Five Things A Leader Must Do By Default

In today’s corporate environment, after a few years of doing your job well enough, chances are that you will be asked to step up and lead a team. You trained and studied to be good at your job, and now getting to manage people seems like a reward for a job well done.

By promoting the good performers to be managers and leaders, people have assumed for centuries that the skills that made you successful as an individual contributor would also make you successful as a manager. If you have led people for any considerable amount of time, you would know how false this assumption is. Yet in the business world, this continues to be the norm.

Today I want to list down five things which you must do, or are expected to do by default, to be effective as a manager/leader. And it is likely that nobody told you this when you were promoted. I have only figured them out after leading teams for over a decade, and I believe I am on a continuous journey to learn and know more about leadership.

1. Lead Yourself
The first thing you must do to be effective as a leader is to lead yourself. Your relationship with your team will be determined more by your trustworthiness than by any other skill or talent you might possess. Trust is the foundation of leadership, and you build trust by leading yourself first – by holding yourself accountable for what you demand from your team. Like any worthwhile endeavour, it takes time, effort and daily investments to build trust with your team.

If you want your team members to honour their promises, honour your promises to them. If you ask them to be on time for meetings, you must be on time first. Or you will lose their trust. If you ask them to be respectful to each other, you must respect them first. Or you will lose their trust. If you want them to be humble, you need to exemplify that in your behaviour. If you need them to be honest and sincere, you need to acknowledge your mistakes publicly and make amends for them. You can not lead a team if you can’t lead yourself.

“Trust takes years to build, seconds to break, and forever to repair.” - Unknown

2. Know Where You are Headed

When you are leading a team, people will look up to you for providing direction. Having a well-defined purpose clarifies why the team exists in the first place. Coming up with the team’s purpose together with your team will empower them to take decisions which are in the best interest of the team.

Listening to your team and engaging in a dialogue will allow the team to define and own its purpose. You need to spend time with the team regularly to discuss, revisit or reshape the team’s purpose. Ensuring each member understands the team’s purpose and their role in the team will empower them to prioritise their tasks effectively.

3. Be a Coach
If you have people reporting to you, then you are their coach by default. You don’t have a choice in being their coach as people will approach you anyways. When they are demotivated, when they have a conflict, or when they need help for any other reason; it is your responsibility to listen, understand their concerns, and then coach them to align their personal motivations with the team’s shared purpose and goals. If you can’t do that effectively, it will impact the results the team intends to produce in the future.

While I assert that you are a coach by default, the skills and conversations required to be a coach don’t come by default. You must invest time and effort in learning and practicing your coaching skills. How well you coach people will be directly proportional to the results the team produces. Investing in learning these skills and making coaching a priority will be your best investment ever.

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there” – Lewis Carroll

4. Demand Commitment and Accountability
Just as every sport has a certain set of rules, each business team can come up with rules (or standards) which apply to their business and industry. These rules will govern how you work and define success and failure. Examples could be how you treat your colleagues, how complaints are handled, and what boundaries you set in matters important to the team. Once these standards are set, it frees up everyone to exercise their own creativity in making decisions. This gives shape to the ‘culture’ in the team.

After you set up these standards together with your team, you have to demand them. Of course, for this to work, you have to exemplify them yourself. Holding your team accountable to these standards (or rules) will bring the team members together and set the team up for high performance. The intention behind it is not to punish or penalise people when they slip up, but to ensure an open, fair and supportive culture in the team.

5. Serve Your People
I believe that leadership is a privilege, and that each leader is a custodian of the company’s values, beliefs and ambitions for the future. Leadership will require you to think beyond your own self-interest, and from your team or company’s point of view. In order to lead you must be willing to serve – to put your team’s interest in front of any individual interests, which might lead you to make some difficult decisions from time to time.

Leadership is not about power or authority, nor is it about popularity. Leadership is about character – which you will need to express yourself authentically, compassion – which you will need to grow and develop your people, and integrity – which you will need to serve your people with the respect and transparency they deserve.

I believe that leadership is standing for something bigger than yourselves. You show your team the way, give it what it needs to do the job, and then get out of the way. Your biggest job is to create an environment of respect and accountability, where people have fun and express themselves freely by continuously moving forward towards the team’s goals.

Leadership is Service

To sum it up, these five points above are not strategies or tactics which you can incorporate in your leadership style to get better results. These are the bedrock which will give rise to a myriad of strategies and tactics, which in turn will lead to those results. If you try to fake them, your people will call your bluff sooner or later, and you will lose all credibility and trust. An attitude of humble service will enable you to become a better leader, while taking care of your team and company’s needs.

Are you Interested? or Are you Committed?

When one says he is committed to something, does it mean a trade? Does it mean that I will do this or that only if you do some other this or that? Does this commitment expect something in return from the other side? Will the commitment waver if one doesn’t get a response from the other side?

In my experiences over the years, I have realised that our aim should not, and cannot, be to make our commitment contingent on some external factor. If our commitment wavers because of a lack of response from the other side, then maybe that was not even commitment in the first place.

That is the difference between interest and commitment. If I am interested in some result, I will take steps to get that result. But it will be very easy to give up (in the case of an interest) when circumstances turn averse or not as expected. We no longer see the interest getting fulfilled, so we have every reason to back out. Fair enough.

But a commitment is bigger, it is a promise you make to yourself (more than anybody else) and then there are no excuses, but only results that matter. For example, a mother has commitment for her child, and she will even go hungry to feed her child. A mother doesn’t demand fairness from her son, she just loves her, for that is her commitment, irrespective of the situation or whatever obstacles life throws in front of her. As they say, any obstacle will have to go over her dead-body.

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” - Tom Robbins

“Stay committed to your decisions, but stay flexible in your approach.” – Tom Robbins

So how do we know if we are committed or just interested? Wait for the tough times as real commitment is only tested in the face of obstacles and conflicts, and that is what reveals the true character of all of us.

If we can let go of our attachment to the outcomes of our efforts and just focus on the fact that we are committed to do our best, we are more likely to achieve success regardless of how the world shows up. It will always be tempting to give up when we don’t see the outcomes we expect, and that is the threshold of ‘interested‘ and beyond that the world of ‘commitment‘ starts.

Every time we experience being upset, irritated or frustrated, we know our commitment is wavering. The question is, “Can we cross this threshold?

And once we step into the world of commitment, we experience being calm, happy, at peace and confident, even in the face of harsh challenges. An interested person will get angry at an unexpected result, while a committed person will accept that fully, and take the next necessary action to stay committed to his goals without backing out.

If I reflect over my life, the times I thought were the toughest have given me the best lessons in life. I am really grateful for them for making me who I am today. These tough times have also taught me that we should not define success by the outcome of one’s results, but by the efforts being put in.

Being committed gives us the freedom of doing our best, yet be completely fine with the final result not being what we expected. No effort is a failure just because it doesn’t result in an expected outcome. It is a success if we gave our best!

If we notice carefully, this dilemma comes up in every area of our lives. Look at the things that frustrates you, or you got angry over? Were you interested or committed in that situation?

If commitment is present any setback would not last long. Be open to life’s little surprises, and experience its beauty when it does that. Allowing these surprises to happen without getting upset is one of the best things we can do to fulfil our commitments.