Truly Great Leaders
If you want to take your leadership to new levels, I highly recommend you start with Kevin Kruse’s new book, Great Leaders Have No Rules. Packed with practical and contrarian advice, you’ll find yourself adopting new practices immediately. If you want to become a more effective leader, put down your device, close the door, and open the pages of this book to begin your leadership journey.
Kevin Kruse is a bestselling author and a serial entrepreneur. His articles appear in numerous websites including Forbes. Don’t miss his LEADx Leadership Show (in fact, Kevin interviewed me for the show here.)
I recently spoke with Kevin about his new book which is already one of my favorite leadership books.
Leadership is a Super Power
Your new book pulled me in immediately from the first pages. In the introduction, you say, “Leadership is a super power,” and “Almost everything we’ve been taught about leadership is wrong.” Wow. Tell us more about your current perspective.
I think too often, we think of leadership as a something fancy or complicated or abstract, which is why most people don’t think about it very often at all. But when you boil it down to it’s simplest definition, leadership is influence. And when you realize that, you realize how powerful successful leadership can be.
If you can influence yourself to put down the potato chips and get on the treadmill, you will change your life. That’s self-leadership. If you can influence the quality and intimacy of your relationship with your spouse, you can literally save a marriage through leadership. And of course when it comes to the more traditional leadership at work, well, my horrible leadership caused my first two companies to go out of business. But successful leadership was one of the primary factors in other companies I’ve owned winning awards for both fast growth and being a great place to work.
Lead With No Rules
What does it mean to lead -without Post-It Notes- er, sorry, to lead with no rules?
Yes, this whole book came from a crazy Post-It Notes story. About 20 years ago I had sold my company and joined the new company as a partner, VP, and I reported to the CEO. He had me very excited and committed to the future of the new combined organization and how we would build it together. But then the CFO docked my first expense check by about four dollars. He told me they won’t reimburse my Post-It Notes because it was a wasteful expense. It was a rule—no Post It’s—that I didn’t know about. In that moment, that one rule, suddenly made it clear that this was “their” company, not mine. They were in control, not me.
Every time we bump into a rule it takes away the opportunity for us to make a choice, or a decision. Rules that try to prevent the few knuckleheads from doing something stupid end up dis-engaging the majority. And it turns potential inspiring leaders into a bunch of lazy rule enforcers. Better than rules are guardrails, which are rooted in values and explored in conversation. And when someone strays beyond the norms, it’s not breaking a rule but an opportunity to coach or to give some effective feedback.
10 Principles of Truly Great Leaders
1: Close Your Open Door Policy
2: Shut Off Your Smartphone
3: Have No Rules
4: Be Likable, Not Liked
5: Lead with Love
6: Crowd Your Calendar
7: Play Favorites
8: Reveal Everything
9: Show Weakness
10: Leadership Is Not a Choice
Close the Open Door
I often find that many leadership writers, thinkers, and speakers have actually never led an organization of size. When they come up with ideas, they often aren’t practical or tested. They sound good, but they don’t work. Such seems to be the open-door policy. Please share your thoughts on this one.
It’s definitely time to close the open door policy. The first obvious problem is that we are all so bombarded by “got a minute” interruptions that we can’t get any deep work, real work, done. But the deeper issue is that an open door policy is really a lazy passive approach to facilitating communication. Research suggests that half of employees aren’t comfortable walking through that open door to bring a problem or idea to their boss. And for the people who frequently go through the “open door,” you have to ask yourself—as their leader—have you not created enough psychological safety for these people to solve problems on their own, to make decisions without running them by you? You don’t have to slam the door completely shut, but I encourage everyone to use more proactive communication strategies like weekly one-on-one’s and daily standups, and replace an always open door policy with more limited “office hours”.
Be Likable, Not Liked
Let’s jump to another one: Be likable, not liked. What’s the danger in wanting to be liked? How do the best leaders avoid this trap?
This was my fatal flaw as a leader early on. Wanting to be liked is natural, but it’s when it becomes a need to be liked that leaders run into trouble. I found it pretty easy to be a popular boss. I would literally tell my team, “We’re all equal here, I just have a different role.” And I was cool, and informal, and I was everyone’s friend. That works in good time, and easy times. But if you have a need to be liked, all of a sudden you don’t give constructive feedback as often or as quickly as you should—because you’re afraid someone will get mad at you or they might react negatively. You also don’t make decisions as quickly as you should, because you are trying to decide based on consensus. The reality is your team doesn’t need another friend. They need a leader—someone who will coach them to career success, someone who will make the tough decisions that protects and grows the team. For me I struggle with this, but what has helped is that I’ve replaced the need to be liked, with the need to lead right. I just focus on my values, the organization’s goals, and do what’s right by that. Also, instead of needing to be liked by everyone, I remind myself that if my kids and family and two cats like me, that’s really enough.
You have practiced and studied leadership for many years, and this book is full of practical, actionable ways to be a better leader. I found myself nodding throughout the read. What are a few ways the best leaders stand out?
When I was a young manager, I was told to sort of stay apart from my team so it wouldn’t look like I was playing favorites, so I wouldn’t get taken advantage of and all that. And in this day and age of everyone being “crazy busy,” it is easy to remain task focused and not people focused.
But I think the best leaders are ones who truly care for their team members, and who show it. I say you should lead with love. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden used to say to his players, “I won’t like you all the same, but I will love you all the same.” And I think that’s a profound way to live life. Whether at work, with our neighbors, or even in our families we may not like certain people. They rub us the wrong way, or they have behaviors we don’t approve of. But we can still love them in the sense of caring for all humankind. And it doesn’t take grand gestures to show we care about people at work. It starts with being mindful. As we walk through the halls, we can stare down, or make eye contact. We can stay silent, or say good morning. We can ask about their kids, or not remember that they have children at all.
You end your book with a charge that I would like to share:
“And when you’re feeling bored, a little down, unmotivated, or even sad . . . that’s the exact time you should look around at others and lead.”
I found that powerful, and true. What advice do you give to someone in those negative states? How do you lead when you feel horrible?
When we influence others—when we lead others—it’s hard not to feel good, to feel powerful, to just feel better. The trick is to not think about it; just do it. When you’re feeling lonely or disconnected, that’s the time to immediately pop-up and walk to the water cooler and smile and compliment everyone you pass. When you feel unappreciated, that’s the exact moment you should jot an email to your boss—yes, your boss—letting her know how much you appreciate something about her. When you feel unheard or disempowered, you should call someone you typically disagree with and ask, “Hey, I’d like to understand your views on this issue better. Can you tell me more…” Leadership is a super power, it’s just that we often forget we have it.
For more information, see Great Leaders Have No Rules.