On Leadership

Wow, been a while since I've had something I really wanted to write about, but recently a topic has come up repeatedly that I think deserves a conversation. That topic is one of leadership. As the leaders in our stores we can make and break culture, and that culture can make or break our ability to turn a profit, pay our bills, and live a nice, comfortable, middle-class, lifestyle. I was taught early on that there are two types of leaders in the world, and it's possible we've discussed a short form of this topic here in the past. The first type of leader is the commissioned officer of the Ancien Régime. He purchased his commission, rarely had the respect of his soldiers, and led from the rear of most conflicts. From the safety of a high away hill he would ask the horns to sound a charge, and the beating of the drums would sound the retreat. He led, in many cases, through the fear of force, and it wasn't uncommon to whip a soldier who failed to follow an order. The second type of leader I've spent a great deal of studying is the modern day Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps. While the officers of Ancien hid safely from conflict, the modern day Marine Corps Sergeant climbs from his foxhole, looks at the twelve Marines who make up his squad, and says "We're going there, follow me." Together, they take a hill.

This theory though, is about the two places to lead FROM, the front and back. While leading from the front is far more effective than leading from the back, there are other things that play a role in how effective you are as a leader. I think it's worth investigating, in very simple terms, some things that effective leaders do, and what some ineffective leaders do that could be sabotaging their organizations. Ineffective Leaders Keep Secrets It's far too easy to say "stay in your own lane," rather than sharing the facts. It's far too easy to believe that by keeping secrets you maintain power. It's also a simple reality that by doing so you engender anger and distrust in your organization. It's hard to maintain the backing of your employees and colleagues when you engender such mistrust. Effective Leaders Communicate An effective leader understands that hiding things from their subordinates undermines the ability of those subordinates to trust them. I will never use the words "that's confidential" with my staff, because they are my trusted employees. I hired them for a reason, and sharing information with them is an important part of two things; it shows that I trust them, and it helps them feel a sense of ownership over what they're doing. Ineffective Leaders Take Credit The moment I see "look what I did," or "look at this thing I accomplished," from a person who purports to be a leader, I have lost respect for them. Leaders don't see any need to trump-et (see what I did there) their supposed accomplishments because everyone can look upon whatever organization they run and see them. Effective Leaders Give Credit We succeed as a team. When things go right an effective leader looks at the people who help him reach his goals and says something like "I absolutely couldn't do any of the things I do if my staff didn't do such a great job of accomplishing their tasks. If your staff sucks, you suck." Ineffective Leaders Give Blame When a purported leader responds to failure with "I delegated that to so and so," that is the end of respect. If you delegated a task, and it failed to be completed, you failed. You failed to prepare that employee. You failed to give them the tools to succeed. Failure emanates from the top. Success emanates from the bottom. Effective Leaders Take Blame We succeed as a staff. Nothing happens that is great at my store without my staff members playing a role in that success. I fail as an individual. It doesn't matter what the failure is, because ultimately the buck stops with whoever leads any organization. When my staff fails, it is because I failed them. I may privately pull them aside, and discuss the failure, but publicly I point fingers at myself, because in some way I failed them, and that is the only failure point that matters. Ineffective Leaders Micromanage When your staff must come to you for permission to use the restroom, you are failing as a leader. When your staff comes to you with the same questions over and over because they feel an inconsistency in how certain situations are resolved, you are failing as a leader. Effective Leaders Train and Empower The single best thing you can do to succeed as a leader is to give your employees the tools to succeed without you. Empowering employees to make decisions because you trust they will make the best decision for the organization is the first step to giving yourself the time to be a visionary. Ineffective Leaders Inspire Fear Leadership requires a steady hand, the ability to handle the good and the bad with diplomacy and aplomb. Ineffective leaders lack this, and instead respond to adverse conditions with fear and indecision, and then propogate those feelings in the people around them. Effective Leaders Inspire The ability to inspire the people around you can take many different forms. We share praise so that our employees and colleagues feel appreciated, and strive to experience that feeling again. We share credit so that our employees and colleagues can enjoy the respect of their peers. We share ideas, and welcome feedback of those ideas, so that our employees and colleagues can feel our respect for them. Those are simple parts of inspiring the people around us to achieve greater things. Ineffective Leaders Avoid "That's been on my list for a while now," is the favored response of the ineffective leader who is confronted with their shortcomings. Never will they broach why something hasn't been done, they'll just tell you they're already working on it. Ineffective leaders create excuses for their shortcomings, frequently falling back on the previously mentioned tactic of blaming other people. Ineffective leaders take for granted opportunities to improve, or a need for coaching, because they are wrapped in their infallibility. Effective Leaders Aspire Effective leaders aspire to greatness, for the organizations and people they lead. They recognize that greatness is a team game, and never pass on an opportunity to improve themselves, for they recognize that as the leader of the organization their improvement leads to the improvement of the people around them. So there you have it, some of my thoughts on effective versus ineffective leadership. Chances are good if you're reading this blog you're tasked with leading people in an organization, be it retail, publishing, or something else. What kind of leader are you being? Are you doing the best you can for your organization?

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