Are you a good leader? Ask yourself these 3 questions

Everyone’s path to leadership is different.

My leadership journey started in the military. I entered “management” at just 23 years old when I became the officer in charge of the Reactor Controls division on a nuclear submarine near the end of the Cold War.

I had trained for years for it.

I was ready for it.

I loved it.

I had a passion for the military, the Navy, and the mission of the submarine force. I wanted to lead sailors well and I felt a calling to serve.

Not surprisingly, I was surrounded by other leaders who felt the same way I did.

When I entered Corporate America, however, I found people who went into leadership for vastly different reasons. There were some good leaders, but…there were a lot of people who took management roles simply because of the perks.

They became managers to get recognition, more money, a fancy title, a better office, a bigger bonus check, or to further advance their careers.

They wanted the leadership job for personal gain.

And that’s a problem.

It’s one of the reasons why good leaders are hard to find in Corporate America and why employee engagement is so low.

Too many managers are just in it for themselves.

I like this quote from Lisa Haisha, “Great leaders don’t set out to be a leader… they set out to make a difference.”

“Great leaders don't set out to be a leader... they set out to make a difference.” Lisa Haisha Click To Tweet

In Corporate America today, finding leaders like this is rare.

Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking addresses this issue in an article she wrote in 2017 for the NY Times.

She points out what’s wrong with leadership in Corporate America today.

She explains we have “glorified” leadership so much so that people are taking on leadership roles for the wrong reasons. Today, leadership, “attracts those who are motivated by the spotlight rather than by the ideas and people they serve.”

She hits the nail on the head!

There is a shortage of good leaders because many people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons.

There is a shortage of good leaders because many people are choosing to lead for the wrong reasons. Click To Tweet

If you want to be a good leader, ask yourself these 3 questions:

1. Do you have a passion for leadership?

Just like selecting any career, ask yourself if you have the passion to lead. To be a leader means you have the full responsibility of an organization and all the people associated with it. It means you will be accountable for everything that happens on your watch. It is a difficult and sometimes lonely job that demands a 24/7 commitment.

2. Do you care deeply about the idea or organization?

As the leader, all eyes will be on you. Your attitude toward the mission will reverberate throughout the organization. As a conductor, your team will be taking cues from you. If you care deeply about the organization’s mission, they will as well.

3. Do you love people?

Leadership is a people business. Your entire job is to motivate people towards accomplishing a goal. People are messy. They have issues, problems, emotions, relationships, and baggage. But your job is to see past the flaws, love your people, and motivate them to do great things.

News flash! You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people.

You can’t be a great leader if you don’t love people. Click To Tweet

If you choose to lead, do it for the right reasons. And be a great leader.

Honestly, we need better, not more, leaders.

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The Problem with Short-Term Bosses

I was talking with some former colleagues the other day about a manager we all knew who had recently been fired. Her time in the role was short and now it was over. None of us were really surprised. She was brought in from outside the company to stir things up. And she did. Upper management wanted quick results so she focused on short-term fixes. She was a bull in a China shop. She brought in her own people, boosted the financials by deep cost-cutting, fired long-term employees, and instituted a top-down autocratic management style. She was laser-focused on short-term results and refused to listen to the concerns of employees and other managers. Anyone who challenged or questioned her authority was let go.

As you can imagine, the business results improved but morale dropped sharply. The good employees eventually all left the company and most of the institutional knowledge left as well. The only people who remained were those that were loyal to her and those that were quietly waiting for her to leave. Fear and anxiety became the norm. As a result, company performance ultimately fell off and all of the short-term gains she had made vanished. The company began to lose money and market share. Eventually, upper management had no choice but to fire her. The damage was done.

“You can’t build a long term future on short term thinking.” Billy Cox

Time and time again, I see companies bringing in short-term managers to fix long-term systemic problems. Often these companies have fundamental, structural flaws that need to be addressed. They have complex problems that need long-term, systemic thinking. Consider the examples of Radio Shack, Sears, K-Mart, and General Electric. Each of these companies has deep-rooted issues that have taken decades to develop. For years, leaders of these companies have focused on a series of attempts at short-term fixes. In the end, this short-term mindset has done little to address the underlying, long-term problems.

“For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” H. L. Mencken

Consider a similar company, Levi Strauss & Co. The iconic denim brand reached its peak in 1996 with $7.1 billion in sales. After that, sales declined rapidly. Competition from other brands and a lack of creative and new ideas pushed it from the center of American culture. Young customers were fleeing to newer and trendier “designer jeans.” Levi Strauss was going the way of Blockbuster. It was just a matter of time.

In 2011, a 28-year Proctor & Gamble executive named Chip Bergh took over as CEO. He inherited a company steeped in debt, struggling to reinvent itself in the highly competitive U.S. denim market. Instead of a series of short-term actions, however, he developed a long-term plan to put the iconic brand “back in the center of culture.” Instead of cutting costs, he invested in innovation and a new research-and-development center called the Eureka Innovation Lab. He also went back to basics. He focused the company’s efforts on making the best jeans, especially for women. He purposely stopped chasing other clothing categories that were a distraction. He also became less reliant on retail chains like J.C. Penny’s and Macy’s. Instead, he expanded the network of Levi-branded stores.

What’s even more surprising, is that Levi’s board gave him the time to execute his plan. And, it worked. After six years of implementing his turnaround strategy, Bergh finally saw the results. Levi sales grew by 7.7% in 2017 and by 13.9% in 2018. Last week, Bergh announced plans to take Levi’s public after a 34-year absence from the stock market. Bergh now feels that Levi Strauss has the potential to be a $10 billion company. He stated that “Levi’s lost a generation of consumers in the early 2000s, but today our customers are younger than ever—and we’re gaining momentum as we bring them back.” Long-term thinking brought Levi’s from the brink of collapse back into the center of culture.

“Long-term consistency trumps short-term intensity.” Bruce Lee.

Stories like this give me optimism. Senior managers of other struggling companies should be able to see the extraordinary turnaround of Levi Strauss and realize the time and effort that was required to make this happen. This is clear evidence of the power of long-term thinking and the patience required to allow these turnaround plans to come to fruition. Maybe someday we will see an end to short-term managers and the illusion of quick fixes.

Long-term thinking saved your favorite jeans. It can save your organization as well.

As always, reach out to me on Twitter and let me know what you think.

If you are looking for a good book on long-term thinking, you should read Go Long: Why Long-Term Thinking Is Your Best Short-Term Strategy. This book reveals how some of the world’s most prominent business leaders resisted short-term pressures to successfully manage their organizations for the long term, and in turn, aim to create more jobs, more satisfied customers, and more shareholder wealth.