Will Flower

Lessons in Leadership

 I love being a leader.  It gives me an opportunity to serve others.  From time to time, I will post lessons on leadership and observations about good leaders.  Feel free to send me your thoughts on leadership.  Not all the ideas posted here are mine.  I'll do my best to credit the concepts that are not mine.  Remember, being a good leader is not about YOU…it’s about the development and the success of those who follow you.

Below are some simple lessons that I want to share.  Enjoy and keep coming back for more!!!




"If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader."

-- John Quincy Adams

Lesson #12:  Be aware

The world around us is constantly changing.  As a leader, you will need to be aware of changes that are happening with technologies, competitors, regulations, markets, etc…  Acting quickly to understand evolutionary and revolutionary change is critical.  You will also need to know how these changes will affect your organization. And finally, you will need to act.  

Lesson #11:  What makes a bad leader?

On this page of my web site I talk about Lessons in Leadership.  I share ideas, philosophies, traits and behaviors associated with being a good leader.  Having experienced both good and bad leaders in my career, I thought it would be beneficial to share some insights regarding poor leadership.  Again, these are things you SHOULD NOT DO as a leader. 

  1. Fail to listen – Good leaders are great communicators and that includes the skill of listening.   Listening to and acting on suggestions from your team helps create a culture of inclusion/teamwork. 
  2. Lack of Vision – Poor leaders are not prepared for today’s challenges or tomorrow’s opportunities.
  3. Be Arrogant - Leaders who put themselves first – ahead of the team – are cancer.  When leaders create an “Us vs. Them” work environment, you’re screwed.
  4. Dampen team spirit – I’ve seen too many leaders who toss the wet blanket on all ideas unless they thought it themselves.  Over time this behavior demoralizes the troops and is a slow killer. 
  5. Don’t share information – I understand the need to be confidential and selective at times.  But leaders who constantly keep secrets and have hidden agendas often have self-confidence issues.  Their “I know more than you and I’m not going to share” behavior is typically associated with an attempt to protect their knowledge or power.  Transparency is a good thing for leaders -- it builds trust and allows people to understand the path that the organization is headed. 
  6. Build barriers – Bosses who create barriers between themselves and the team are either scared, arrogant, out of touch or just assholes.  These leaders prevent people from adding value by participating in problem solving.  These weak leaders are also known for laying the blame on the team.  My advice, be open, be accessible and be a team player.  If you do, you can and should hold the team (and yourself) accountable.
  7. Refuse to delegate or give clear direction.  Don’t leave people guessing.  Good leaders take time to explain assignments, give examples of what they are looking for and make sure they are available to give feedback as the project moves forward.  Importantly, be open to new ideas and thoughts which the team may develop.
  8. Be Detached – This is similar to “building barriers.”  Remember to think of leadership as being a coach.  We know that coaching people and developing winning teams takes time and talent.  You need to know the individual players on your team – their strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and capacity.  Good coaches and good leaders understand their teams and care about the individuals who are on the team.  Teams with crappy coaches are destind for failure.  Too bad because even if the team has great talent, a poor leader can be extremely defeating.

I am sure there are many more traits associated with poor leadership.  If you want to be a good leader, avoid the traits above.  If you’re being led by a bad leader, my advice is to get out ASAP.  And don’t fool yourself – it’s not going to get better while that leader is in charge.  You’re smart…bad leaders may be hard to define, but we all know them when we see them!

Lesson #10:  Stay the Course

 Leaders will sometime need to set a course which is difficult and requires change.  Changing a process can be hard.  Changing a culture is exceptionally difficult.  Good leaders understand that change does not happen overnight.  Change requires vision and the courage and discipline (guts) to stick with a program.  Constantly changing course or “yo-yo” management will confuse and frustrate the people you are trying to lead.  Set the RIGHT course and stick with it.

Lesson #9:  Be Accessible

Mike Cordesman served as the President and Chief Operating Officer of Republic Services in the mid-2000's.  He was a great leader and always stressed the important of an "open door" management policy.  Mike would stress that an office door had to be open so that you (the leader) could walk through it and get out of your office to meet and greet workers, supervisors, vendors and customers who were making you a success.  Mike's message was clear...don't wait for people to come to you. Instead, as a leader, your job was to get out there to visit with and listen to people.  I loved going to divisions with Mike.  He was a natural leader.  He put people at ease.  He listened.  He cared.  He acted.  If your office door is always closed, think about the non-verbal messages you are sending to your team.  Accessibility enhances communication, makes people feel included, puts an end to rumors that hamper productivity, and allows the leader to hear directly from his or her team.  Open the door and get out of your office!  It will be the best part of your day. 

Lesson #8:  Avoid fear-based leadership

I will be the first to admit that leadership is not easy (especially in this tough economic time).  Many of the old standards of leadership don’t work.  As a result far too many leaders resort to fear-based leadership.  They believe in command and control…my way or the highway…like it or leave it.  These poor, fear-based leaders are scared…they don’t know what to do and they panic.  Unfortunately, when people work from fear and panic, they lose their reasoning, capacities and direction.  A team working in fear will look to blame someone.  Frequently, you will see CEOs blaming their staff while the staff blames leadership.  It becomes a wicked and destructive cycle.  In a climate of blame, the organization bogs down as everyone adopts self-protective behaviors.  People take fewer risks.  Creativity is shelved.  No one wants to participate. 

