7 Important Leadership Lessons from 5 Years in Business Pt1

7 Important Leadership Lessons from 5 Years in Business Pt1

There are two types of leadership lessons. Lessons learned from theory and lessons learned from practice, usually the hard way. In this two-part article, we will discuss the later, 7 important leadership lessons I learned from more than 5 years in business. If some of these lessons will sound familiar, please keep reading. You may still find something useful. Finally, at the end, I will give you a list of four great books worth reading at least twice. Now, let’s begin.

Leadership Lessons 4-7 are in part 2.

1. Listen first and listen carefully

This is one of the leadership lessons we hear about quite often. You should listen first, and carefully, and talk later. Yet, it is often also one of those rulers we break first. Listening to others is hard. It is especially hard today when we can go on social media and talk about whatever we want, whenever we want and with whomever we want. When we want to say something, all we have to do is open the browser or app and say it. It doesn’t matter if anyone is actually listening.

Listening to others is even harder when what we hear is different from what we think or believe. When someone says something we disagree with, we sometimes want to ignore it, pretend we didn’t hear it at all. Later on, this can become a root of many problems. Some things become less than optimal. Work that was usually done right is now done badly. Some people decide to leave. Business start to suffer. Different outcomes with a single cause. We don’t listen at all or enough.

We have to practice

There are dozens of books on leadership and leadership lessons. The problem is that these books are not the complete solution. It is not enough to take a stack of books, read them and think that we are done. Reading is just a way to get some information. And, it is only the first step. Second step is to put these information to practice. Without the second step the first one is a waste of time. I know this because I read many leadership books and I learned many leadership lessons.

The problem was that I was not applying these lessons. It was more like checking items on a to-do list. Add, read, check, next. That one important step, or piece of the puzzle, was always missing. Apply. If we continue with our list-based view of reading in order to get information the process should be: add, read, check, apply and only then next. In other words, we have to put every information we learn to practice, and we have to do it immediately as the information is still fresh.

Let me repeat it. Reading a bunch of books and learning a number of leadership lessons is not enough. We have to practice all these lessons if we want to see and cause any change. Otherwise, we will stay where we were before and get what we got.

How to practice listening

This may sound ridiculous. How to practice listening? We think we don’t have to practice listening. Why should we? We do it automatically. And, this is the problem. We are so good at listening we no longer think about it. In a fact, we often think about something completely while we are “listening”. Then, we find out that we remember only small part of what we heard. Listening is like learning. Well, it is actually learning. We have to do it deliberately, with focused attention.

There is even a special name for this type of listening, with focused attention. It is called active listening. All it means is that when we listen to someone, or something, we do only that. We are not thinking about what will we say or any other stuff. We focus our attention solely on the information we hear and the person we are listening to. This sounds easy, but it can be hard. We made it a habit to listen without focusing our attention on the information.

Now, we have to force ourselves and make some effort to break this habit. Then, we have to build a new one, listening with focusing our attention, deliberately. This may require some time, but it is worth it. When we start listening (actively), people around us will spot the difference. We will become a better conversation partner. Also, our memory will improve and we will retain more information. We will experience fewer moments when we don’t remember part of conversation.

All this may sound that listening actively, or carefully, will benefit us mostly in personal part of our life, in relationships with people around us. However, this is true only partially. Business part will benefit from it as well because every business is built on people and on our relationships (or partnerships) with them. We may just not see that way. Give it a try and start listening carefully.

2. Take full responsibility

This is one of the most important leadership lessons I learned in my whole life. We have to take full responsibility (or ownership) for everything that happens. If we want to achieve anything, there must be no space for excuses. This means taking full responsibility for the good and the bad. When something good happens, it is our responsibility. The same is true for the bad. Now comes the hard part. We also have to take full responsibility for our team and consequences of its actions.

We should make one thing clear first. Remember, we are talking about taking responsibility, not harvesting the fruits our team’s success. That something we have to avoid. When our team achieves something, it is their success and we should praise them, not beat our chest. It may be true that we gave our team the resources, space and information necessary for their success. However, unless we also did all the work, success is result of their work, not ours. We have to acknowledge it, openly.

How to take full responsibility for our team

So, what exactly are we talking about when we discuss taking responsibility for our team and its actions? It is this. We must take responsibility for providing our team with resources, space, information and anything else that is necessary for doing their job. We have to talk with every person on our team and make sure she knows and has everything she needs. It is our responsibility to make sure that everyone on the team knows what her role is and what we expect from her.

Then, it is also our responsibility to make adjust the environment and working conditions to them. We have to create a place where our team will want to work and that will help our team achieve the best results. Poor working conditions will lead only to bad morale and mediocre results, at best. Top teams need adequate working conditions. It is our responsibility to create them.

Finally, it is our responsibility to ensure smooth communication in our team. We have to not only provide our team with resources they need to get the job done. Also, we have to make sure that people on our team can communicate with each other. And, we have to make sure they can do it in a way that is comfortable for them, not us. If someone is more comfortable with email or chat, we should let her communicate that way. She should not be terrified before meeting because she is not comfortable with video hangout.

Sure, we may want to have a video call once or twice a week to connect with everyone and keep the everyone up-to-date. However, it doesn’t mean that this has to the primary type of communication. Do a video or call meeting to check up with everyone and then let’s use their preferred ways of communication. This assumes that we know what everyone’s preferred type of communication is. And, it is again our responsibility to find out.

The good, the bad and the ugly

Finally, we have to take responsibility for results of our actions and actions of our team. This is the last piece of the puzzle and usually the hardest to implement. When someone on our team makes a mistake we have to take full responsibility for all consequences. Blaming others never work neither it helps to find a solution. It makes the situation only worse. This doesn’t mean we should ignore the fact that someone made a mistake. Instead, we have to find out what went wrong and take responsibility it will not happen again.

