A client once asked me how much I read. I read about two dozen business books a year, plus countless blogs and magazine articles. I also listen to several business, sales, and management podcasts. I take the bus whenever I can, so I have an hour or so to read either way. Plus I don’t have to deal with traffic.
“Wow, RESULTS.com sure make you read a lot.”, the client said.
“I work here because I read a lot, not because they make me.”, I replied.
One of the behaviors of good leaders that almost all the literature and research can agree to is exactly that: good leaders are always learning, always reading, always trying to get better.
I’m not saying I’m a good leader (although I like to think I might be). I am saying you can’t be a good leader if you don’t keep learning.
My biggest learnings over the last few years have centered around people and relationships. As we grow in an organization it becomes less about what we can individually contribute, and more about how we can get our teams – and teams of teams – to work more effectively together.
This means we have to examine the Core Purpose, or the “why” of what we’re doing, and share that vision so that everybody we work with “gets it”.
I forgot this once and it cost me my job. I was working for General Dynamics at the time as a proposal manager for a billion dollar, 20-year support contract. Once the request-for-proposal (RFP) arrived we would have 60 days to respond. We spent a year building a team inside the company, and relationships with partners and industry suppliers to give us the best chance of success.
We didn’t expect the RFP to arrive until August. Taking the long-weekend in June for a five day canoe trip with my Scout troop wasn’t supposed to be a problem. The RFP landed at the office the moment I was out of cell phone range in the Red Deer River valley of course. But we set things up so that it didn’t matter if I was there or not. When I got back Tuesday, five days of work had already been done.
We won the contract, and a few hundred people now have work for the next twenty years. How did I lose my job? The program manager on the government side didn’t want me back on his program.
I thought that executing well, “speaking truth to power”, being right, and advocating for the end-user was more important. However, I had built zero relationship with him and therefore zero influence with the most important person on the program. I thought I knew better.
If I was to do anything differently, it would be to do a better job of consciously cultivating that relationship – instead of just being focused on the executing the task. We executed well, our team delivered on the desired results, but the way I did it cost me my job.
I like to joke that I got promoted and laid-off on the same day. The severance package was generous enough that I spent the next year thinking about what I value and how I wanted to contribute to the world. This led me to the career I have now with RESULTS.com which I love even more.
So my journey has been from learning to execution to relationships to values. Which my reading tells me are probably the four most important behaviors of leaders; period. Except I seem to have done things backwards. Apparently you’re supposed to be clear about your Core Values first.
To be a successful business leader we need to think deeply about and be able to share our Core Values and Core Purpose so we can speak passionately and persuasively, and we must do this all in the context of building trust and strong relationships.
And we must never stop learning!