What I’m Reading Now: Leadership Skills At Every Level

The fundamental techniques that drive your success never change. Think about how many free throws Michael Jordan must have practiced, or how many jabs Mike Tyson threw. Top athletes like them never stop practicing their basic building blocks even after rising to the top of the professional ranks. So why do people believe leaders at different levels need to focus and develop different core skills?


What I’m Watching Now: Why Leaders Eat Last

The cost of leadership is self interest. If you’re not willing to give up your perks when it matters, then you probably shouldn’t get promoted. You might be an authority, but you will not be a leader.

How to Not Be a Micromanager

When I was younger, I had a manager, who in the five minutes before a project was due, would stand over my shoulder and comment on my work. It was the worst kind of micromanagement. It was impossible to do my best work with someone quite literally breathing down my neck. But micromanagement isn’t always as insidious. At its core, it is simply the inability to let go of control. Whether that means not delegating work, checking in far too frequently, over-emphasis on the minutia, or being the sole decision maker, micromanaging is not only demoralizing, but unproductive. No matter how well meaning you are, you’ve got to let go. Here are a few tips:

Step 1: Assess yourself – Do you have trouble delegating work even when you should? Do you feel the need to be involved with each step of execution? Do you ask your employees to check with you before making decisions? Do you feel like you only trust the quality of work you do yourself? Do you find yourself making changes constantly, never satisfied with the finished product? If yes, it’s time for step two.

Step 2: Understand yourself – We all have some trouble loosening the reins, but micromanagers struggle to do so more than others. Often micromanaging is the result of insecurity, perfectionism, and pressure. “They are worried that they will be criticized if they’re not doing it perfectly. And anybody that reports to them is an extension of themselves,” said social worker Carvel Taylor of micromanagers.

Step 3: Understand the impact – It’s true, giving up your work may mean that it doesn’t meet your normal standards, but by not delegating, you are holding your employees back. You are preventing them from learning and yes, making mistakes, but ultimately growing and becoming better employees. You are hindering their ability to be creative and demonstrate their unique capabilities. You aren’t helping yourself by doing everything, and you certainly aren’t helping your employees.

Step 4: Refocus your energy and efforts – Instead of focusing on controlling, focus on enabling. A manager’s role is to equip their employees to succeed, or as Lao Tzu put it, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when the work is done, they will say: we did it ourselves.” If your employees aren’t ready to take on the work, you haven’t yet done your job as a manager. Take the time and energy that you would have spent micromanaging and doing it all yourself, and put it into teaching them how. Help them to improve and understand the expectations. Encourage them to ask questions and check in instead of you always doing so. Give them meaningful, not daily feedback. When you feel like you can take a day off and everything will continue just as well without you, then you know you’ve done your job.

Step 5: Repeat step 1 through 4 – Going from micromanagement to a more hands off approach isn’t easy. Don’t give up if you feel like you are reverting to your old ways. In the same thread, don’t think one week of change is enough. Constantly reassess yourself and your employees to determine where you are in comparison to where you should be.

Micromanagement can be debilitating for employees who will feel stifled under suffocating leadership, but it can also be debilitating to the manager to constantly carry the burden of responsibility. So let go a bit and share the responsibility, share leadership, and then share the success.

The Truth About Leadership

There is an old military saying, “No guts, no glory,” which rightfully implies that without taking some risks, putting yourself out there, and working hard, you can’t achieve success. But when it comes to leadership, I offer you a different take on that quote. Instead, I’d argue that good leadership is “all guts, no glory.”

All Guts

Good leaders have to make the tough decisions. The top of the heap is also the end of the line, and often making those decisions, whether they are risky or unpopular, comes down to the leader. Leaders have to make the decisions that are right for their organization, even if they are hard. Often they take criticism for these decisions from those who don’t recognize the broader strategy or who can’t yet see the long-term benefits. It is not a role for the thinned skin, as often when times are challenging or when change is required, the leader is the first to take the brunt. When then CEO, Lou Gerstner, reinvented IBM in the 90s, he was often told by colleagues that his plans would never work. Yet, ten years later when he retired, IBM was back to its position of industry leadership. But that’s what good leaders do. They stand up for what’s right, not easy. They take responsibility for their decisions, and they guide their organizations toward the future. Leadership is about guts.

No Glory

As legendary University of Alabama football coach, Paul Bear Bryant, once said, “If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That’s all it takes to get people to win football games for you.” Good leaders aren’t in it for the glory; they are in it for the win. Good leaders know that leadership is about empowering those around you; it’s about getting your employees to be their best and to achieve great things. It’s not about credit. If a leader has done her job, she should be able to walk away and have everything run just as smoothly as when she was there.  Good leaders recognize their employees’ work, because they understand that those results are a reflection of themselves. Leadership is not about glory.