When you hear people on the team uttering phrases like “I just keep my head down”, “I try to stay off the radar” and “I just do what I am told” the situation is BAD. 

Remember, the #1 characteristic of a great leader is to create a workplace where people are encouraged, challenged and supported (Review Lesson #7).  Great leaders trust their teams and conversely, people trust their leader.   

Lesson #7:  What makes a great leader? 

When I see a successful team, I am always interested in learning more about its leadership.  Universally, people know the type of leadership that works best and they feel fortunate when they are led by a great and memorable leader.  

When I ask about the attributes of a winning team’s leader, I often hear terms like “integrity”, “trust”, “communication skills”, “sense of humor”, “clear direction” and “vision”.  But the most common characteristic I hear is that a great leader creates an environment in which people are encouraged, challenged and supported to be become stronger and more capable of doing their work.  That’s beautiful!

As leaders we want and we need our teams to smarter, stronger, more resourceful and absolutely successful.  To achieve this goal, we need to trust our people and allow them to develop.  As they solve problems, work through crisis situations, and carry out routine tasks, the teams will get stronger.  The leader’s job is the set the course, communicate the vision, and coach the team while being encouraging, supportive and caring.  Time and time again, I see amazing results as people step up to a challenge when they are encouraged and supported.  

Lesson #6:  Good leaders build great teams.

Many successful teams include individuals with exceptional talent.  But it takes than individual talent to win.  It takes teamwork.

Winning teams have access to and contribute to the development of their organization (it’s a team approach).

Winning teams are PHEONIMINAL communicators and support and promote alignment of the organization’s plans and initiatives.

Winning teams build in plenty of flexibility to adjust planning based on events, trends, economic conditions, and the surrounding market conditions.

Winning teams don’t lose sight of ethics, core values and long-term goals.

Winning teams share plans and goals with everyone on the team. 

And finally, within winning teams everyone knows how their individual contributions will lead to the overall success of the organization.

Want to be a good leader?  Focus on building a great team!


Lesson #5: Hiking and Leading

Hiking and Leading...I love to hike.  Long trails, short walks, steep hills and plains.  Some trips take hours, others days.  I’ve hike on mountains, up rocks, through rivers and across fields.  I especially like hiking with family and friends.  I’ve been fortunate to have met many new friends while hiking.
There is something about exploring the outdoors.  I think John Muir said it best…"In every walk with nature one receives more than he seeks."
To me, hiking is similar to leading.  When you hike, you need to be prepared, have the right tools and equipment and a plan (a map) for the journey.  Confidence is also important.  You need to be confident in those around you and in your own abilities safely complete the trip.  During the journey you may, at time, find yourself in some merciless environments.  This is when you really need to watch out for others.

When you find yourself in a tough spot, you can take comfort in knowing that you are on the right path.  Even when times are tough, remember this...if you're walking down the right path and you're willing to keep walking, eventually you'll make progress. Enjoy the walk!

Lesson #4:  The WILL to win

I love football and the Green Bay Packers are my favorite team.  Obviously, the team is rich in tradition and there is none better than the Lambeau Leap where players jump into the arms of cheering fans.  As the Packers play for another win, I thought a good lesson would be to take a look at what the teams are playing for..

The Championship Trophy that 32 teams strive to win each year is named after Vince Lombardi.  The Coach is often misquoted as saying 'Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."  What Lombardi actually said was, "Winning isn't everything, but the WILL to win is everything."  Hard to argue with the Coach (unless you are fighting cancer and then winning IS everything). I have been fortunate to play on many winning teams.  The lesson I want to share is that you can have the best talent, the best equipment, the best coaches and consultants and even the best strategy, but if you don't have the WILL to win, there's a good chance that you will come up short.  Each year there are plenty of examples of sports teams filled with superior talent that fail to make the post season.

Remember, it's not raw talent, it's the WILL, the drive, the determination, the teamwork, the ability to execute, and the passion that makes a team winners.

As you watch sports or observe teams at work, you can always spot the leaders.  They are the ones that people go to.  They have their doors open.  They are the ones who are approachable and are always willing to help get the job done.  They don't ask "What can you do for me?", rather they ask "How can I help you?"  They are creative and resourceful.  I am fortunate to lead a small team of winners -- great people with superior talent.  But, it's their passion, drive, and WILL to win that makes them the best.

Lesson #3:  Real leaders

Some people think they are "leaders" because of their position or authority.  Be careful.  Remember the words of Dwight Eisenhower..."You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership."  I believe that leadership is about serving and supporting others.  People who suppress others and seek their own rewards are not leaders -- they're idiots.  If you can help people achieve their goals, get them to do something that they believed was impossible, make them better...now THAT'S leadership. 

Found a great quote from Booker T. Washington for Lesson #3..."There are two ways of exerting one's strength:  one is pushing down, the other is pulling up."

Lesson #2:  Listen

Listening shows that you care and demonstrates respect.  Nothing you say today will teach you anything.  If you want to learn...LISTEN.

Lesson #1:  It's all about service

Leadership is not about being important, it's about serving something important.
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