“For this reason, they must believe in the cause for which they are fighting. They must believe in the plan they are asked to execute, and most important, they must believe in and trust the leader they are asked to follow.”
― Jocko Willink,
― Jocko Willink,
In the effort to be a better mentor, I study leadership a lot. I learn from my own mentors; read the biographies of leaders; listen to their words while training or driving my truck. Here are the things common to successful leaders:
1. They model the behavior they want from others.
2. They give clear directions, with no missing steps
3. They fall back on daily routines
4. They make a lot of mistakes, but never the same one twice.
5. They’re not confident all the time, but know it’s more important to appear confident than ambivalent.
6. They create other leaders.
To break these down for business owners:
In college, I had a nutrition professor who was a walking textbook. She could recite data and draw tables about glycemic load and macronutrient profiles. But she also ate McDonald’s in her office after class. I can’t recall a single lecture she gave, but I can recall the smell of her desk area perfectly.
This is sometimes an inconvenient truth, but “do as I say, not as I do” is ineffective. If you’re a parent, you already know it won’t work. But it’s easy to fool yourself into believing your clients don’t care about what YOU do.
If you’re a hairdresser, your hair should look great every day.
If you’re a personal trainer, you should work out.
If you’re selling stocks and bonds, you should wear something expensive.
Your staff will follow the example you set at your worst. Your adherence to your own rules will cue them to follow. If you break your own rules occasionally, they’ll break them often. Your lowest standard of care will become their best standard of care, because after all, that’s what you show them. You are the example, not the exception.
For example, my gym has a “back door” we don’t want clients to use. Clients should use the front door, where the check-in kiosk sits. But the back door is close to the parking lot, and one day I slipped out and back to grab my wallet from my truck. Another coach saw me do it, and despite my instructions to never use the door, she began to use it as her main entrance. The door has a “Do Not Enter” sign on it. Our staff handbook tells our coaches to park in back, and enter through the front. But she saw ME do it, and that made it okay. You can guess what happened next: clients saw her using it, and started to do the same.
If your accountant’s desk is crammed with loose paper and receipts, will you show up at the tax deadline with a shoebox crammed full of random paper? Of course, because you think it’s okay. After all, your model of bookkeeping responsibility does it this way.
2. Clear Directions With No Missing Steps
You can’t proofread your own writing, because your brain automatically fills in the gaps.
For the same reason, it’s hard to write processes for your staff to follow because you already know how things should be done.
We don’t need you to tell us. We need you to lead us.
Some resources I recommend:
Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek
The Heart and The Fist, by Eric Greitens
Extreme Ownership, by Jocko Willing
“Make Your Bed”, with Admiral McRaven
The 5 Levels of Leadership, by John Maxwell