“I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion.” – Alexander the Great
A marketing partner from Canada asks: “How do you view leadership at Queensboro?”
How important is leadership to selling custom embroidered shirts and promotional products?
I don’t know if leadership, as a subject, gets more attention now than it used to. But as we at Queensboro have become increasingly serious about TGP – The Greatness Project, which is our initiative to become a great company, it is definitely a subject that has gotten a lot more attention from me.
When we committed to TGP, I knew I was going to have to seriously up my leadership game. I was a reactive leader who related OK to some, and not at all to others.
I knew if we were going to be great, I was going to have to become a great leader. That was a very difficult thing to accept. To this day I don’t know if I am capable of it. It feels right to aspire to be a great leader, but I don’t know how anyone could ever claim to actually be a great leader. It is kind of like claiming to be a perfect person.
Looking for some help, I set out to learn about leadership. As I began to gather information, I was surprised by how disconnected it all was. Mostly it was a lot of successful people talking about how they dealt with people as they became increasingly successful. If they made a lot of money, won a lot of games, or rose to high political office, they were, by definition, great leaders.
I saw a few “studies” on the subject that claimed to measure leadership effectiveness but didn’t see much science around how effectiveness was defined or measured.
So Leadership lesson # 1 for me was, there is really no such thing as leadership.
At least not as any kind of universal principal. Instead, what leadership is and how it should be practiced seems to be a lot of individual opinions validated in hindsight by impressive results. If results were good, leadership must have been good.
I wasn’t too upset to not find a working model of leadership to adopt because it freed me to make up something on my own. I love doing that.
So I got with The Team and this is what we came up with. This is what we believe about leadership:
Leadership is influence, good and bad. To the extent to which everything we do influences others in some way, we are all leaders. The greater our influence, the more of a leader we are. Everybody in an organization needs to understand the influence they have on those around them and accept his or her leadership responsibilities.
Good leadership is positive, inspirational and leads to progress. Bad leadership is destructive and ultimately prevents progress.
Great leadership and great results are only related in the long run. In the short term, great leadership can produce bad results and bad leadership can produce good results. Sometimes you play poorly and win. Other times you play great and lose.
Our goal at Queensboro is to become a great company. What role does leadership play in that pursuit?
We see it something like this:
Individual Effectiveness = Innate Talent x Effort x Coaching
Organizational Effectiveness = People x Effort x Leadership.
The higher the degree of any of the “factors” (the items on the right side of this equation), the larger the “product”, or the effectiveness of the individual or organization.
Get the effectiveness product high enough and you’ve achieved greatness!
(An interesting thing to note about these formulas is that if any of the “factors” are negative, the “product” is also negative. Talented people working hard directed by good leadership leads to greatness, but unqualified people, poor effort or bad leadership all doom greatness.)
It is no small feat to populate an organization 100% with qualified people. That is the subject for another blog post. Assuming you have done that, though, how do you then influence, coach, manage and lead to get everyone to work productively together across the entire team?
Our belief is that great leadership comes from the 4 R’s – Relationships, Relentless, Reflective and Reconnect.
We talk about leadership in this way so that it is easy to understand and remember. If everyone on the team agrees and accepts these idea, the same principles can be applied to every leadership situation in our organization regardless of the level.
All great leadership, we believe, begins with relationships. A great leader has great relationships up, down, sideways, back and forth, and inside and out of an organization. Successful people are not always great leaders. Great speakers are not always great leaders. But we believe great leaders are always great at building strong relationships. Influence is extended through relationships. Without great relationships, influence quickly erodes. How does one develop great relationships and great relationship skills? Maybe we’ll write a separate blog post on that, too! It all starts with slowing down and listening, though. And of course, one must truly care.
Relentless is the favorite leadership quality of those who like to lead by example. Unfortunately, it is never enough to just lead by example. Most people need more explicit guidance than that. Some feel that to be a leader is to have permission to tell others what to do, while not actually doing anything themselves. In fact, a great leader is usually the hardest working member of the team. All eyes are on the leader. The leader sets the pace. But a leader who only leads by example doesn’t really know if anyone is really following, and if they are not, why they are not. Without the leader’s relentless drive, though, a team will never be inspired to dig down for the extra effort necessary for superior results.
A great leader is also reflective. They are not impulsive. Being reflective is the only way to effectively deal with the barrage of issues that come up every day. A great leader doesn’t immediately react to something they see for the first time. They find context to put around new information as they begin to understand it. When context is not available, decisions are postponed avoiding mistakes. The idea that a great leader always knows exactly what to do is a myth. When a great leader responds quickly it is because he or she has prepared. Team members respect a thoughtful leader. Everyone knows good decisions require careful consideration. When reflection is combined with relentlessness, it makes a great leader decisive.
One of the most gut-wrenching reflections a great leader embraces is around evaluating talent. Bad leaders don’t understand the importance of having talented teammates. Mediocre leaders understand the importance but aren’t relentless about acting on it. Great leaders hire carefully, reflect and coach constantly, and make changes quickly when necessary. The speed with which a great leader acts when the wisdom of a judgement becomes clear is a trademark of a great leader.
Finally, a great leader continuously reconnects the team. Great teams support and encourage individual creativity and expression, which is where progress ultimately comes from, but only within the framework of the larger group. This creative impulse gives a team energy, but it also drives it apart. A great leader is constantly bringing the team back together. A great leader always knows were each member of the team is, emotionally and physically, and makes sure each team member is reconnected to every other team member. All great teams stay connected and that does not happen by itself.
Why are we so inspired and fascinated by great leadership? Surely part of it is a degree of envy for what often comes with it – money, power, fame. And no doubt another part of it is a fascination with how a single person can achieve seemingly superhuman things. We are drawn in by the question “How can we do that? What does that person have that I don’t have?”
I don’t believe it is for anyone to say if they are a great leader. That is for others to judge. There is greatness in aspiring to be a great leader, though, just as there is greatness in aspiring to be a great company.
Ambition, confidence, and humility are the partners of greed, arrogance and ego. Great leaders, guided by the 4 R’s, make a career of understanding the difference.