When You’re on the Floor, You Can’t Fall out of Bed
If you’re a leader, a lot of headaches will come your way, and it’s your job to handle them. But leading your people will give your life more meaning, more depth, and a stronger sense of purpose—exactly the things your people long for too. Always remember: leading is not a chore but a privilege.
Don’t try to fool your people. They can smell phoniness a mile away, but they also recognize sincerity and authenticity, and they respect it. That starts with the job interview. If they don’t like your honest answers, you might as well find out sooner than later.
To make it special to be on your team, make it hard. The Navy SEALS and the Peace Corps have wait lists because those are missions, not jobs. The right people are attracted to the difficulty. They know not everyone can make it, and that’s what makes it special.
Be Patient with Results, Not Behavior
If you plan to change the culture where you work, you need to separate behavior from results. Turning around results takes time, and you’ll need to be patient. But changing group behavior needs to be done immediately, so you have to be impatient. If your people can’t handle basic expectations, they won’t be able to handle the complicated tasks they’ll need to master later. There will be times when you make rare exceptions down the road, but not at first. Start with the small things and get them right.
Don’t expect to coax your people from the shallow end to the deep end. They won’t go. Better to have everyone jump into the deep end right from the start.
Tell them the “bad news” first, including your high expectations and all the hard work and sacrifice your mission is going to require, then explain why this will not be for everyone. If they’re still listening, you can tell them the good news: this new approach will work, the rewards will be exceptional, and the journey will be deeply satisfying.
You won’t get everyone on board with this approach, but you don’t want everyone. This is a great way to weed out the posers from the real workers—and you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how many people come with you, eyes wide open.
Learning How to Count
As a leader, if you’re living in fear of being fired, you’ll make too many compromises, your people will quit believing in you, and because of that, you could get fired anyway. You might as well do what you think is right. It’s the only way to reach your potential.
No person in your organization is more important than the team and its principles—including you. There are no “irreplaceable people,” but your principles must hold.
When your people start sharing your team’s philosophy with each other, it becomes self-perpetuating—and now you have a real culture.
The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender and the bigger you can dream. Without hard work, grit, and belief, no theory, strategy, or tactic will save you. But with hard work, grit, and belief, anything’s possible. Don’t apologize for hard work. Celebrate it!
Make Sure You’re the Dumbest Guy in the Room
Résumés and interviews don’t tell you much. The best way to find out if people can do the job is to have them do the job. The best-run companies use trial periods before making a hiring decision. You should too.
You don’t have to be the smartest guy in the room. But you do need to figure out who is, hire them, and let them do their job.
Instead of hiring yes-people, find those who are strong enough to question you when needed. They’ll give you their best work, and real loyalty.
Remember, once you become the leader, you’re the bad cop. If your people like your assistants more than you, congratulations. You hired well.
Reduce Your Rules, but Make Them Stick
Make your rules few, make them clear, and connect them to your larger mission. They don’t have to be easy to follow, but they have to be simple.
Make sure your rules are within everyone’s control to follow every day, because your rules are based on behavior, not results. And therefore there are no excuses.
Focus on what your team sends out into the world, not on what comes back. That in turn allows your team to define itself instead of letting the world do it for them.
Hammer your values home constantly, in every manner you can imagine, until they become their values, and they start instilling them in each other. When this happens, you have changed the culture of your team.
You Can’t Motivate People You Don’t Know
Leadership depends far less on rousing speeches than on getting to know your people.
There is no such thing as quality time. There’s just time, and how you spend it is what you care about. If you spend it on your people, they know they matter to you.
If you want your people to trust you, you first have to trust them, and open yourself up.
When you know your people well, you can make decisions you’d never dare make otherwise. You can bet on them when others won’t. If you can make difficult calls with conviction, your people will notice, and they will gain confidence in you.
I Work Hard for You, You Work Hard for Me
Never expect your people to work harder or to care more than you do. So be sure to do everything you ask of them at least as well as you want them to do it.
It’s fair to ask your people to give a lot to be part of your team, but you need to give them back even more in terms of time, attention, praise, support, and even swag.
Praise works best when backed by quantifiable progress. Measure everything you can so even the unsung heroes have data to prove their value, and everyone’s good habits are reinforced.
Everyone watches how you treat the “lesser performers” on your team. If you make sure to celebrate their successes too, everyone feels better and works harder.
Make Peer Pressure Work for You
Peer pressure is a fact of life, and you’re not going to get rid of it. Instead, use it to create accountability to each other among your people, which is a stronger force than accountability to the leader.
Senpai-kohai, the Japanese mentoring system, breaks down the barriers of experience and rank by generating camaraderie and mutual obligation across generational lines.
To leverage negative peer pressure, when one of your people crosses the line, make everyone but the offender suffer the consequences. When one screws up, everyone pays.
If that guy is you, you have to pay the same penalty as your people do. Whether you pay it or don’t pay it, either way they won’t forget.
The More Power You Give, the More Power You Get
The more power you have, the more you can give away—which in turn will only give you more power.
If it’s you versus them, you’ll lose. To end that tug-of-war you need to create layers of leadership, starting with your assistants, division heads, veteran employees, and the like. Doing this benefits everyone and will also keep you from burning out.
Pick your leaders not on metrics like their sales figures, but solely on their ability to lead. Leaders must know their jobs, know how to do their jobs, know everyone else’s jobs, and help them all do their jobs better!
Let your leaders make as many decisions as possible—including discipline and personnel issues—to make them responsible for how the entire team performs. This also lets the rest of your people know they are accountable to everyone, not just you.
Let your team determine their goals, then write them down, make them public, and make sure everyone is accountable for achieving them. After all, these are their goals! The same holds true with individual goals: make them measurable, ambitious, achievable, and, when appropriate, public, with rewards for achieving them.
All Credit Goes to Your People—Not You
One of the toughest tests any leader faces occurs immediately following a success or failure. If you take the credit or pass the blame, your people will never look at you the same way. But if you give away the credit and accept the blame, you’ll foster more loyalty from the people you need the most.
Remember: leaders get criticized. It’s inevitable, so take it as a compliment and learn what lessons the criticism has to teach.
Don’t ever worry about getting enough credit. If your team succeeds, you will always get far more than you need. “The reward of a job well done is to have done it.”