When I picked up the LA Times and the Wall Street Journal this morning to read about the sorry state of the financial situation in America, my first thought was about poor leadership in the financial sector. Certainly there are many complex issues in the mix, but as I read the timeline of how it happened, here were my thoughts:
1) A great leader knows that when times are good – that’s the time to be thinking about potential problems. In the advertising industry we always say that when sales are good – that’s the time to advertise. Because when sales are bad, it’s too late – the damage is done. Great leaders are focused on the future. When they get too occupied in running the day to day – that’s when they get into trouble, because they lose the 30,000 foot perspective.
2) A great leader notices the odd stuff first. When things are going well, it’s the best leaders who start to notice when little things don’t make sense. Looking back there were small warning signs in the economy, but many of these CEO’s and financial leaders were too busy watching their stock options grow to pay attention. Remember “Scotty” on the Starship Enterprise? He was the first to notice an unusual rumble in the warp drives that nobody else heard. More than once, it saved the ship.
3) A great leader listens. Every time something like his happens, we always find out there were whistleblowers that were ignored. There are people in your organization who are on the front lines, and they’re seeing the enemy approaching long before anyone else. Listen to them. Walk through the factory. Get to know your people. Take a key team member out to lunch from time to time. They’re often the ones that can save the company because they’re seeing things you can’t always see.
4) A great leader isn’t insecure. Probably the biggest obstacle to great leadership is insecurity. When you’d rather see the company tank than admit you were wrong. When you start to tell small lies just to save face. When you fire good people because you worry they’re smarter than you. Lose the insecurity. Be humble. Hire people smarter than you. When the water rises, all boats benefit.
5) A great leader responds quickly. The best leaders are always ready to make a decision. They don’t have to endlessly wait on more information. They’ve done their homework, have confidence, and are ready to act in the best interest of the organization. Too many ships have sunk because the captain froze – unable to make a decision.