In his record-shattering best-seller, Good to Great, Jim Collins and his team set out to determine what separates companies that stand the test of time from those relegated to obscurity.
When his team began their quest, Jim gave them a simple rule:
“The answer cannot be leadership.”
Jim believed, as many do, that leadership is but one factor in the equation of success….but it can’t be the factor.
He was looking for something else. Something less obvious. And frankly, something more interesting.
However, as the months wore on, anarchy ensued and, much to Jim’s chagrin, his team arrived at a conclusion he previously thought impossible.
After reviewing (quite literally) thousands upon thousands of public records, speeches, internal correspondence, and financial statements, his team realized that the quality of an organization’s leadership was the only factor that determined the success of that organization.
It wasn’t the quality of their product, the efficacy of their marketing, or even the credentials and experience of their team.
The only thing that separated the good from the great was the strategic leadership philosophy by which a company’s “top dog” operated.
And in today’s essay, I’m going to share five authentic leadership principles that will help you grow your company, create personal freedom, and change the lives of every person on your team.
1. Authentic Leaders Create a Shared Vision that Inspires and Unites Your Followers Under a Common Cause
The first, and possibly most important law of authentic and effective leadership is to unite your followers under a shared vision.
Every leader, regardless of their position or reputation has a vision. You have goals you want to achieve. Dreams you want to realize. Ambitions you want to fulfill.
And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But truly effective leaders create a vision that can be shared by their followers.
From Gandhi to Martin Luther King to George Washington to Winston Churchill. These men achieved immortality because they created a vision that inspired and united hundreds of thousands of people under a common cause.
So ask yourself…
“What is the ultimate vision for this company that supersedes my own ambitions and desires?”
What change are you attempting to create in the world? What problem are you trying to solve? What good are you trying to do?
Until you answer this question, you will be operating under a broken leadership philosophy because, in the end, it’s all about you.
It doesn’t matter how likable, funny, or charismatic you are. Without a shared vision under which your team can unite, you will never achieve truly effective leadership.
Your team wants a mission, a purpose, something to stand for that goes beyond making you more money or increasing your reputation.
So give it to them.
Create a vision for your company and everyone inside of it that gets your team excited to wake up on a Monday and drive to work. Give them something to strive for, something that matters, something that they can look back on one day and say with a smile, “I was a part of that.”
2. Lead from the Front and Expect More From Yourself than You Do From Your Team
Alexander the Great, arguably the greatest leader in all of history (the man pretty much conquered the entire world by the time he was 30) was traveling with his army through the Bactrian desert.
It was a suicide mission.
The blistering heat and unforgiving terrain resulted in countless casualties.
At one point during the journey, two men came back into camp after stumbling upon a tiny reservoir that contained only enough water to fill two small skins.
The water was intended for their sons–both of whom were dying from thirst and heat exhaustion–however, when they saw their king, they walked over and offered it to him.
Alexander took the cup. But before taking his first sip, he turned to the men and asked them for whom the water had been intended. He learned that it was for their sons and, in one of the most famous acts of authentic leadership, immediately returned it and stated:
“I cannot bear to drink alone and it is not possible for me to share so little with everybody. Go quickly and give your sons what you have brought on their account.”
As simple as this decision was, this act magnified Alexander’s reputation and inspired his army to rally together until their mission was complete.
As a leader, it’s easy to set lofty expectations for your team. It’s easy to push them beyond their limits and demand more of them than they demand of themselves.
In and of itself, this is not a bad thing.
Truly effective leadership requires that you demand more of your followers than they do themselves. It requires you to speak to their potential.
But this principle only holds true when you extend those same expectations and demands to yourself.
Authentic leaders lead from the front. They do not ask more of their team than they demand of themselves and they lead by example, not force.
As you consider your own leadership principles, ask yourself, “Am I leading by example and setting the standard myself? Or am I expecting things of others that I would never do?”
The greatest leaders are those who inspire others by virtue of their own actions.
Men and women who stand up and set unreasonable expectations for themselves, and then encourage their team to follow suit.
Never forget that the standards to which you hold yourself are the only standards that you can set for your team.
3. Take Extreme Ownership in All Situations
Jocko Willink, referred to by Tim Ferriss as “The scariest Navy SEAL imaginable” was leading a platoon in Iraq when the unthinkable happened.
Known as a “blue on blue”, Jocko’s team experienced a lapse in communication that directly resulted in the death of a friendly Iraqi soldier and a nearly fatal injury to one of the SEALs.
During their debrief, Jocko stood in front of his men and asked a simple question. “Whose fault is it?”
One by one, his men stood up, detailing their mistakes and taking ownership for the tragic loss that had occurred. Jocko then looked at his men and told them:
“There was only one person at fault for what has happened, only one person to blame…and that person is me. I am the commander, I am the Senior Officer on the battlefield, and I am responsible for everything that happens.”
