mundane the organization. Let's say you're heading
the long-term-care division of an insurance brokerage. All but the most
jaded employee would be inspired by your announcing: "We are going to
ensure that all of our customers get the very best insurance at the very
best price, which will give them the peace of mind and security they
deserve, without breaking their budget. We're going to trumpet our
excellence so we get more customers. And with all the money we're going to
make, I'm going to ensure that you are all well paid. We'll even adopt a
local school, and I'll give it 5 percent of my own salary. We are going to
make a difference in our community." Throughout every moment of every
day, live the realization of that vision. Work hard to follow through on
implementing that vision, and celebrate little accomplishments along the
way. Be generous with praise, cautious with criticism.
If quick efforts to remediate a bad employee don't work, fire the person
quickly. A bad employee can infect the rest. To avoid lawsuits, try to
counsel the person to leave voluntarily, offering to help the person find a
position at which he or she might be more successful.
decisiveness over inclusivity. The best managers know when to
encourage team involvement in decision making and when to act unilaterally.
Today's corporate-think too often emphasizes decision making by consensus.
Usually, the result is a tepid idea that took a long time to generate. It's
hard to get a bold idea that an entire group will agree on. Great leaders
generally get a modest amount of input and then make bold decisions on their
Know just enough
tech. You don't need to be an expert at information technology,
accounting, or the science behind your product. In fact, acquiring
high-level tech expertise is usually not a good use of a leader's time. You
must simply know enough about these fields to be able to understand, ask
questions, and then provide direction to those technical experts. Often, the
best way to do that is what I call the "Hey, Joe" school. You
simply call an internal or outside expert in those fields and say,
"Hey, Joe, would you meet with me a couple of times to give me an
overview of what I need to know about computer servers [or whatever]?"
Manage time. Constantly have a little voice asking, "Is this a wise use of my
time?" Nothing is more important than making the most of your time: not
a PDA, not a Day-Timer, not a filing system, not anything. Effective leaders
don't rush, but they recognize that time is their most valuable commodity.
And they're miserly with it. That means saying no or delegating a task when
you could better use your time elsewhere. It also means that everything
doesn't need to be done perfectly. Sometimes, good enough is good enough.
(But you have to know when!)
Look good. Alas, we live in a shallow, beauty-obsessed society. So, if you don't look
good, you start out with a strike or two against you. Fortunately, leaders
are not expected to have Hollywood looks. But it's worth a bit of primping
to persuade all those shallow folks to think of you as leaderly. Wear
attractive suits in timeless designs. Choose moderate hairstyles and makeup.
Tip: If you're on a budget, rather than buy cheap new clothes, shop at
high-end thrift shops. That $500 suit can often be bought for 75 bucks.
Work long hours.
I'd rather disappoint you with the truth than anesthetize you with lies. No
matter what you may have heard from Oprah, success at the top generally
requires you to work long and work smart. In addition to accomplishing more,
working long hours provides a role model for your workers. If you want to
work just 40 hours, fine, but don't expect to be a great leader. I know
dozens, and their average workweek is 60-plus hours. But there's a big
payoff: Being an effective, beloved leader of an important enterprise is one
of the best ways to feel that you live a meaningful life.
21 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader:
Becoming the Person Others Will Want to Follow