5 Leadership Tips

By Mike Myatt

Forbes12/22/2011 @ 12:38PM |99,746 views

With only a few days left until we usher in the New Year, you’re going to be bombarded with lists of things to do and not to do. Most of them will contain the same tired rhetoric from years past. These lists du jour will simply rehash and spin items from prior years while offering little new in the way of helpful thought. I wanted to give readers 5 key items to focus on if they’re serious about becoming better leaders in 2012 – my holiday gift to you.

There are lots of things I could have included on my list, so many will probably wonder how I chose the following 5 items. The following list contains the 5 items (6 including my bonus selection), which I’ve personally chosen to focus on (pursue) in the upcoming year:

  1. Family: I’m going to      approach this topic a bit differently than many – If you’re struggling      with the family balance thing my advice is simple: don’t attempt to      balance your family – make them your priority. I’ve simply lived too long      to buy into the myth that success in the workplace will create happiness      at home. While it makes for a nice sound bite to console those with a      guilty conscience, IT IS A LIE. If your business is growing, but your      spouse is crying and your children are neglected, it’s time to do a reality      check on your priorities. If your assistant respects you, but your spouse      doesn’t you have serious issues that need your immediate attention. If you      would rather spend time with your online “friends” than with your      children, it’s time to pull the ripcord on your internet connection.      Here’s the cold hard truth…if you cheat your family to invest into your      career, you and your loved ones will pay a very heavy price. It is simply      wrong to value your workplace commitments over your family commitments –      moreover it’s not necessary. If your focus is on your family, your career      won’t suffer, it will flourish. Get this wrong and not only will your      family suffer, but so will you as you someday mourn the loss of what could      have been, but cannot be recovered.
  2. White Space: While the mind      of a leader may be most comfortable being oriented toward the future,      he/she can only act in the here and now. The knowledge and skills required      to master any endeavor only happens when we focus on what we’re currently      doing. This is the definition of presence, and it is only when we operate      in the present that real creativity, growth and innovation occur. The      problem with being present is that many leaders confuse this with having      to do everything themselves. Have you ever interacted with someone who      deals with silence by jumping in and filling the conversational void? This      same thing occurs with executives who attempt to fill every open slot on      the calendar with activity – this is a huge mistake. Smart leaders don’t      fill their calendars with useless activities; they strategically plan for      white space allowing them to focus on highest and best use endeavors.      Leading doesn’t always mean doing. In fact, most often times it means      pulling back and creating white space so that others can do. This is true      leadership that scales.
  3. Listening: Want to become      a better leader? Stop talking and start listening. Being a leader should      not be viewed as a license to increase the volume of rhetoric. Rather      astute leaders know there is far more to be gained by surrendering the      floor than by dominating it. In this age of instant communication everyone      seems to be in such a rush to communicate what’s on their mind, they fail      to realize the value of everything that can be gleaned from the minds of      others. Show me a leader who doesn’t recognize the value of listening to      others and I’ll show you a train-wreck in the making.
  4. Unlearning: I’ve believed      for quite some time the most profound and commonly overlooked aspect of      learning is recognizing the necessity of unlearning. We’ve all acquired      knowledge, beliefs or positions that but for the protection of our ego,      would easily admit are outdated. I can think of no better definition for a      closed mind than someone unwilling to change their opinions. Smart leaders      recognize it’s much more valuable to step across mental lines in the sand      than to draw them. Here’s the thing: No one has all the answers, so why      even attempt to pretend that you do? Show me a person that never changes      their mind, and I’ll show you a static thinker who has sentenced his mind      to a prison of mediocrity and wasted potential. If the world is constantly      changing, if the marketplace is always evolving, if the minds of others      are continuously developing, how can you attempt to be unchanging and      still be relevant? The smartest people I know are the most willing to      change their minds. They don’t want to be right, they want the right      outcome — they want to learn, grow, develop, and mature. Subjecting      yourself to dissenting opinion allows you to refine your good ideas, weed      out the bad ideas and acquire new ideas. Moreover, it’s the ability to      evolve and to nuance thinking that leads to the change and innovation your      organization needs to survive. Leaders      and their ability to change their mind demonstrates humility, confidence      and maturity. It makes them approachable, and it makes them human. People      are looking for authentic, transparent leaders willing to sacrifice their      ego in favor of right thinking.
  5. Engagement: Leadership isn’t about you –      it’s about those whom you lead and serve. There are few things as limiting      and frustrating as disconnected leaders. Smart leaders spend their time      starting or advancing conversations, not avoiding or ending them. The more      you engage others, the better leader you’ll become. It’s nearly impossible      to engender the type of confidence, trust, and loyalty a leader must      possess without being fully engaged. In person, over the phone, via email,      through the social web, or even by sending a good old fashion thank you      note – ENGAGE.
  6. * Bonus item – Read: There      are few things which impact your thought life more than what you read.      I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I plan to continue this pursuit      in 2012. I read more than 70 books in 2011, and plan to read more than 100      books in 2012. To the person, the best leaders I know are prolific      readers. My message today is a simple one – if you want to improve your      station in life, as well as the lives around you – read more. The greatest      leaders throughout history have been nothing short of relentless in their      pursuit of knowledge. I believe Michelangelo said it best when he uttered      the words “Ancora Imparo” which when translated from the Italian means “I      am still learning.” By the way, his first public use of this phrase was      noted to have been on his 87th Birthday. I don’t know about you, but I’m      still learning (and unlearning). Moreover, the day I stop reading, the day      I stop learning – that’s the day I stop leading, and likely the day I stop      breathing.

Many will criticize my selections as not being comprehensive, or lacking certain elements they feel constitute a critical omission. That’s okay – it’s my list. That said, now’s your chance to get off the sidelines and add your contribution by sharing your thoughts in the comments below. The best contribution (as chosen by me) will win a free autographed copy of my book Leadership Matters.

Mike Myatt, Contributor Forbes Mike Myatt I write about leadership myths, and bust them one-by–one.



"If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

~African Proverb 


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