Have you noticed? Leadership lessons these days seem to skew a little flashier than usual. Maybe they’re inspired by the new James Bond movie with their emphasis on high-stakes performance and bold confidence (but alas, not on gadgets, fast cars or well-cut suits).
All we know is that these leadership resources sure are fun to read. And they still deliver the goods with quality advice and helpful perspectives.
This week we tackle the high-performance side of leadership: speed, secret weapons, succeeding against odds, and commanding armies. Make no mistake: this is authoritative advice sourced to experts. Just with a dash of Bond-worthy panache. Enjoy.
The Speed of Leadership
Dynamic leadership suggests speed and agility, right? Part of leadership is to create momentum, anticipate problems and move quickly to fix them. So say the writers at The Military Leader in their article “Leadership Speed and Why It Matters“ featured on Medium.
But speed comes with risk, they warn, when a team cannot move at the pace of their leader — which can happen in competitive industries, at startups, or at any company when new leadership is swapped in when the rest of the team remains the same.
Sometimes this disconnect is obvious, but it can take a organization breakdown (or a mutiny) before the realization sinks in. And even then, it’s not always easy to identify what needs to be fixed.
It’s also not easy to realize that it’s not simply a matter of getting the team back up to speed. “[N]ot every activity needs to occur at full throttle,” the authors remind, especially when consistency is a priority.
To diagnose the problem accurately, the writers walk through a series of questions to ask — both self-reflective and organizational — to gain perspective and insight. They write for their primary audience of military leadership, but their methodology is as sound for corporate America as it is for those in uniform.
If your team faces the challenge of feeling like it lags behind the pace of operations — or even out of sync with the other teams it collaborates with — this article offers good food for thought on how to get things back on track.
How to Succeed Against All Odds
Nathan Kontny spends no time being coy in his article for Quartz, “People Who Succeed Against the Odds All Have One Thing in Common.” The CEO of Highrise identifies his “one thing” in the very first sentence: persistence.
But the one problem with persistence is that when we hear the great stories about it (including the one Kontny tells of famous Japanese entrepreneur Momofuku Ando) it’s hard for the rest of us to identify with — much less believe we can cultivate — the willpower needed to persevere like that.
But Kontny identifies one key aspect of persistence we do have some control over: our connection with our social networks. Perseverance, it appears, has everything to do with the company we keep.
Accepting help — good advice and more tangible assistance — works together with persistence to create the kind of opportunities that shape careers, despite opposition and misfortune. Kontny relates examples from his own career, full of twists and turns, to drive this point home.
Most interesting is what Kontny identifies as the key culprit to not asking for — or accepting — help. It’s not introversion or shyness, but it’s still something than can neutralize any attempts at assistance. Curious? Have a read to see if it’s something at play in your career.
Leadership’s Secret Weapon: M
What does the future of work look like? Try “free-flowing, self-organized crowds” who “find each other on digital platforms, form and disband teams, and create their own projects,” says Harvard Business School professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter for the Wall Street Journal.
Who thrives in a world like that? Millennials, of course. And rather than seeing them — or the crowd-sourced future they bring with them — as a threat to leadership, millennials are becoming leadership’s secret weapon.
In “Why Millennials Are the C-Suite’s Secret Weapon for Innovation,” Kanter explains that millennials have an innate entrepreneurial bias for action and for asking “Why not?” — both qualities that resonate with business executives. There’s even an opportunity for reverse mentoring where company leaders benefit from the fresh perspectives of their young workforce, and millennials feel valued and better connected to their company’s mission.
Kanter peppers her article with other ways the C-Suite (especially those offices staffed with baby boomers) and the millennial workforce need each other — and even share youthful similarities.
It’s not all roses. There are sources of friction as well as kindred spirits. But Kanter paints a compelling picture of how crucial a fresh perspective can be to the corner office, and how the entry-level millennial workforce can help. Whether you’re one or the other — or even in between — this article is a good one to clip.
Good to Great: It’s Routine
How can you become a better leader? For decades, the answer to that was to focus on building your leadership skill set — the attributes and behaviors that good leaders share.
Trouble is, being highly capable doesn’t actually correlate with leadership success, says leadership consultant Todd Warner. In his article “What Separates High-Performing Leaders from Average Ones” for Harvard Business Review, he tells us what actually does.
The answer: routines. Warner explains how a few key routines — such as the routines leaders use to prep for meetings, or how they spend their time in the field — separate the great from the good. Once you realize that routines constitute leadership-in-action (whereas skills reflect leadership-on-paper) this begins to make very good sense.
“Focus your development on getting better in applied ways,” Warner advises, and management problems start to go away.
So which routines should you focus on and how can you improve them? Warner rounds out his article with guidance and examples. Key to it all: collaborate with other leaders — especially high performers — to learn best practices and to avoid pitfalls, and make such conversations a regular part of your (you guessed it) weekly routine.
“Leadership is a contact sport,” says Warner, and getting better at it is as well. Learn how to start conversations that will improve your ability to lead. This article shows you how.
Leadership Lessons from a 3-Star General
Imagine running a 62,000 person company, with a $10 billion budget — in a really, really tough market.
If that CEO was talking about leadership, you’d want to sit down and listen. That’s exactly what Business Insider reporter Jenna Goudreau did when she interviewed Lt. Gen. Frank Kearney, who retired from active duty in the US Army in 2012, after 35 years of service.
In her article “A 3-Star General Shares His Top Leadership Lessons” she distills Kearney’s wisdom into six important lessons business leaders could learn from the US military. They read as a good reminder that for-profit organizations aren’t the only ones with high-stakes and a commitment to excellence.
Their problems will be familiar to corporate America: fitting the right people in the right roles, giving honest feedback, ensuring consistent “branding” throughout the organization. Kearney’s lessons aren’t so much new and different — there’s nothing surprising on his list — as they are steeped in the experience of a long career and of an operating environment with very little room for error.
It’s interesting to see that many of the anecdotes he uses to illustrate his lessons come from his years as a newly minted commanding officer and not from his years as one of the highest ranking officers in the Army — and it offers another lesson we would do well to heed: A career in Army Special Operations — and becoming part of the Army’s top brass — can happen when a young officer keeps his focus on excellence. That’s a lesson worth emulating, no matter where you work.
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