Free the Idea Monkey

Insight

The Price Of Leadership

January 22, 2018

Contributors

As seen on Forbes

Want to lead? Here’s the price you must pay.

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We just named a new president to run Maddock Douglas, the innovation consultancy I founded 27 years ago. As you can imagine, finding the right person was difficult, but the decision was made easier because Maria, our new president, understands the fundamental facts of leading that too many seem to be missing lately.

Anyone can be tapped to manage a team or a company. But the best leaders I have worked with, and learned from, understand the not-so-subtle difference between leading and managing.

What are these differences? Here are five of my—for lack of a better word—favorites.

You deserve the team you get.

Once you become the leader, your days of complaining about anyone on your team are officially over. If you are unhappy, you can help your staff improve and grow. You can reassign them to align their strengths with a new challenge. You can even encourage them (strongly) to exit your organization. But you can’t complain about them or their performance because you deserve the team you get. You are the person responsible.

You own it.

When you lead an organization, whether it is good, bad or ugly, you must take responsibility for what happens on your watch. Blaming or pointing fingers is at best a sign of immaturity and at worst demonstrates a lack of integrity.

The fish really does stink from the head down.

Organizations are reflections of their leadership. So when you see something you don’t like about your team, the first and best thing to do is pause in front of a mirror. Ask yourself, “What is it about me and the way I lead that is causing this behavior?” You will likely find that you are hiring people like you or that you are perpetuating patterns that exist in your life.

As an Idea Monkey, I like to solve problems by creating innovative solutions. So in the past, when people I lead came to me with a problem, I would give them a new idea. Before I knew it, I had unwittingly created a culture in which any time there was a problem, people came to me. I was robbing others of the opportunity to grow by keeping them from figuring things out for themselves and, equally bad, guaranteeing that everything had to flow through me.

If you’re a leader and don’t like the smell in your office, chances are, it is coming from you.

Bernie Banks has taught the world’s best leaders at West Point and now at Northwestern University. He has mentored leaders in the classroom and on the battlefield. Bernie says about this: “Leadership might as well be a law of physics. Show me a negative team and I will show you a negative leader.”

Making sausage? You have a sausage factory.

My buddy Richard Manders, a successful entrepreneur and business coach, likes to point out that organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they are producing. If you want different results, you must change the design of the organization. If you don’t like sausage, then why as a leader do you run a sausage factory?

Disruption comes from “the crazy ones.”

Curiosity has become the unfair competitive advantage for growth-focused companies. And to produce true disruption, you’ve got to have a little crazy on your team—people who simply never accept that the way things are is the way they have to be.

Perhaps your biggest challenge as a leader is to integrate highly disruptive people into your teams. The trick to doing so is to insist on people who are a cultural fit first, and wildly curious and smart second. Too many times, I have failed to recognize the most dangerous person on our team because I was so enamored with cleverness or results that I forgot about culture.

This can be a wicked trap. Imagine a strategy leader who your clients love but is an intellectual bully behind closed doors. Or imagine a sales leader who drives massive revenue but is unreliable and has lost the trust of the team. At best, situations like these usually result in kicking the can; you know you need to make a change, but you put it off. So instead of managing the right kind of crazy on your team, you enable the wrong kind.

This is by far the biggest mistake I’ve made as a leader, and I own it.

You can’t outwit gravity.

My friend Susan Robertson teaches creativity at Harvard. She likes to say, “Culture flows downhill.” If you want to be at the top of the leadership mountain, make sure you are constantly looking out below to see what message you’re sending. Your people will thank you—and you will be making your life dramatically easier.