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10 Surprising Things Successful Leaders Do Differently

Aug 24, 2021 by Kevin Kruse 0 Comments

10 surprising things

Over the years, I’ve interviewed over 200 highly successful CEOs, military officers, entrepreneurs, and leadership gurus including John C. Maxwell, Ken Blanchard, Stephen M.R. Covey, Liz Wiseman, Kim Scott, Patty McCord, and others. I always get them to reveal their number one secret to workplace leadership; what advice would they give to a younger version of themselves? After analyzing their answers 10 themes emerged.

<<Listen to Patty McCord on The Change the Game Podcast>>

#1 Great Leaders Close Their Open-Door Policy

Open-door policies are passive ways to facilitate communication and do more harm than good. They make deep work and strategic thinking virtually impossible for the manager. Worse, research shows that half of all employees won’t go through the open door with problems or ideas because they fear repercussions. It’s time to close your door and open your calendar. Recurring, weekly one-on-one meetings are a far better way to proactively facilitate communication, and pre-scheduled “office hours”perhaps an hour each dayis the best way to facilitate time-sensitive communication.

#2 Great Leaders Don’t Bring Smartphones Into Meetings

If you use your smartphone in meetings, research from the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business suggests your colleagues probably think you’re being rude or unprofessional. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed thought it was inappropriate to read or write texts or emails in meetings, and 22% think it’s inappropriate to use the phone at all in any kind of meeting. And in a study titled “The Pen Is Mightier Than the Keyboard”, researchers discovered that when it comes to comprehension and memory, taking notes by hand was far superior to typing notes on a keyboard. To avoid distraction, to remain mindful and present, and to maximize recall, a leader should leave their smartphone in their desk and use good old-fashioned pen and notebooks in meetings.

#3 Great Leaders Have No Rules

Every time we bump into a rule, it takes away a chance for us to make a choice or a decision. And it becomes “your” company, not mine.  Rules crowd out conversation. Managers become rule enforcers instead of leaders. Instead of rules, have standards or guardrails that are rooted in company values. Use these standards as topics of discussion starting with recruiting and onboarding, and continuing throughout the employee life cycle. And when someone deviates from the values—the standards—well that’s a time for some feedback, that’s a coachable moment. Strive to model the Netflix culture of freedom with accountability.Patty McCord quote

#4 Great Leaders Are Likable, Not Liked

Are you a people pleaser? It’s normal to want to be liked, but it’s a problem if you have a need to be liked. A need to be liked causes managers to withhold direct, constructive feedback. It can lead to delayed decision-making in the hopeless quest to get universal agreement. You don’t need to act like a jerk at work, but realize that your team members don’t need another friend, they need a leader who will coach them and advance their career, who will make the sometimes tough decisions to protect the team or advance the company. Replace your need to be liked, with a need to lead right.  And replace your need to be liked by everyone, with the realization that if you are liked by your family and close friends, that’s enough.

#5 Great Leaders Lead With Love

Yes, I say leaders should love their team members. The Greeks called it agape; Professors Sigal Barsade and Olivia O’Neill call it companionate love. It’s the warmth, connection, and caring we feel for humankind—absent the passionate kind of love. Leaders who care about their team members and show it achieve high employee engagement and business outcomes. Remember the words of the legendary basketball coach, John Wooden. He would tell his players, “I will not like you all the same, but I will love you all the same.”

#6 Great Leaders Crowd Their Calendar

Great leaders are obsessed with minutes. They know that every minute wasted or freely given away is another minute that can’t be spent coaching their team or on getting results. For best results, throw out your to-do list, and schedule everything. Identify your daily most important task and schedule it first thing in the morning (before interruptions and while you are cognitively at your best). Pre-schedule time to lead; schedule your recurring weekly one-on-one’s, your quarterly town-halls, your twice a year career path meetings. What about downtime? What about time to think? Yes, schedule that too. Great leaders, including LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, actually schedule "nothing" time.

#7 Great Leaders Play Favorites

In a misguided attempt to be impartial and fair, too many managers treat all their team members the same. But it turns out that’s the most unfair thing we can do to people. And it’s the fastest way for you to lose top talent. Instead of treating everyone alike, you need to learn to individualize your leadership approach. You need to take the time to understand each of our team members when it comes to their talent, experience, attitudes, strengths, and goals. Then you play favorites, not based on who you like better, but based on who’s earned it.

#8 Great Leaders Reveal Everything

In traditional organizations information flowed “up” and the decisions came “down,” but to compete now, we have to replace “knowledge is power” to “sharing is power.” In his book Team of Teams, U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal explained that radical transparency was a key to defeating Al Qaeda in Iraq because it enabled decision-making to be pushed to the very lowest levels. In business, radical transparency means sharing everything, including all the financials needed to understand what makes the business work.

#9 Great Leaders Show Weakness

“Will you tell me about a time you failed?” It’s the first question I ask all my guests on the LEADx Leadership podcast. From Dan Pink and Captain Sully Sullenberger to Alan Alda and John Maxwell, I ask them to start with failure. Too many old school leaders believe “leadership is acting” or we must always wear a mask to project confidence and optimism. The best leaders today realize that authenticity and vulnerability in business are the fastest ways to earn trust. And as Stephen M.R. Covey told me, “Trust is the one thing that changes everything.” I’m not talking about striving to shed tears and share fears. That’s an inauthentic way of being authentic. Share your past failures as learning experiences. Share the bad news with the good. Drop your mask and be your unique self.  

#10 Great Leaders Know: Leadership Is Not a Choice

The greats all agree that leadership in a word is: influence. And we know from behavioral psychology that we are always influencing those around us. You influence when you stand up to the bully, but also when you remain a bystander. You influence when you challenge the idea in the conference room, and also when you remain silent. Leadership isn’t a choice, because you are leading (i.e., influencing) all of the time. This means you are leading not just at work but also at the dinner table, and on the sidelines of the soccer field. But are you leading in a positive direction or a negative direction? Be mindful of your power as a leader. Remember, lead with intent.

Tying It All Together

Whether you are a front-line supervisor, middle manager, or senior executive, these 10 secrets will help you to become both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire—all without drama, stress, and endless hours in the office. 

This article was originally published on by Kevin Kruse, and was republished with permission.

Kevin Kruse, past speaker at The Annual Great Game of Business Conference, is also a New York Times bestselling author of nine books and a serial entrepreneur who started or co-founded several multimillion-dollar businesses. 

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Topics: Company Culture, Leadership, Morale, Employee Recruitment and Retention, engagement, Best Employer, workplace

Kevin Kruse
Written by Kevin Kruse

Kevin is a New York Times bestselling author of nine books and a serial entrepreneur who started or co-founded several multimillion-dollar businesses. At the Gathering of Games, this Great Game practitioner will provide insights from his brand new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business. In Great Leaders Have No Rules, Kevin debunks popular wisdom with ten contrarian principles for better, faster, easier leadership. Grounded in solid research and three decades of entrepreneurial experience, his message has one purpose: to teach you how to be both the boss everyone wants to work for and the high achiever every CEO wants to hire—all without drama, stress, or endless hours in the office.

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