What Leaders Actually Do
Leadership focuses on building alignment through inspiring visions. Leadership provides direction. By definition, it doesn’t have lists, steps, or protocols. So what, then, do leaders actually do?
The problem is that a winning vision includes factors that are normally outside the leader’s view. That is, they are hiding, and leaders are “in the dark” about them. “The dark side of leadership,” in part, refers to blind spots, hidden facts and aspirations.
To see how all this works in practice, I encourage you to watch the first few minutes of a speech from Anne Mulcahy, the former CEO of Xerox. After the business fell apart, what exactly did she do? (Watch closely from from 5:59-6:54.)
The key is that leaders listen, and cobble together a vision from lots of people. They also go way outside their industry for ideas and inspiration. They filter what they hear through their knowledge of the industry and best practices in business, because a lot of what they hear will be passionate and off-base. They also listen to their own instincts.
For those who like specifics, here are some key actions you should try that we’ve seen take leaders take:
• Look at case studies from people who do things completely different than you do. For example, if you’re in manufacturing, study Zappos.
• Listen to key decision makers.
• Listen to the customers at all levels, and don’t rely on surveys alone.
• Focus on “the brutal facts” (to quote Jim Collins) not people’s spin about why things may improve.
• As soon as you see a situation clearly, find people who disagree, and listen clearly to their arguments.
• Defer decisions as long as is responsibly possible, a lesson learned from Steven Sample’s The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.
• Above all, learn to see situations from many different perspectives.
At some point, the vision for this group will become clear, at least enough to move forward with conviction and velocity. Buy-in won’t be a major problem, because people will largely hear what they told you.
For more specifics, listen here to an audio program in the advanced section of our toolbox that I did on the “Big Four Questions”