So while we may often portray positions of leadership as merely positions of status, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the status. Good leaders must be tough enough to make hard decisions, to own those decisions, and to stand by them even in the face of criticism, because good leaders do what is necessary, not what is popular. And while we may think leadership is about getting praise and admiration, the truth about leadership is that good leaders aren’t in it for the credit. Instead, good leaders focus on the success of those around them. They recognize the hard work of their employees and praise them for their achievements. So if you want to become a leader someday, don’t do it for the glory, do it because you have the guts.

Join me tomorrow for a tweetchat on shared leadership

Tomorrow I will be hosting a tweetchat on the topic of shared leadership. To participate, you will need a Twitter account. Use the hashtag #sharedleadchat or go to this site to add your thoughts and questions:  ow.ly/wvER3


  • Date: Thursday, May 8th
  • Time:12:00 – 1:00 PM ET
  • Where: ow.ly/wvER3

Not familiar with tweetchats? Here’s a helpful article on how to participate.


Follow up on Eight Lessons from Leaders Part 1

A while back Michael Keegan wrote a post on Leading Across Boundaries, which included eight lessons from leaders that were profiled in the report, Six Trends Driving Change in Government. As a follow up to that post I’d like to look deeper at each of those lessons and how we assess ourselves as leaders against them. Today, we’ll look at the first four:

  1. Leaders need to act quickly with strategic intent – The world is changing quickly and organizations need to keep up. We can’t dwell on decisions and hope to be moved along with the tide. At the same time, making rash, reactive decisions won’t help your organization either. Leaders need to be able to strike a balance between time and strategy. We can use the massive amounts of data available to us and analytics to help make better decisions, faster. We need to look toward the future, think about where our market and customers are headed, create a roadmap that aligns to that, and move forward with execution without hesitation.

Assess yourself: If you spend more time reacting to short term goals, more time talking than doing, and have data but no idea what to do with it, you’re not yet there.

Personal Assessment: Objectively, and anyone in my organization would affirm it, I’m stuck in the mode of short term goals.  It is not by any lack of understanding the data nor the understanding of the long term strategic intent; it is a product of practicality.  So even though I blog about the importance of Leaders to act quickly with strategic intent, it is not achievable or practical to think, as a leader, you will always be successful in executing in that manner. I think that is okay as long as you recognize it, have a plan to keep your eyes on the future while working on the present and still hold a vision that you communicate to your organization.

  1. Attention from the top is paramount – Leaders at the top level need to be deeply engaged in the details of their organizations. You don’t want the first time you learn about something to be when it’s become a publicity nightmare. Instead, be an active participant in the ongoings of your organization and give guidance to those supporting you.

Assess yourself: Are you up to date on the latest changes to your organization? Do you understand the work your people do and why they do it? Do you feel comfortable talking about your key solutions and capabilities? If yes, keep up the involvement!

Personal Assessment: Leading an organization of 5,000 people, sometimes this is daunting.  As I reflect on how I spend my time, the engagement I have with our consultants and our clients, I feel that at present, this is working well.

  1. Collaboration maximizes speed of execution – Social media, mobile, and cloud have become the standard of operations. These tools allow us to collaborate within and beyond our organizations. No longer do you have to wait to find an expert or book a meeting room. Key stakeholders can be easily and quickly brought together via technology to help create solutions. Not to mention, the breadth of knowledge expands to not only employees or partners, but to customers, to communities, and beyond – You’ll find that the boundaries of the past are quickly becoming blurred.

Assess yourself: Does your organization leverage collaborative technology to connect employees? Has your dependency on physical space decreased? Have you engaged your customers to help create better solutions? If not, you still have work to do.

Personal Assessment:  I can say I have done all the above, but there is always room for improvement and it is a personal objective for me to increase collaboration at all levels with multiple channels.

  1. Use different leadership styles when necessary – One size does not fit all. Everyone is different, every situation is different, and leaders who can be agile in their delivery will be most successful. We as leaders must be contextually intelligent. “Contextual intelligence is the ability to understand the macro-level factors that are at play during a given period of time,” said Harvard Business School’s Tony Mayo. He continued that a “leader’s ability to make sense of his or her contextual framework and harness its power often made the difference between success and failure.”

Assess yourself: Has your leadership style changed as the world around you has changed? Have you tried applying new methods and new thinking to new challenges? If yes, you’re on the right track.

Personal Assessment:  For better or for worse, my leadership style has changed with my positions and with the situations at hand. I would like to believe, and do, that there are few core principles that drive my leadership style, the dominate characteristic changing based upon the situation.