Tips from Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership
I recently read Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership. Here are a few tips I enjoyed from the book:
Earning the Right to Lead Through Character
This book shows that in order to gain credibility, you need to be authentic, trustworthy, and have character traits such as courage, integrity, and commitment:
- Being Authentic
- Look at Life: Seeing Who You Are
- Owning Your Past: The Sting of Failure – Adversity demands more of us than normal times do.
- One Day at a time – An Unexpectedly Bad Day
- Share the Shame – You can share a couple of your past disappointments with your team mates to connect with them on a personal level
- Face Time – Meet face to face to build personal relationships
- The Perception Gap – Get feedback on how others see you
- The Courage to Listen
- Honest Feedback – great leaders don’t avoid conflict and give honest feedback but at the same time be authentic and professional.
The book shows that great leaders build a track record of honesty, fairness, and integrity that creates a leadership “equity” within their constituency. Trustworthiness takes precedence over heavyweight attributes like creativity and intelligence.
- Safely Successful – physical, emotional and professional safety is primarl need.
- Be honest – match your actions with your words and match those words with the truth we see in the world (no spin).
- Be vulnerable – showing your weakness or raw emotion
- Be fair
- A better place for all – The book recommends building trusted interpersonal relationships that have commitments to work and loyality. On the other hand fear inspires defensive behavior, which leaders can eliminate fear by being transparent, crystal clear, and integrity.
- A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Truth – One reason people within enterprises fear telling the truth to each other and to their bosses is that they know the organization cannot properly distinguish between the message and the messenger.
- Bad News Doesn’t Swim Upstream
- A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Innovation – Trust is the basis of safety. Create trust, and you’ll create a safe place to take risks and in turn build culture of innovation. The organizations should not punish “good failure”
- A Culture of Trust Is a Culture of Performance – you should never punish a good person for delivering bad news—or even, on occasion, bad work.
- Take Your Pain Quickly and Acutely—and Move On
Being Compelling – Commitment to Winning
The book shows that great leaders evoke the emotion and energy of being involved in a crusade. No one will sacrifice for a project if the leader hasn’t made a full and clear—and public—commitment. Great leaders don’t want to be merely an employee instead they want to be part of a team, working together to create something important.
- Choice and Obligation – The best, most talented followers are really volunteers, and because of those very attributes they are often in considerable demand elsewhere.
- Attracting the Best and Brightest – Great leaders engage and listen to people.
- Keeping Your Best on Board
- Tell Me the Truth – the best people actually find reality, even if it is bad news, compelling.
- Keep Me Challenged – Talented people want and need challenging work.
- No Hard Feelings – leaders must be able to stand in their followers’ shoes and see themselves from that viewpoint.
Competence: Leading on the Field with Skill
- Leading People Talent to Teams – Hiring great people is arguably the highest-leverage activity that leaders undertake.
- Seating Chart – talent is useless if the person is not a good match with that role and responsibility and a specific place in the structure of the organization.
- People First – hire the very best people; only then should you focus on building the right plan for the organization.
- Engagement – engage people by setting realistic goals with them and fairly rewarding them for meeting or exceeding those expectations.
- Energy – functional, emotional and career energy.
- Empowerment – delegate power to other people
- Retreat to Attack
- How Has the Nature of Your Enterprise Changed? – As a leader, if you have not prepared your people for that change or you resist that change, you have failed in your responsibilities.
- Where Is Your Authority or Positional Power Best Used in Leading People? – By carefully setting performance expectations with your key team members, you move the whole game up a notch.
- What Is Your Plan to Deal with Your Weakest Link? – being aware of poorly performing subordinate and acting on it instead of avoiding it.
- Will You Distinguish the Bad Performer from a Bad Plan? – think like a venture capitalist, with your project leaders as the entrepreneurs and the project itself a new venture. Have a post-mortem and inquire why project failed.
Leading Strategy – ideas to plans
Leaders need to distinct between leading people, strategy and execution.
- Process to Plans – plan shows what needs to be done, where as trategy is bigger than plan and includes how things are done and fallback options.
- The Process: Inclusive and Collaborative – The process must include the best people and the best ideas, from both within and outside the company, and must foster collaborative thinking and constructive, rigorous discussion.
- Winnowing Out a Plan – solicit ideas from others when you don’t know the domain
- The Plan: Realistic and Compelling – The book shows that leaders need to be engaged throughout the process to make sure the process moves along with appropriate energy and that the team remains realistic in terms of time, resources, and goals.
