Leading isn’t easy. In fact, there’s a reason why they say, “it’s lonely at the top.” Leaders must make decisions that serve the greater purpose of the company, thereby removing emotion and self-interest from the equation.
People often have their own vision of what a leader does and how he or she is supposed to act without actually having experienced — or reflected upon — a leadership role. It’s easy to want to aspire to the examples of leadership portrayed on TV or the big screen because that’s what we see, when in reality we’re just succumbing to the cognitive bias known as an availability heuristic (mental shortcuts).
There are numerous articles written on what leaders should do to engage their people, create value and improve their skills. But what shouldn’t they do?
Below are four assumptions not to make before assuming the role of leader:
1. Leaders must know it all. Nonsense. Not only is it arrogant to think that one single person must be all knowing, but to believe that there’s enough time in the day to do so is simply unrealistic. In the SEALs (and all military for that matter), we use Critical Information Requirements (CIRs) to establish a threshold for when to escalate a decision to the next level. Anything having to do with strategic level resource allocation or movement of personnel, for example, were only made by the boss (but not this Boss).
2. Leaders must make all decisions. Wrong. If this is you then you need to check your ego at the door. Leaders must be decisive, yes, but if you are a leader trying to make every single tactical decision from pricing to marketing, then you are wearing too many hats. A leader’s job is to set the conditions that enable his or her employees to decide at their levels, which, in turn, allows you to focus on the next strategic ridgeline. If you are making decisions that can be made two levels down, then you’re not working — or leading — effectively. Focus on what only you can affect.
3. Qualitative improvements don’t count. There is no quantity without quality. That is, without the people to produce widgets then “Awesome” will remain unchecked on the product survey. Financial metrics are measured daily because they drive the company’s bottom line and therefore its existence, but it’s the people who guarantee the company’s survival. Trust, a willingness to share information, and a clear depiction of the company’s goals serve as the basis for quality because anything that falls off course indicates a gap for improvement.
4. Problems are one-dimensional. Einstein’s definition of insanity rings true here — that a problem can be solved through the same optic that created it. In reality, nothing is one-dimensional — everything is multi-functional, multi-directional, affecting people above, below, laterally, internally and externally. There is no direct first-aid approach to an organizational “wound” and you cannot apply direct pressure to sales without affecting other symptoms in marketing or HR. The entrepreneurial ecosystem is just that — a conglomeration of inextricably linked influences that all tie in to affect each other in different ways.
What you should do before assuming a leadership role is learn as much as possible. Observe. Ask questions. Receive feedback. Most importantly, don’t let rank and stature go to your head. Only experience will fill in the knowledge gaps and teach you what you really need to know.