When he said this, Jocko thought he was signing a death warrant for his career. Someone had to pay for what had happened. Someone had to get fired.
But he didn’t.
In his own words, “When I took ownership, my CO (commanding officer) trusted me even more.”
And this experience directly illustrates one of the most powerful leadership principles in existence.
As the leader, everything is your fault.
It doesn’t matter if an employee screws up with your biggest client or if a server crashes on the day of your biggest launch or if an internal scandal turns into a PR nightmare.
It’s your fault.
Even if someone else made the bad decision that resulted in a failure, it was your decision to put that person in place.
To be admired and respected as a leader, you must take extreme ownership for everything. You are responsible for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
This doesn’t mean that your team will never be at fault. They will. But their faults are your failures as a leader.
You are responsible for the decisions that lead to failure or success and you and you alone must take extreme ownership for those decisions.
And when you do, you will create an unbreakable trust between yourself and your team.
4. Communicate Directly and Demand That Your Followers Do The Same
During the late ‘80s, Ray Dalio, one of the “richest people you’ve never heard of”, warned investors of the impending collapse of the stock market.
Although he was right about the crash, he overestimated its timeline and lost millions of dollars prematurely betting against the market.
After learning from his mistake, he realized that the reason for his failure was his ego and unwillingness to accept constructive criticism.
Friends and colleagues had told him he’d miscalculated. But he refused to listen.
And he paid the price for his obstinance.
To prevent a similar mistake from happening again, he developed a rather unconventional leadership philosophy.
Radical, unfiltered, and unrestricted communication from everyone.
Today, Ray encourages everyone on his team, including unpaid college interns, to challenge his ideas and express their criticisms with ruthless honesty.
Regardless of the project or his personal attachment to it, Ray realized that the only way to avoid failures like the one he experienced during the ‘80s and early ‘90s is to foster a culture of radically honest communication.
He doesn’t always like what his team has to say. But he never punishes them for saying it.
To unlock the power of authentic leadership in your own business, you must do the same thing.
Encourage your team members to challenge you, to call you out on your bs, to stand up to you whenever they find holes in your logic or faults in your plans.
To do this, you must suspend your ego and be willing to face criticism
even especially when you don’t want to.
Effective leadership mandates effective communication.
5. Treat Your Team Like Family and Empower them to Achieve Their Vision
Every Monday at 2 pm, Craig and I sit down for a weekly meeting where we review our strategy for total world domination…er “business growth”.
We talk about what’s working, what isn’t, and how I can improve my performance to better serve the vision of Early to Rise.
And during every single one of these meetings, Craig asks me the same question…
“Is there any way that I can help you achieve your goals faster or make your life easier?”
It doesn’t matter whether I had a week of unprecedented productivity that generated an extra $25,000 for the company…
Or whether I screwed the pooch on an important project and added an extra three weeks to its timeline.
He is always looking for ways to help me–and the rest of our team–grow, improve, and achieve our respective visions.
And, as simple as this question is, it inspires me to give more each and every week.
I want to drive projects forward and make big moves for the company. I want to work extra hours to get things done. I want to be, do, and create more for Craig and the company because he has created a culture where his success is my success.
Craig leads from the front and treats his team like family.
From investing large sums of money into our education and growth to taking on extra work so that we can enjoy our vacations, he does everything he can to empower the team at Early to Rise to achieve our vision…
…Because he knows that doing so will help him achieve his vision.
As a leader, you must always remember that authentic leadership is, first and foremost, about community.
It’s about the people you are leading. It’s about empowering them to achieve their goals and fulfill their vision.
And when you are a truly strategic leader, you will find ways to help people fulfill their vision as a part of your vision.
Whether you offer generous compensation and commission packages, ample vacation time, or the opportunity to learn, grow, and develop their skills, find unique ways to help your team meet their needs.
Because when their needs are met…
When they are operating at full capacity and showing up to work fully charged and on fire, the success of your company becomes inevitable.
If you haven’t done so recently, carve out some time this week to sit down with your team and assess their needs.
What challenges do they have that you can help with? What needs do they have that you can meet?
By answering (and acting) on these questions, you will earn their loyalty and inspire unprecedented levels of performance.
“Leadership is the problem, leadership is the solution” ~Bedros Keuilian
If you aren’t where you want to be in your life and business, the answer is leadership.
When you look at the greatest businesses, nations, and missions throughout history, their success was always determined by the quality of their leader.
And until you commit to these effective leadership principles, you and your business will always struggle.
However, by adopting these principles…
By learning from the world’s most effective leaders and committing to a radically different leadership philosophy than most CEO’s follow, you can transform your organization faster than you ever believed possible.
What do you think about these five laws for effective leadership? Is there anything you would add to the list? Any stories of effective (or ineffective) leadership that you want to share?
Let me know in the comments below.
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