- Stickiness – commitment in the face of adversity
Leading Execution – actions to results
Execution is about results. Leaders need to distinct between leading people, strategy and execution. Execution provides feedback that can be measured against plans.
- Solve the Hard Problems First – don’t distract yourself with second-tier tasks
- At the Edges – In order to build high-reliability organizations (e.g. SWAT), you need zero tolerance team execution, which require:
- reliable communications
- continuous training
- standardize and synchronize
- mission-goal clarity and loyality
- empower the front line
- Leadership Leverage in Execution – The book suggests leading the process and setting the standards for the right goals. This includes leading the design process to create the appropriate metrics, ensuring a winner’s commitment and making sure that attitude permeates the culture.
- Curb Your Enthusiasm: Focus, Commit, and Deliver – don’t overcommit and follow the rule of “first things first.”
- It Isn’t Real If You Don’t Measure It – Measuring what matters is an extremely high-leverage opportunity. Use management by objectives (MBO), “as measured by” (AMB) or a key performance indicator (KPI) processes for measureing factors that correlate very highly with winning.
- Let the Dashboard Drive – Measuring what matters to naturally direct attention, focus, and commitment to the right activities
- It’s Just Like Pinball: If You Win, You Get to Play Again
- Winner’s mindset
- Failing elgantly – No lame excuses
- Sloppiness – HRO never allow sloppiness because they know it equals death. The book shows that leaders may
feel like part of being a nice guy, succumbing to that temptation promotes a culture of mediocrity.
- Performance Feedback – look for data coming back from the field.
Consequence: Creating a Culture, Leaving a Legacy of Values
Trust is the most fragile of assets; at a certain point, different in every situation.
A Leader’s Communication
- Open, Honest Dialogue – The book shows that the ability of leaders to communicate effectively is highest leverage activity in their set of responsibilities and should include:
- What are we doing? (Vision and mission.)
- Why are we doing it? (Purpose and goals.)
- What’s the plan to win?
- (What’s the strategy here?)
- How are we doing? (Results and status—health of the business.)
- What is my part in the game? (What do you expect from me?)
- What’s in it for me? (Why is this a compelling place for me to be?)
- How am I doing? (Give me feedback, acknowledgment, appreciation.)
In order to build trust, leaders not only need to focus on contents but also emotional content of that message and the
connection—the leader’s empathy with the audience.
Checklists and Guideposts
Here are some key points from the book:
- communication is a core responsibility of leading
- most of the important things in organizations are the result of the right conversation
- starving followers from basic information will result in high cost
Here are five C’s for What question leader needs to communicate:
- A compelling cause
- Credibility & Competence
Here are five E’s for Why question leader needs to communicate:
Here are six C’s for When question leader needs to communicate:
Here are seven C’s for How question leader needs to communicate:
The Solitary Touch
The book shows that there is really no such thing as a “casual” conversation.
Your 24 × 7 Job
The book shows leader has three basic tasks:
- Align the interests, energy, and commitment of the team.
- Reduce fear, confusion, and anxiety.
- Instill confidence and trust, while rallying support and contributions.
A Leader’s Decision Making Values-Based Choices
The book shows that leader does not need to make most of the decisions, but need to help followers make make better decisions.
- What Exactly Are We Deciding?
- What Flavor Is This Decision? – decisions can be classified as either simple or complex. You need sufficient data to make the decision, otherwise you have to use intuition. Decisions can also be characterized as easy or difficult.
- When Does This Decision Need to Be Made?
Total Cycle Time = Time to Decide + Time to Commit + Time to Execute
- Who Should Make This Decision? – who is best equipped—by skill, experience, proximity
- Don’t Wait; Decide
- Chasing Decisions – communicate with followers and empower them to make decisions
A Leader’s Impact The Transfer of Influence from Leader to Follower
Finally, the book shows how to build lasting legacy and reputation:
- Leader Taking the High Ground
- Whisper Campaign – use public forums to acknowledge accomplishments, sacrifices and courage. Also, appreciate them in private.
- All You Leave Behind – using exit interviews to get feedback
- Collective Memory
- What to Do
- Pay attention to change
- Get More Curious, and Smarter, About Human
- Nature – leaders tend to gravitate toward the objective and away from the subjective.
- Give feedback
- Celebrate success
- Respect Life Outside of Work
- Your Greatest Legacy