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You cannot teach a man anything; you can only help him find it within himself. – Galileo
If you open your eyes in the morning and you are still breathing, then you are alive. Every thing else is a bonus.
Part of my training as an Infantry Officer required me to go to Ranger School, which is primarily a leadership school for combat soldiers who want to join the Army’s elite light infantry fighting forces known as the Rangers.
When I went through Ranger School, it was a 68-day course. There was the Benning Phase, The Mountain Phase, The Desert Phase and the Jungle Phase. Ranger courses run all year long, I drew the unfortunate short straw of having to attend during the winter months. I have never been so cold in my life (well except maybe the time I nearly froze to death in a snow storm when I was 14).
One morning we were huddle together like seals trying to stay warm. We had on our Gortex winter jackets and we were still cold. One of our Ranger instructors came strutting out of his command post and yelled, “Take those Gortex jackets off men. It ain’t cold out here. It’s 80 degrees out! Cold is a state of mind.”
We groaned and shuffled and did as we were told. Watching us shiver from the cold, our Ranger instructor said with a big old grin on his face, “Men if you make it through Ranger School, for the rest of your life, every day will be a holiday and every meal a feast.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Life is a mental game, and the quality of the game is determined by how you perceive the game in your mind. If your perception is that life is hard, then you will attract the conditions in your life to make it hard. Our Colonel told us, before sending us off to Ranger School, that “nothing is as hard as it seems, but if you think it’s hard, it’ll be harder than it actually is.”
To play the game of life well, you must first play a good game in your head.
What’s your mental game like?
My family will tell you of a time, many years ago, when I spent an hour trying to choose between one pair of Nike trainers and another. An hour. I have no idea how they allowed me to go on that long but in the end I was very pleased with the ones that I chose. I suspect I would have been just as pleased had I chosen the other pair.
Since then I have got better (and faster) at making decisions, whether I am buying shoes or leading a team, which is good because making decisions is the fourth cornerstone of leadership. This is where the rubber hits the road (forgive the shoe-related pun), or as Clay Lowe says, “This is where leaders earn their money.”
We all know leaders need to make decisions but here are the challenges that Clay Lowe mentions:
- Make decisions that are fair, based on evidence and not your own agenda. This is difficult because we are human. We will naturally make decisions that further our careers or that are based on what we thought was the best way forward. Sometimes, as in the case of ‘The Apprentice’, we make decisions that leave us with the option of blaming someone else if everything goes wrong. People need to know that we are making decisions that are for the good of the team or the organisation.
- Weigh up the needs of the task, team and individuals. When these are in conflict, it will mean you need to make a tough decision to the benefit of one at the expense of the other. If the task is not urgent and an individual needs a holiday then allow them to have a day with their family. If on the other hand an individual isn’t pulling their weight then the needs of the team need to be made priority. And if you’ve been given a tight deadline by a major client then of course the completion of the task takes priority.
- Be creative in your decisions. Clay doesn’t mean be an unpredictable decision-maker because that will make for a very confused and frustrated team. Outstanding leaders, like General Grant at Vicksburg make decisions that are creative (read:risky). They are not shy of doing it differently, which will challenge them and their team and lead them on to greater things.
This is a real challenge to great leadership, but having the other three cornerstones in place will allow you to make decisions that lead to great successes for you, your team, company or family.
I’m not one to watch too many cooking programs although I’ve caught a few of Hell’s Kitchen and the like. It seems to me that all the wannabe chef’s ever do is 1. Look confused, 2.. look scared and 3. shout ‘YES CHEF’. Although you might not think of Gordon Ramsay as being the best example of humility, what Chef’s do well is have the humility to realise that they can’t do every single thing for every single meal that the 40 customers in the restaurant are waiting for. Hence they rely on others to help them achieve their vision using certain standards.
Clay Lowe suggests that the third cornerstone of leadership is that leaders have humility. This is actually a very liberating factor in leadership.
It means you don’t have to know all the answers. You and I know that we don’t know all the answers but sometimes we like to pretend we do because we think that people wont respect us if we say ‘I don’t know’. This is not true. Of course if you are always saying ‘I don’t know’ particularly when someone asks ‘What shall we do?’ then yes, your leadership is going to suffer.
Instead, the answer is to surround yourself with a good team. This is true even if they are better than you, or especially if they are better than you. Gordon Ramsay is unlikely to be the best person in his team to make pastry. That doesn’t trouble him. Rather he hires the best pastry chef knowing his quality combined with the quality of the rest of the team and the vision and standards of Ramsay will make amazing food.
Finally, muck in when necessary. Being a leader isn’t about sitting in a giant office with an amazing view of Manhattan. As we looked at in an earlier post, it is about leading by example. You wont often see Gordon Ramsay getting his hands dirty by chopping vegetables or washing dishes but he wont be shy to do so when he needs to. Of course, it’s often because he’s furious with someone who messed up (which is not a leadership style I am advocating!).
So there you go. Bet you never thought you would learn about humility from Gordon Ramsay. It may be a tenuous link but regardless of who the example is, having humility is definitely an important aspect of being a great leader. Humility is a very attractive quality, while arrogance… well how many arrogant people do you like?
If you have young children and you’ve just asked them to wash the dishes you will have heard the phrase ‘But daddy doesn’t do that… why should I?’ My son is 8 months old and even now I know that whatever I expect of him, I need to set the example. If I want him to be hard working, loving, active, disciplined etc then I need to be those things.
And the same is true when leading in the corporate setting. As a leader, Clay Lowe would suggest, that the second cornerstone of leader is that you Set Standards. For example you might set a standard for dealing with conflict e.g. ‘We do not back-bite’ (or whatever the appropriate terminology is). People are clear that if they have a problem with someone they don’t just talk badly about them to the rest of the team, but rather an appropriate open forum is encouraged.
By setting standards, people are clear on what is expected of them.
It also means you have to lead by example. You need to live whatever it is you expect from your team, company or family. If you expect your team to be on-time, then don’t make a habit of being late for meetings. If you expect honesty, don’t make it a practice to lie to clients about why you weren’t able to meet the deadline.
Simply put, a good leader will be trustworthy. If people can trust you they will happily follow, particularly through the tough times. If they see a hypocrite, they won’t row hard and will jump-ship at the earliest opportunity.
So if you don’t want to hear ‘He doesn’t do it… why should I?’, it might be time you started washing the dishes ;p
And yes, I like to use alliterations where I can. By vitality I mean broadly ‘quality of life’. Don’t get so caught up with the vision that you forget to have fun and worse still, stop others from having fun and enjoying life. You might have a strong vision for your company, but don’t forget about your family. Don’t get so caught up in achieving best ever global sales that your team members feel you see them as tools to achieve a task, rather than people who add value.
In order to help prevent falling into vision vice, I would strongly suggest making sure you have written a vision down for your personal and family life as well.
Part of living the vision is about letting other people know what that vision is. People follow those they are forced to or they follow those they believe in. Ideally you are looking for the latter kind of followers (I hope!).
In order to believe in you they need to know what your vision is. A team leader that keeps his amazing vision of the future to himself is going to find himself struggling uphill all on his own. But if you can articulate your vision regularly to your team then they start to see the bigger picture and the adventure.
Sticking with the Barcelona theme, Gaudi didn’t build each house he designed himself. He had to articulate his incredible vision to those who were going to be doing the building. Without his ability to articulate that vision, it is unlikely that Barcelona would be graced with such amazing works of art.
Hopefully the previous post will have helped you write down a vision, which will help you articulate it clear to your team or your family.