Monday, October 24, 2011

15 Tips Every New Leader Needs

Photo by cobalt123

If you're new to leadership or a veteran looking to build on a strong foundation, here are 15 tips to get you started. Each of these is something I learned early in life and I hope they are helpful to you on your journey!

1. Your first job is to build your replacement

Leaders invest in others. If your goal is to change the world, you simply can't do it on your own. Leaders build leaders. In addition, you cannot assume more responsibility if you're the only one who can do what you're doing.

2. Never believe your own press release

Success can easily turn sour if you start to assume all the good things you hear about yourself or your organization are automatic...that things will go well because they have in the past. Enjoy accolades when they come, but remember the work it took to get there. That work usually takes place where no one sees it.

3. People don't argue with their own information

It is critical to involve stakeholders in problem solving. We are all more likely to implement solutions into which we've had input.

4. All of us are smarter than one of us...(sometimes)

Crowd-sourcing has demonstrated this one in many ways. No one person has all the answers or knows all the facts. I say (sometimes) because crowds can also make pretty dumb decisions. Your job as a leader is to set clear criteria and a vision of what we can accomplish. Leaders help all of us to be smarter than one of us.

5. The greatest are the least

Humility is fundamental to leadership success. Humility can take many forms, but at its core:

humility says "we are both human beings with value"
humility says "I know enough to know I may be wrong"
humility says "I'm here to help"
humility says "Come and do this with me" not "go do this for me".

People intuitively know if you think you are better or more valuable than they are. No one follows that.

6. We, not I

Leaders say "we", not "I". It's not about you, it's about the team.

7. Bring people with you

Once I was leading a group of fifty or sixty people from outside an arena through doors, around the concourse, and down to a bank of seats on the arena floor. We each put a hand on one another's shoulder and I set off. When I got to the chairs, however, only three people had made it with me. I had gone too fast and the entire team did not arrive. I was a great scout that day - I found the chairs. But leaders take people with them.

8. No responsibility without authority

This one I learned very early in life. I was the oldest of six and was asked to make sure the house was clean by the time my father returned home. I was given responsibility...but I was 12 - not a lot of authority there. Effective leaders try only to take responsibility where they also have or can create authority. Likewise, leaders do not give responsibility without also giving authority to go with it.

9. Say Thank You

No one has to do anything for you.

They choose to.

Acknowledge it!

10. Apologize

When you're wrong, own it, apologize, and make it right.

11. Flowers bloom in their own time

As a child I would be so eager for the first spring roses or peonies to bloom that I sometimes "helped" them along. I would pry open the green leaves covering the blossom and try to coax the interior petals into the semblance of a flower.

Of course it ruined the whole thing.

Flowers bloom when they are ready and you cannot force them. People also have natural seasons and you can frustrate or lose good people by moving too quickly. Sometimes you have to go slow to go fast.

12. Honey, not vinegar

An early leader of mine was fond of saying, "you can catch more flies with a teaspoon of honey than a barrel of vinegar". Generally, encouragement and kindness (honey) are more effective leadership tools for drawing people in and helping them to grow. Criticism and anger (vinegar) are effective for tearing something down.

13. Learn everything you can in the time available

You'll never know everything about anything...but effective leaders use the time available to get as much relevant information as they can before making a decision.

14. Protect people's dignity

Extend worth to everyone. Celebrate their contribution to the world. Do not partake with those who detract from another's dignity.

Even in difficult situations such as ending someone's employment, extend dignity. There is never a reason to belittle or make someone feel small. If you do, you will lose credibility as well as lose the person and their network.

15. Stay healthy

Your health - physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and social - is the foundation from which you lead. If you are not leading yourself, you cannot effectively lead others.

Most of these are lifetime practices - some I've made a habit and others I continue to work out each day.

Be patient with yourself and focus on just one thing at a time - don't try to pry open those flower petals!

Take care,

David M. Dye

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Twitter: @davidmdye
David shares twenty years experience teaching, coaching, leading, and managing in youth service, education advocacy, city governance, and faith-based nonprofits. He currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for Colorado UpLift and enjoys helping others discover and realize their own potential.

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