I’m currently working with my editor on final edits of Saving the World on $30 a Day: An Activist’s Guide to Starting, Organizing and Running a Non-Profit Organization, which will be in print within the next 60 days or so (it’s currently available for Kindle, sans the corrections).
While the book has a lot of the practical aspects of starting and running a shoestring nonprofit, one topic I don’t talk about much in the book is one of the most critical: how to be a good leader.
So, this is the first of what will likely be a series of blog posts on my thoughts about leadership. These are seven steps anyone can focus on to be a better leader.
1. Be willing to take big risks. When Bill Gates set out to found Microsoft, he didn’t take a safe and easy route. This is a guy who had the resources to be at Harvard, where he could have opted for a safe route of college, job, blah, blah… instead, he dropped out, drove across the country with a friend, coding all the way, in order to pitch MS-DOS to IBM. Steve Jobs and the Woz put out their ads for the first Apple computers before they had any to sell: the prepaid orders paid for the parts to send out those first computers. If you want big results, you have to think big, you have to take big risks, and you have to be prepared for big failures.
2. Be unconventional. Leaders in any field don’t succeed by doing the same thing as everyone else. You have to understand the rules, and you have to know which ones are worth breaking in order to get results.
3. Keep Focus on the Big Picture. Managers implement, follow processes and procedures, and herd employees. They dither on small decisions, because it isn’t always clear what is the best step to take. Leaders keep their eyes on the big picture, whether it’s building a company or changing our world. By keeping that focus on the big picture, the smaller decisions are easy to make: you simply make the decision that supports your end goal.
4. Inspire. A leader doesn’t order others around. A leader inspires by communicating the big picture. You want to increase your sales by fifty percent? You have to communicate to the entire team what that goal is, how you are going to get there, and why the team should want the same thing.
5. Don’t be afraid to have the difficult conversations. A leader has to be prepared to deal with underperforming team members. You can’t be afraid to sit down and have the difficult conversations: explain what is going wrong, how to fix it, and what the consequences will be if the problem isn’t dealt with.
6. Be willing to make mid-course corrections. Sometimes people get stuck in a rut. We know the way we want something to happen, and no matter what happens in reality, we stick to our guns and keep going no matter what. A leader has to be willing to assess the reality of the situation, and pivot to a new strategy when necessary. Be willing to accept small failures in order to have the big successes.
7. Care about your team! Inspiring leaders don’t isolate themselves. You have to be prepared to care about your people, love them, and take care of their needs. Loyalty is a two-way street, and if you want a loyal team surrounding you, you have to be loyal to them.
What do you think? Have you known inspiring, amazing leaders? What did they do that was different?