I just finished writing my first book.  Part of the book is about leadership, but not in the way you might think.

You see, as I was writing the book I kept thinking back to my original days of owning my vending company.  In the early days, my management and leadership style was my way or the highway.

As you can imagine, I didn’t have many enthusiastic followers back in those days.  In fact, the only thing my bad behavior got me was employees who resented me. Even after I stopped by bad behavior, my reputation as being a jerk stayed with me for years.

I’m hoping some of the lessons I learned in my early business years can help you as you think about leadership in your company.

Start with taking an inventory of who you are.

I know, it’s hard to be honest about yourself.  Yes, I know that you think you’re honest with yourself, and I also know that it’s rare when I actually tell myself the unvarnished truth.

I like to tell myself that I’m more open and willing to listen to others than I really am.  I like to think I’m a great listener and when things are going well, it’s easy for me to do this.  The challenge comes when things aren’t going so well.  And, that’s when being a good listener really counts.

When you take inventory of yourself I want you to do so when life is tough and you’re up against it.  That’s what your employees watch and it’s what you need to pay attention to.

Think about the destruction your arrogance and hubris cause your company.

One of the good things about running your own company is you get to set the guidelines for how you operate.  You don’t have a boss looking over your shoulder telling you to change the way you talk with your staff.

I wish there was someone looking over my shoulder when I was 25 who could have gotten through to me.  I was about as arrogant as you could get and my behavior was beyond reprehensible.  

The only thing bad behavior got me was employees sabotaging the work we did.  When someone made a mistake, I made sure I yelled at them and called them idiots.  Well, you can guess what happened when they had a chance to stick it to me.  After all, would you have done anything differently if you were working for me?

Stop telling and start asking.

This was the first lesson I had to learn and it’s a lesson you’re going to need to learn if you want to make yourself operationally irrelevant in your business.

If you ask before you tell, two things will happen.  First, you’re going to slow yourself down from being critical.  It’s hard to tell someone they’re a jerk when you ask them a question with real curiosity.  Second, when you ask a question and you’re curious, you’re likely to learn something you didn’t know before.  And, the decision you make will likely be different than if you start telling before asking.

Remember, it’s usually not the person.

One of my management hero’s is W. Edwards Deming.  He had two things to say when things went wrong in a company.  The first, was don’t blame the person, look to the system.  The second was it’s management’s job to make sure things go well, not the employee’s job.

When I started taking responsibility for what happened instead of blaming others life changed for me.  No longer were people hiding whenever I walked in the room.  Over time those who worked for and with me didn’t fear me as much.  Yes, they still thought I would explode, but that was mostly old news.  The reality our workplace was much better and more productive.

And, it could even be you.

The biggest lesson I learned during my first five years in business was when things went wrong, it was usually my fault.  I either didn’t give people the right to make mistakes and learn from them or I was more interested in finding fault with others than having the problems be corrected.

The truth is if you’re going to be the type of leader that creates a sustainable business, you’re going to have to learn to trust your people.  You’re going to have to learn to allow mistakes and when things don’t go wrong, you’re going to have to look in the mirror and ask what could I have done differently?

What do you think about your ability to lead?  What can you be doing differently that will help you get a different result?

Why don’t you let me know what you think in the comments below?

Topics: Creating Value, leadership, Sustainable Business, Management

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