Leadership Lessons: The 7 Big Leadership Lessons learnt in 2013

I had a great break over Christmas and the New Year choosing to holiday in Western Australia. Hot weather, sun, swimming, wine tours and time with family and friends. Anyone in a leadership role needs time out to recharge (Link here for “Business Leaders need time out) so as to stop, pause, reflect, to do other things and most importantly to plan and refocus on what is coming up.

Last year I wrote about my 5 big Leadership lessons of 2012 (Link here) It was well read and I had a lot of comments back from others reflecting on what they had learnt.

Just prior to Christmas I asked over 200 CEO’s what they had learnt in 2013 and published the summary (link here) and I’m sure this will interest you.

Here are the 7 big leadership lessons that I personally learnt as a CEO, from working closely with other CEO’s and from leading a Reserve Army Infantry Company;

1. You are not in the role to make friends. When you are making consistent, ongoing business decisions there is a need for tough calls at times. It is impossible to please everyone and it is important that the best decision is made with the best information at the time. It is important to set expectations, have the tough conversations, to be consistent with people and to do what is needed for the business. If you communicate, plan, are transparent, guide, support and develop your people then they will respect you but ultimately you are not there to be their friend. You are there to lead. Respect and friendship follow once trust is established.Image

2. Spend more time in planning. I led a lot of change in 2013. Change in clients businesses, change within ours and change within the Army. There were many times that I had to make myself plan in more detail. There were many times I had to push those I was leading and working with to spend more time in planning. Time in planning is seldom wasted. Plan, plan, plan, delegate, plan. Even when the execution phase begins and the plan changes, the fact you did some planning will help in many ways to change the plan if needed.

3. Leadership is a lonely place. There were many times that I felt the need to talk to peers. Peers at the CEO level can be hard to find. 2013 was a year I learnt the true value of mentors, peers and hanging out with like minded people. In fact 2013 was a year it dawned on me just how big the need is for more formal peer groups. This year I plan to form a CEO leadership group to support both my own growth and the growth of others working in this space. Find smart people who want to see you succeed and ask for their support, help, advice or simply hang out with them.

4. Be completely comfortable in your own skin. I think authenticity is an absolute essential element of leadership. Being open, transparent, frank, including others in planning, decision making and problem solving makes things easier. It is easier to take others on the journey with you and it builds a high performance culture. I observe many leaders who like to keep a gap between their work life and personal life. I feel that if you are genuine and authentic then there is no gap. That does not mean you should not have privacy, rather I mean ‘be truly comfortable in your own skin.” Be aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, be comfortable with them and most importantly play to your strengths. Be who you truly are and lead yourself well in the first instance!

5. Be tough on people. Be brave on the people stuff. Be clear in your expectations, lead the way, guide, support and mentor but be consistently tough on your team. Be tough on standards, performance, hitting agreed targets and KPI’s. People need toughness to get the best out of them. Doing their job for them or accepting poor performance not only lets those individuals down but it means the A Players in your team will lose respect for you as a leader and motivation in their work. It is the number one culture killer.

6. The importance of your own leadership framework. As a professional CEO (leader) you must be clear in your framework of planning, meetings, mentoring, communicating & leading through other clever people. It should be possible to drop any professional CEO into any organisation and for that individual to lead it. Take the time to identify and formalise your framework and constantly review, refine and improve it. High performance leaders commit to ongoing training, coaching, mentoring and a life of learning.

7. My heroes are people who get stuff done. I am not into movie stars or celebrities. Rather I respect and enjoy learning from leaders who make stuff happen, people who are brave enough to risk, experience and overcome failure to reach the top of their field. The likes of Mandela, Churchill, Hillary, Buzz Aldrin. I enjoyed reading a book over the break about Air NZ pilot and mountaineer Mike Allsop. I find they are genuine, tell of the fear, effort and lessons learnt and it is possible to learn something from each of them.

So as we line up 2014 as a busy year in business I think it is important for any leader to reflect on what they have learnt and to write them down. Discuss them with your team, peers or family. What did they learn? How can you build on your lessons learnt?

I’m looking forward to the year ahead and the opportunities and challenges that are already on the horizon. How is 2014 looking for you? What are you doing to grow yourself as a leader and in turn those you lead?

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