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.

Lessons from the movie “Peaceful Warrior”

Peaceful Warrior is one of the most simple movie with a lot of deep lessons in it. It is based on the book “The way of the Peaceful Warrior” (buy from Flipkart or Amazon) by Dan Millman and recollects his story as an athlete. Nick Nolte gives one of his best performance ever in the movie. After watching this movie, you will get the feeling of wanting to enjoy every moment, something which we don’t feel very often. This movie will leave you thinking about how you run your lives, and if you are open to these lessons, you will get a lot more than just inspiration from this movie. Some of the most important lessons I learned from this movie are listed below –

No Ordinary Moments

There are no ordinary moments in life. Every moment is special, and it is your choice to make the best of it or let it go. The movie also has a quote that “There is never nothing going on“, which signifies the fact that there is always a lot going on around you, and in each moment actually lies our life. Moment after moment, that is how life passes by, and the only moment we have is this one, and this one, and so on. So it tells you to experience every moment by being fully engaged in that moment.

A Warrior Acts, Only a Fool Reacts

Life presents us with many different people and situations, and there is only thing we can control about it – our response. Work on mastering your response to different situations. Don’t let other people and situations decide how you react and feel. Be aware of your emotions, of love, hatred, frustration when they come, but rise over them, and respond in a way you want to, rather than reacting in impulse at that moment and regretting later on.

Where are you?  Here, What time is it?  Now,  What are you?  This moment

Where are you? Here, What time is it? Now, What are you? This moment

Take out the Trash

We all need to take out the trash which is in our mind. Trash refers to everything which you don’t need or which is not in the current moment. It might be doubt about your abilities, fear from your past failures, worries about the future, and so on. All this trash keeps you from doing the only thing that matters which is focussing on the current moment. The current moment is the only moment you have, and all past and future thoughts in our mind are trash.

You will Never be Better, Neither be any Less

You will never be better than anybody else, and in the same way you will never be any less. Irrespective of the kind of lives you live, practices you follow, or whatever you do or don’t do, there is no higher ground where you stand compared to others. Treating every other human being with respect and compassion shows more about you than the other person. The same way you are also not less than anybody else, not based on money, resources, thought or anything else.

Service is the Highest Purpose

Service to others is the highest purpose in life. There is no greater thing to do in life than to serve or help others. Service means unselfish kindness without expecting anything in return. We all have various talents and skills, and it is our obligation to use them to teach others and serve them. Service to others gives meaning to your life. Everybody’s life has a purpose, and you will find your purpose in service. Service to something bigger than yourselves.

This is one of the best movies I have watched, and I watch it often when I feel confused or I know I am not living in the present. And believe me, every time I get something new out of watching it. There are a lot of important lessons to be learnt from this movie, and I will be writing another post soon to cover those.