Leadership 101: The First 6 Steps


Step 1. Share your mental model 

Broadcast your expectations and your intentions first before you do anything else. The best way to do that is to “put your brain on paper” starting with your core values. Publish your values, your policies and procedures, your checklists, your training plan and your schedule. This provides guidance to your organization without requiring you to perpetually hover over the operation. Without those things, you’re essentially making it up on the fly--every day is day one—with the members of your team attempting to read your mind to determine what they should be doing. 

Step 2. Always do what you said you were going to do 

Never bluff. Bluffing inherently means that you’re in a place of weakness. When you bluff, you’re betting all of your capital on pulling the wool over everyone’s eyes. The risks aren’t remotely worth the potential gain. Once your people realize that you’re not prepared to follow through on your words, you’ve lost their respect—maybe forever. Whether it’s a threat (“I’m going to ground you for a year if you don’t clean your room”) or a grand plan (“We’re going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade”), your credibility rests on your will and your ability to turn your words into action. 

Step 3. Train your people

You can make the best strategic decisions about the direction of the organization. Nostradamus-like, you see the future so clearly that you’re able to formulate the perfect action plan and then allocate resources to it with not a penny wasted. That’s all well and good, but if the people in your organization don’t possess the skills to execute their individual roles with that same level of efficiency and effectiveness, you’re going to fail. Period. Like Susie Salesperson, you must remember that when you move up from operator to manager or sole proprietor to employer, your job isn’t to be a world-class technician. It’s to be a world-class trainer so that your folks can do the job as well or better than you did it. 

Step 4. Make a decision 

There’s an old fighter pilot saying that goes, “Any plan, violently executed, is better than no plan at all.” What it means is that you don’t have the option not to execute a plan. When the miles are clicking by at the rate of ten per minute, you don’t have the luxury of “paralysis by analysis.” Passively flying along hoping for the best will result in you being shot down by the threat you didn’t even know was there. If you’ve heeded the advice of Step 3, you and your team are trained to handle any eventuality. Trust that training. Pick a plan that fits the scenario and execute it.

Step 5. Listen to your people 

They’re the ones with the most knowledge of how it’s going operationally. While you’re up there in the corner office making big-time decisions about where the organization is headed, they’re out in the field with a front row seat observing how well those decisions are working. Take the time to talk to them regularly. When you do, clear your mind of preconceptions and listen to what they’re saying. Your goal is to understand their viewpoint, not to make your point and “win” the argument. 

 Step 6. Admit when you’re wrong

You’re going to make mistakes as a leader. You’ll occasionally choose the wrong course of action, make a less-than-optimum investment decision, treat an employee unfairly or make one of any number of poor decisions. Nobody’s perfect, and reasonable people don’t expect that others, including their leaders, will achieve perfection. What reasonable people DO expect is that others, especially their leaders, will own up to their mistakes rather than glossing over them or worse, pushing them off to other members of the team. Standing up in front of the crowd and admitting you screwed up won’t cause you to lose their respect (as long as you’re sincere, and you outline a plan for how to better in the future). Trying to save face by deflecting blame on the other hand results in an instant loss of credibility. 

Jeffrey OrrComment