Our world is run by leadership decisions, good or bad. We learn that the FBI spent about 1.3 million to hack an iPhone, when director James Comey finally divulges just enough information. A top talk show host steps off the set in a legitimate huff and the network is caught short. Google the word “leader” and you’ll get, on a given day, some 1,070,000,000 results — partially because someone made decisions in what we’d see. Leading is a hot seat and some of us embrace it and some of us don’t. And there are always ways to do it better.
But whatever you do, it’s going to be reflected in the organization. So here are five ways to shift to a far better model:
- Turn it inside-out.The hyper-collaborative, ideaphoric culture at Google is nowhere more apparent than with the X team, tasked with the most audacious problem solving there is. To save time and resources and push their own vision, they conduct pre-mortems to kill their best ideas, trying to predict in advance why an idea is going to tank.
- Forget nice. Despite the trend to see leaders as benign, ethical, moral, centered people, they’re not always. Some theorize that it’s not even necessary: in fact,sometimes good behavior is actually counter-productive, and slows down implementation. Forget about finding your emotional true north. Just get it done.
- Hands off, but be present. A leader having her or his hands in every single task may seem like a nice idea, but it jumbles up the works. Let the managers do their jobs but don’tabsent yourself from the day to day: far more validating to let them run with it, and then be there when you’re needed. Enabling your teams to find their way out of a snag is far better and probably more cost-effective than grabbing the wheel to drive a solution.
- Embrace difference. Organizational true north is when all are working towards a shared mission: That’s where the conformity should be. A leader sets the compass point so everyone else can get on the same path. But that doesn’t mean everyone takes the same route, or handles it the same way. Shoehorning behavior is a myth: It’sactionthat needs to conform. Don’t mistake shared mission for uniform conformity.
- Stay open. The world of work is vertical: It’s nearly impossible to not be thrust into a position of having to lead whether they want to or not. So practice. Try different techniques. Get the books and test out their theories. If someone’s approach appeals, take a closer look. Collect those good quotes, those chestnuts of wisdom that make you feel a little bolder. Align that sense of growth and wonder with your culture.
Gaining a true, well-honed self-awareness of what makes you tick as a leader and what doesn’t will drive you to be far more authentic. It won’t go unnoticed. The one thing you can’t change about leadership is that it will drive the company culture, like it or not. Among the famously worst leaders of last year was the beleaguered head of Volkswagen, whose relentless pursuit of numbers led to a culture of scandalously bad decision making. No question of responsibility there. But the world is filled of terrific examples of great leaders making remarkable decisions that changed the world. You’re probably using one to read this.
Does an organization ever act on its own, despite a leader? Even if they do, they’re inheriting that unilateral impulse from the leader — what looks like despite is actually because. The truth is, regardless of size, scope, mission, or brand, an organization cannot run without a leader, and no leader is an island. You can quote me on that.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.