More Advice for Young Leaders

  • Deal with things once
    • Paperwork, personnel issues, complaints, and so many other things are easy to put off. Instead of delaying, deal with them once and for all. Just do it. Touch a piece of paper one time – answer it, throw it away, or file it. Take care of a personnel situation as soon as you can (unless you need some time to think about the matter or consult with someone), and don’t let it fester. Honest-to-goodness complaints (not the whiny kind) should be handled one time. And then, move on. Don’t stand there staring at the past; turn around and look ahead to the next challenge.
  • Appreciate the past; invest in the future
    • Young leaders need to acknowledge and even honor the past, especially those who sacrificed and led others. After all, young leaders got where they are now because they stood on the shoulders of previous leaders, so these past leaders are owed some gratitude. However, you cannot dwell on the past – you must focus on the future. Look to what may come as a reason for your leadership, not where the organization has been. Honor the past; anticipate the future.
  • Meet with your direct reports monthly
    • I cannot stress this enough: meet with all your direct reports at least monthly in one-on-one sessions. Staff meetings are fine, but you won’t get details and information you need to do your job unless there are individual meetings. You need to hear the truth from your direct reports without it going through the self-filter inherent in a group meeting. AND, one-on-one times provide you the opportunity to tell that person, in private, how he or she is doing. Each month, each direct report needs to know what the boss thinks of his or her performance. Do not wait for the annual evaluation; do the evaluation monthly.
  • Find a mentor and a coach
    • Mentors and coaches are excellent. They can help you see things in a different light; they provide insight that you’d not thought of before; they can help you be creative in finding solutions; etc. However, they cannot make you want to change – only you can do that. And implicit in having a coach or mentor is the desire to get better, and that usually requires change. So find a good person to lead you, but make sure you’re willing to adapt to the new things you’ll learn along the way.
  • Prioritize important things, not urgent things
    • When a crisis or problem arises, ask yourself if this situation is “urgent,” “important,” “urgent and important,” or “neither.” If it is neither, then ignore it. First tackle things that are urgent and important, and then the rest (although you may not have the luxury of deciding what you take on first or second). I’ve learned that asking myself if this is urgent, important, or both really helps cut through all the fluff so that I know if I’m using my time wisely or if I’m just using up my time.
  • Empower subordinates to make decisions that affect them directly
    • You don’t have to decide everything for your organization. Determine early on what merits your attention and what really could be handled by others. Let others do things that don’t need your input or which need only a modest amount of your oversight.
    • Letting others make decisions gives them ownership of the ultimate decision, gives them a challenge to work on, makes them feel part of the team, and saves you a lot of time. It also helps them understand the daily decision-making process that you go through (with both good and bad results). Invite your subordinates into part of your management world and see how they can help you.
    • My best example is when I asked the administrative assistants to choose the office copier. They self-organized, visited the sales floors, tested the products based on what they knew they would need it to do, gathered information on pricing and service, and then presented me with their recommendations. My only job was to make sure their request fit within the budget (which it did). These ladies felt very good about the entire process until the machine broke down (on the 3rd day we had it!) and then they only had themselves to point fingers at. I then helped them understand that breakdowns are just a matter of time with copiers. When the copier contract came up for renewal, those ladies were much better at making a decision and that provided me even more time to focus on more important (and urgent) things.
  • Learn to make decisions quickly, decisively, and effectively, but not permanently
    • Decision-making is one of the key elements of leadership. It involves amassing information and opinions, sorting through the data, and making a determination (and occasionally leading a group to make a decision).
    • Do not get swallowed by “analysis paralysis” – you can always get more information, but will that additional information be sufficient to change the decision? Decide ahead of time how much is enough to proceed.
    • Follow up by communicating that decision up, down, and around to everyone – be as transparent as you can possibly can so that all know what is going on. Keeping everyone informed is vital to effective decision making.
    • Lastly, change your mind when necessary. If new information is received that is sufficient to warrant changing the decision, then do it. Life is dynamic; decisions should be, too. Do not be set in stone in your decisions; change them as needed but only when there is sufficient, relevant information to make a change for the better (never change for change’s sake).
  • Flow
    • Flow. I can’t emphasize this enough. Just “flow.” Many times you don’t need to fight against the situation; you need to flow. Trying to be heard on every subject is pointless, so just flow. Know what is worth your time and energy and what things are not – then flow with those that are not worth your resources. Flow – keep calm, be relaxed in tense situations that are not really that important, and ensure you have a level head. Flow.

Lead On!