I saw a great example of leadership in action while waiting for a friend to join me for lunch at the Clarendon La Pain Quotidian. The place was packed on Sunday morning and from my seat at the back of the room, the perfect place to observe the scene, it didn’t take but a minute before the general manager of the restaurant jumped right in to help her staff with delivering food to tables, clearing away dishes and greeting guests. Sunday brunch with a side of inspiration. Great teamwork in action.
Three Things I Wish I’d Learned Earlier
At the end of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willie Wonka kneels down to talk to Charlie. He tells Charlie that he’s the one child, out of all the children in the world, with the skills needed to run the most iconic chocolate factory in the world.
What isn’t shared in the story is what happened to Charlie when he showed up for work. The Oompa-Loompas, having worked overtime the day before with lots of kids visiting the factory courtesy of their golden tickets, were off to a very slow start. The cocoa bean supplier, whose daughter didn’t receive a golden ticket, was nowhere to be found. And Willie Wonka, in much need of a rest, had flown off to a place with ‘spotty cell phone service.’ At Thrive, I often work with leaders like Charlie: those who have achieved great success, but now find themselves either stymied by their leadership challenges or feeling less than confident to perform. This leads to frustration, blocking the creativity and action required to fulfill their responsibilities. Here are three lessons I’ve learned on my leadership path that I wish I had learned earlier. Keeping these three keys to success in mind as you dive into your new challenges can lead you to a new level of achievement:
#3: Leaders are still doers
As I was moving up the corporate ladder I had this idea that the top represented some refined level where my day consisted of reading the Wall Street Journal and making deals on the phone. Surrounded by staff who did their jobs efficiently and my every directive fell into place with little effort, I was leading.
What a myth that turned out to be. The reality then and even more so today is that leaders are busier than ever. Leaders are getting to work early, creating strategy, developing new products, dealing with competitive pressures, touching base with disparate teams, and trying to get home in time for soccer and gymnastics, yoga and feeding the dog. While the specific demands may vary, the cacophonies of competing demands surround today’s leaders.
So how do successful leaders navigate the continuous and multiple demands for their time? How do they prioritize their work to have the most impact? How do they ensure their actions align with the organizations goals, or their own vision, mission and values as entrepreneurs and owners?
Today’s successful leaders focus their time and energy doing what it takes to ensure their team can do what they need to do to be effective and efficient; to meet and exceed their goals, thereby ensuring their own goals are met.
The key to Lesson #3: Successful, effective leaders do not do the work other people should be doing. They do by leading the way so that their teams can do.
#2: Leaders see accountability as a personal responsibility
Let’s face it. Accountability is tough. If there’s one thing that we avoid more than another, it’s confronting situations in which we feel let down. We are so hard-wired to avoid potential conflict that we often engage in self-defeating, assumptive behavior. How many times have you just decided to ‘do it myself’ because it’s ‘more trouble than it’s worth’ to take the time to find the root cause of an issue?
If we want to lead, and inspire others to follow, we have to change our perspective on accountability. Accountability starts within each of us. We have to learn that our responsibility to the team is to be accountable in all things. Leaders who embrace this idea earn the trust of their teams and thereby the permission to hold others accountable. Getting this concept right is the key to a healthy, vibrant and high-performing team.
The key to Lesson #2: Successful, effective leaders demonstrate accountability with their actions and their words.
Accountability defines where the rubber meets the road.
#1: Becoming a leader is just the beginning
We spend years in the trenches of work with one goal in mind…climb the ladder, get the promotions, and one day, be in charge. Little do we realize that all of our efforts and growth are just prerequisites for some of the greatest chapters of our lives.
This may be one of the hardest truths to embrace: to be a successful leader, we need to let go of our preconceived ideas of leadership… release our tight grip, our closed mindsets of what we think a leader should be. With today’s workplace full of stress, challenge, and competition, we often revert to our default leadership habits, those things we swore we would never do once we were in charge. It’s easy to forget to implement what we learn from those TED Talks we watch, from the mandatory training courses, our mentoring and coaching sessions, from the feedback we have given and have received, and from our own observations of workplace life.
There is a selflessness to leadership that can become the cornerstone of your next level of impact. Transforming our desire for advancement into a commitment to the success of others unlocks a greater potential for teams and for us. As we move from a period of personal acclaim and open ourselves to the achievement of a vision for the entire team, we become an activator for organizational success.
The key to Lesson #1: The corner office or open workspace, wherever the “top” is for you, is just the beginning of your path to true leadership. Willie Wonka understood that Charlie, with his help, would go out and conquer his own leadership challenges. You too, can find the support you need and find your own beginning.
I invite you to celebrate the successes that have led you to today and embrace the humility of learning a whole new way to thrive.