Here are the leadership principles I’ve learned over the years (most through trial and error) and do my best to use on an ongoing basis as a leader.
- Know Where You’re Going: Make sure you know what you are leading your team toward accomplishing in the world!
- Make Sure You’re Passionate: If you’re not passionate about achieving the goal you’re asking your team to achieve, then you’re leading the wrong organization!
- Hire the Right People: Surround yourself with people smarter than yourself, people who have high integrity, and people passionate about achieving the same goal you are. Only hire someone as a direct-report role if they can do their role better than you could!
- Have a Clear Vision: Make sure you and your team is completely clear on what you are trying to achieve and by when, why what you’re trying to achieve matters in the world (the greater purpose of what you’re trying to achieve). Paint a clear vision and communicate it succinctly, visually, and broadly!
- Define Success: Define success quantitatively and qualitatively and communicate clearly and individually what’s in it for your team if success is achieved!
- Get True Commitment: Make sure your team knows that true leaders make a commitment to ensuring the person who follows them is better than they were. Make sure there is an ethic in place such that your direct reports never leave the company until they have identified and trained their successor. The commitment goes two ways. Promise to never surprise them with an unexpected termination in exchange for them never surprising you with an unexpected resignation!
Principles of Setting Strategy
- Rigorously Evaluate Your Strategic Options: Once your company gets above 100 employees, go through a defined and rigorous process of strategic evaluation and discussion each year. Strategy is “the set of unique and complementary operational activities that your company undertakes that together create a customer value proposition highly attractive to your target market, provide a differentiated position in the marketplace, and provide an advantage versus competitors in becoming best in the world at serving the needs of your target market.” Make this strategic planning process defined in advance multi-month process with lots of inputs, data, and discussion. Hold a three day strategy planning sessions in preparation for each coming year, with 1 day each week for 3 weeks. Spread out the days to enable additional information collection and processing between each session. After you’ve settled on the high level strategy, make sure you allocate at least another day to align on the communication, operationalizing, and execution of the strategy.
- Align With a Smaller Group First: Strategy is best set in a group of 4-5 people. Any more and you’ll go in endless circles of discussion and analysis paralysis. Work with your heads of operations, sales, marketing, and technology to start. Align with this smaller group.
- Then Align With Everyone: Once your core strategy team is fully aligned (they are super clear and can repeat back succinctly and in detail the big picture strategy) bring your full senior team and then your management into the fold to begin to operationalize the plan. Make sure everyone on your team and in the entire company and on the Board of Directors are aligned at the end of the process.
- Communicate clearly and relentlessly: Communicate the plan in a memorable way with visual and numerical reinforcement to the full team. Then focus on executing with fanatic discipline. Re-communicate and reinforce often (at least once per month if not every 2 weeks). Do not under communicate.
- Hold People Accountable to Pre-Defined Results: Hold people accountable to pre-defined measurable results not methodology, as long as they are following the Golden Rule and treating people well in their methodology.
Principles of Operational Execution:
- Have an Operational Partner: Once your company gets beyond 25 employees, always have a Chief Operating Officer to keep the trains running on time and focus on efficiency of cross-departmental metrics and projects (especially if you are CEO who is best at things like vision, strategy, product development, customer relations, external relations, internal culture).
- Operationalize the Strategic Plan: Once you’re clear on the strategy, don’t skimp on the discussion around how to actually operationalize the strategic plan. This is where teams in larger companies get off track the most. Figure out what resources will be needed to achieve the goals of the team. Figure out the metrics that matter to making the differentiated focus successful and track them visually and tie compensation to them.
- Re-Calibrate Quarterly on Execution: During the year, hold four 1-day quarterly planning sessions during the last week of each quarter. Have no more than 5 company objectives per 6 months. Communicate these BEFORE January 1st and July 1st, not after. Most companies don’t finish their annual planning until the end of January. You’ll miss the most important month of the year if you do this.
- Make Results Visible: Show progress against the 5 company objectives in real time on a mounted monitor. Make your results and KPIs visible and super-clear. Be transparent. Measure everything that matters. Make performance objective not subjective by assigning red, yellow, green, supergreen ranges to each performance metric and tracking them at least weekly. Have at least 10% of every executive’s compensation tied to how the company performs and at least 10% tied to how their department performs.
- Always Be Testing: Be constantly testing new things. Fire bullets to find what works. Get data. See what works. Then fire cannonballs (from Great by Choice).
My favorite books on leadership, strategy, team alignment, management, and execution so far are:
- Good to Great by Jim Collins
- Built to Last by Jim Collins
- Great by Choice by Jim Collins
- Five Habits of a Highly Effective Team by Patrick Lencioni
- Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish
- Peak: How Great Companies Get their Mojo From Maslow by Chip Conley
- The Future of Management by Gary Hamel
- Execution by Ram Charan