As we discussed, it is our responsibility to provide our team with everything they need, whatever it may be. So, when something doesn’t work out because our team operated only with resources provided by us we should blame only ourselves. It was our responsibility to make sure they had what they needed. That didn’t happen. Therefore, we made a mistake and we are here to blame, not people on our team. When cap hits the fan, we should blame ourselves, not others.

I know there will be people saying that this is not true, or not completely. They may agree that we had a partial responsibility, but not full responsibility. I disagree. We are the leaders in this situation and our team follows us. They did what we said and with resources and information we gave them. Therefore, lack of resources or information or insufficient guidance is our fault. Does it still sound too extreme? This is one of the leadership lessons that are harder to swallow, but okay.

Think about this part of responsibility and ownership from this perspective. You can control what you take responsibility for. Is this true? Maybe it is and maybe it is not. I choose to believe that it is. Then, it will push me to do whatever it takes to prepare as best as I can and to give my team all resources I have because it is in my control. People didn’t believe that it is possible to run a mile under 4 minutes. Rodger Bannister did. And, he achieved it. Believe you control it and you will.

3. Hire people you want to work with

How many leadership lessons or tips did you hear about hiring? Chances are that you heard a lot of them. Maybe, you heard so many tips you got a headache. Yes, it is true. This topic about hiring people and building teams is full of tips, tricks and leadership lessons. Someone could say that there are almost too many of them. And, if you also count books published on this subject, we can talk about a flood. I mean, literally.

Hire slow, fire fast. Or, hire fast, fire slow. Or, hire fast, fire slow. Don’t hire too soon. Hire as soon as you can. Outsource what you can. Don’t outsource. It is a little bit like a pong, you bounce from one tip to another, each saying the opposite. My opinion is that everyone should hire as fast, or slow, as he think is appropriate for her specific situations and circumstances. Also, all these tips assume that there is a one size fits all solution. I don’t think so. I think that every case and person is different.

For this reason, we will not discuss any of these questions. I would suggest that you ignore these leadership lessons, analyze your situation, resources and then listen to you gut. If you feel it is a good time to hire, do it. If not, then don’t. However, there is one tip I can give you that fits this article about leadership lessons. It is to hire only those people you want to work with. Another, a relatively similar, advice is to hire people you would want to work for.

Look under the surface and beyond the CV

I think that, in this case, we can’t go wrong with any of these choices. However, there is one thing we have to keep in mind. Personality and skills still matter and we should not hire someone just because she is nice. And, I think that hiring that is based solely on person’s CV is also not a bulletproof approach. I’ve worked with many people who “looked” just good enough on CV and where amazing in action. Some of them literally surprised me. So, what should we look for?

Let’s take the ability to work with each other and the rest of the team, or mutual compatibility, as the place where we can start. Then, there are six things I look for in every person I want to add to the team. These things are adaptability, curiosity, eagerness to learn, passion, work ethic and grit. The world is changing every day and the speed of change is constantly accelerating. So, we should hire people who are flexible and can adapt to these changes.

Adaptability and flexibility alone are not enough. People we hire must have insatiable curiosity and be eager to learn, constantly. Only then, they will be able to really adapt to new situations, environments and circumstances. Next, people have to have passion for what they do. There has to be some inner drive or interest that motivates them. Otherwise, they will not last long. Then, there is this trait some of us like to talk and / or tweet about, work ethic.

We must look for people who are willing to work hard. People who are willing to go the extra mile and give everything they do 100 %. No small task is too small and details matter. Finally, my most favorite trait in the world, grit. Every person we want to hire has to be resilient. When something doesn’t work, she doesn’t give. She finds another solution to try. When something is too difficult, she finds a way to split it into smaller and more manageable parts.

Gritty person never gives up until she tried all options. When the situation gets tough, she doesn’t cry or complain. She grits her teeth and finds a way to get through. When we come with problem, she will come with solution, not immediately, but she will. Finally, person with a grit is motivated from the inside. Money, prestige and other extrinsic rewards will motive her, but they are not the main fuel for her inner fire. It is the work itself, the fuel and the reward. And, she does it on 100 %.

Closing thoughts on leadership lessons from 5 years in business

This is all for the first part of 7 Important Leadership Lessons from 5 Years in Business. I hope you found something useful in each of these lessons. And, that this article helped you learn something new today you can use. When we were discussing today’s leadership lessons, I briefly mentioned books about leadership. In the end we also discussed some traits we should look for in people. The last thing I want to share with you are three books that are worth reading, at least twice.

We talked a lot about taking full responsibility and ownership for everything that happens. There is one particular book that helped me fully understand this idea, Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. Both authors are members of Navy SEALs and now business consultants. This book is based on, and describes in vivid details, their experiences from both, active duty and business consultancy.

The second book, I’ve read at least four times, is Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable by Tim S. Grover. I love this book! It is also among the top three best books I’ve read in my whole life. It is either first or close second. Hard to decide. The third book is Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success by Carol S. Dweck. This book show you how much your mindset matters. After reading it, you will pay much more attention to how do you talk to yourself and your beliefs.

The fourth and last book is Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel and Blake Masters. If you want a business book that challenges the rules, status quo and encourages contrarian thinking, this the best choice. This book will teach you how to build business on ideas that are completely new. In other words, going from 0 to 1 instead of doing only incremental changes, going from 1 to 2. This is it, the end leadership lessons from 5 years in business part 1. Now, it is up to you to take these lessons and apply them in your business and life.

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By Alex Devero

I'm Founder/CEO of DEVERO Corporation. Entrepreneur, designer, developer. My mission and MTP is to accelerate the development of humankind through technology.

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