Leadership: you must set the example

Leadership: you must set the example

Without question, there are lots of ways to be a leader. You need to look only as far as the freewheeling, straight-talking Herb Kelleher, who ran Southwest Airlines for 30 years, and Microsoft’s quiet innovator, Bill Gates, to know that leaders come in all varieties. Each one would give you a different list of leadership “rules".

Rule 1: Leaders relentlessly upgrade their team, using every encounter as an opportunity to:

Evaluate. Make sure the right people are in the right jobs. Support and advance those who are and move out those who are not.

Coach. Guide, critique and help people to improve their performance in every way.

Build self-confidence. Provide your people with encouragement, caring and recognition. Self-confidence energizes, and it will give them the courage to stretch, take risks and achieve beyond their dreams.

Also See Jack and Suzy Welch videos

Rule 2: Leaders make sure people not only see the vision, but live and breathe it.

Your vision has to be so vivid for your team or company that if you woke one of your employees in the middle of the night and asked him, “Where are we going?" he’d answer in a half-asleep stupor, “We’re going to keep improving our service to individual contractors and expand our market by aggressively reaching out to small wholesalers." You have to talk about your vision constantly, to absolutely everyone, to ensure it filters down to people in frontline positions.

And “show them the money" when they do, be it with salary, bonus or recognition of some sort. To quote a friend of mine, Chuck Ames, the former chairman and chief executive of Reliance Electric, “Show me a company's various compensation plans, and I'll show you how its people behave."

Rule 3: Leaders exude positive energy and optimism.

The leader’s mood is, for lack of a better word, catching. Your job as leader is to display an energizing, can-do attitude about overcoming the challenges your team faces. It also means you get out of your office and talk to your team members; that you care about what they’re doing and how they’re faring as you take the hill together.

Rule 4: Leaders establish trust with candour, transparency and credit.

Your people should always know where they stand in terms of their performance, and they have to know how the business is doing. Even when the news isn’t good—such as imminent layoffs—you have to fight the impulse to pad or diminish hard messages or you’ll pay with your team’s confidence and energy.

Leaders also establish trust by giving credit where credit is due. In bad times, leaders take responsibility for what’s gone wrong. In good times, they generously pass around the praise.

Rule 5: Leaders have the courage to make unpopular decisions and gut calls.

Obviously, tough calls spawn complaints and resistance. Your job is to listen and explain yourself clearly but move forward. Do not dwell or cajole. You are not a leader to win a popularity contest—you are a leader to lead.

Sometimes, making a decision is hard because it comes from your gut and defies a technical rationale. You’ve seen something so many times you just know what’s going on this time. The facts may be incomplete or the data limited, but the situation feels very, very familiar to you. You have to go ahead and kill the deal or make that decision, even if it makes people angry.

Rule 6: Leaders probe and push with a curiosity that borders on scepticism, making sure their questions are answered with action.

When you are an individual contributor, your job is to be an expert—to have all the answers. When you are a leader, your job is to have all the questions. In every conversation you have about a decision, a proposal or a piece of market information, you have to ask “What if" and “How come?"

Remember, just because you are a leader, saying something doesn’t mean it will happen. You have to make sure your questions unleash debate and raise issues that are acted on.

Rule 7: Leaders inspire risk-taking and learning by setting the example.

These two concepts often get lip service—and little else. If you want your people to experiment, set the example yourself. Freely admit your mistakes and talk about what you’ve learnt from them. The more light-hearted you can be about your errors, the more people will get the message that mistakes aren’t fatal.

Rule 8: Leaders celebrate.

When I travel, I frequently ask audiences if they’ve done anything to recognize their team’s achievements over the past year. I’m not talking about company-orchestrated parties that everyone hates—I’m talking about sending a team to Disney World with their families or handing each team member a new iPod. But to my question “Do you celebrate enough?", almost no one raises a hand.

What a lost opportunity. Celebrating makes people feel like winners and creates an atmosphere of recognition and positive energy. If you don’t recognize moments of achievement, no one will.

Write to Jack & Suzy

Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller, Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.


Adapted from Winning (HarperBusiness Publishers, 2005) by Jack Welch with Suzy Welch.)