Power and Persuasion

“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon Bonaparte

Throw three darts at the table of contents of any business magazine and chances are very good that you will have barbed an article on leadership. Unfortunately, most of them are based on half-baked notions and even a few potentially false ideas.

When I think about my experience in business – what I actually did that worked – I see that much of it runs contrary to the advice you’re likely to read in the popular business press.

That’s the reason I wrote my new book, Power and Persuasion. My goal was to help people like you become effective leaders by taking advantage of what I have learned – what I personally know to be true … and false.

Let’s start with this: A leader’s primary job is to get people to do what needs to be done. Ideally, you should do this by persuading others to follow you … not by bullying them into submission.

If getting people to do the work is the first job of a leader, creating and promoting a view of what that work will look like once completed is a close second. Successful leaders need not be clever or original, but they must have a good, attractive idea about the future of their business.

Once you have a mental picture of your business goal, you have to be able to project that picture so that everyone on your team – including your employees, colleagues, vendors, and other supporters – can see it. That makes communication, both orally and in writing, the third job of a leader.

Of course, your support team needs to embrace your goal as well as see it. This brings us back to the first job of a leader. If you can develop the skill to convince others that your ideas are worth following, you will have the power to make truly astonishing changes. Great change requires power. And lasting, market- and culture-changing power comes from persuasion.

So if you get nothing else from today’s ETR, know this: If you can learn the art of persuasion and lock on to a compelling vision, you have all you really need to be a great leader. Not a power broker, not a consensus taker, not a team builder, not a micromanager or a hand-holder … but a strong leader who inspires others to follow your vision.

That said, here are some of the “contrarian” ideas about leadership that I deal with in detail in the book – and that you’ll be learning much more about in upcoming issues of ETR:

Effective leaders do NOT “look out for Number One.”

The great leaders I know focus on goals – growing the business, improving the product, pleasing the customer. Effective leaders are outwardly focused, which means they tend to be people-friendly, loyal, and eager to improve things. And they purposefully use their strongest talents.

Effective leaders understand how to follow.

Leadership is like ballroom dancing. You can lead by throwing your weight around and yanking your followers with you. Or you can learn the secrets of leadership and arrive at your destination sooner – with better results and much happier followers – by putting yourself in their shoes to see things from their perspective.

Effective leaders know when NOT to be competitive.

Competition is not nearly as important as cooperation and sharing. I’ve achieved most of my success by forcing myself to ignore my naturally competitive instincts and focus on the business. Co-operating, helping, innovating, and sharing can lead to a long, happy career. Remember, the good things you do in business – the help you give others, the information you share, etc. – will show you to be someone other people want to be around.

Effective leaders are considerate.

The best leaders I know focus on making things better, not on being liked. But they achieve corporate goals by treating everyone around them with kindness and consideration. Arrogance and rudeness, they realize, are counterproductive. If you want to reach all of your business goals in the shortest amount of time, you have to learn to be instinctively considerate.

Effective leaders attach deadlines to their goals.

This is not a “contrarian” idea, but it’s so important that it has to be included in here. Getting to success requires a plan – one that is well-thought-out, written down, and developed into specific objectives. Great leaders set goals and communicate them well. And they know how to delegate objectives to responsible people and attach deadlines to them.

Effective leaders take follow-up to the next level.

Serious follow-up involves much more than sending a series of urgent reminders. It requires setting aside time to ensure the objective is clearly understood, to discuss and review the plan for accomplishing it, and to help brainstorm solutions to any problems.

Effective leaders create a culture of accountability.

If you expect your business to grow, you have to develop a sense of accountability among your staff, so they feel responsible for the success of specific projects and the well-being of the business overall. This requires you to trust people to do what they’re supposed to do.

Effective leaders don’t try to control everything.

If you want to be a strong leader, you must learn to give up control over certain tasks. Delegation is essential to leadership, because it frees up time for the things you should be focusing on – like improving your business.

Effective leaders listen as well as talk.

Effective leaders listen first. After they’re done listening, they listen some more. When they do speak, they measure their words and realize that saying more often means saying less.

Effective leaders understand proper teamwork.

Don’t buy into the notion that teamwork means giving every person, every idea, every suggestion, and every interest equal support. Successful business leaders treat all of their team members with equal respect, but have different expectations for each one. Those expectations are based on individual performance, not idealistic beliefs.

Effective leaders don’t become therapists for their employees.

Don’t spend too much time solving problems and answering employee complaints. Succumbing to this temptation steals valuable time from more profitable endeavors … and reinforces the nonproductive behavior of the employee. While you might listen briefly, make it clear that the solution lies with him, not you.

Effective leaders don’t manipulate better performances out of people.

Rather than resorting to feel-good incentives (awards, T-shirts, retreats, etc.) to manipulate your employees into working harder and smarter, motivate them by spurring their inner desire to do better. Create an inspiring vision, set high standards, give employees power, make them accountable, offer feedback, establish a sense of momentum.

Great leaders inspire great work. They do so by finding and nurturing extraordinary talent, setting substantial goals, making those goals seem exciting, and then focusing the entire team on the necessary tasks required to achieve them.

Great leaders are willing to do hard thinking, make tough decisions, and get the job done. They have the vision, knowledge, skills, and good ideas. But, more importantly, they’ve learned how to get people to embrace those ideas and work to achieve them, even in the face of adversity and criticism.

Inspiring that kind of work isn’t an easy thing to do. It takes a rare combination of openness and resolution, toughness and compassion, cooperation and competition. Challenging, yes. But, like so many other important skills, it can be learned. And it’s my job – both in ETR and in the pages of Power and Persuasion – to help you discover the ideas that renew your own vision and inspire you to become the great leader you want to be.

[Ed. Note.  Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]