“A leader is a dealer in hope.” – Napoleon (Maxims, 1804-15)
Successful leaders want to achieve their goals, and they want to do so quickly. They see a goal as something good for everyone, but they understand that not everyone will immediately recognize its value. They also know they have a talent that most of their fellow workers lack: the gumption to take the lead. Rather than relying primarily on consensus building, therefore, they win over a few key people and then let the authority of their position do its share of the work in getting the job done.
As I’m writing this, I’m trying to understand why I do this. Why am I willing to throw my weight behind a project rather than get everyone to agree with me first? If my idea is truly a good one, why wouldn’t I be willing to trust in a more democratic approach?
The answer has three parts.
First, I’m very excited about a project when I embrace it. I visualize it in its completed state and imagine all the benefits it will bring. This gives me a sense of enthusiasm that’s not unlike the craze a child feels when he’s fixed his heart on some new toy or movie.
Second, although I believe in my project, I am never 100% sure it will work. I’ve made mistakes in goal-setting before, and I’m afraid it could happen again. But rather than put off the achievement and never know, I’d rather push forward as fast as possible and find out.
Third, I don’t believe in the value of a common judgment. I believe the validity of any goal or objective can’t be determined by debate; it can only be found out by putting the idea to the test — by doing it.
Since I’m so eager to see the goal realized and find out if my idea will work (and if it doesn’t, get on with the next thing), and since I don’t believe I’ll know if it will work until I put it to the test, the only path that makes sense to me is to do everything I can to execute it as soon as possible.
Here’s the process I recommend:
1. You get the idea. You sleep on it.
2. You relate it to someone whose opinion you trust. You go back and forth with him on it till the idea has been whipped into shape.
3. You try out the idea on one or several more people, preferably influential people who will participate in its execution. Again, you make whatever improvements make sense.
4. Backed by a strengthened, streamlined idea and the support of several key people, you use every trick in your bag and all the muscle you can muster to get the project done as soon as it can be done properly.
People decide to follow your leadership for two primary reasons: They trust your character, and they believe you have the ability to take them further. If you have trouble rallying the troops, ask yourself these critical questions:
1. “Is this idea one that will make things better for others (customers, constituents, clients, etc.), or am I pursuing it for some personal/selfish reason?”
2. “Have I given this idea a reasonable level of scrutiny? Have I subjected it to a critique by at least one person whose judgment I trust?”
If you want to be a great leader, the most important thing you can do is spend most of your time thinking about how you can make things better. Once you have an idea that you feel good about, enlist the support of several important and/or influential people and then drive, drive, drive it through.