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.
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.
“Great leaders understand the true value of time. You can never get a minute back once it’s wasted.” -Kevin Kruse
A business that delivers reliable results is the sum of reliable teams, and reliable teams are the sum of reliable individuals. So, building reliable business results really starts with a leader coaching each team member to deliver reliable individual results.
“Personal reliability is a cornerstone of leadership.” -Lee Colan
Personal reliability is a cornerstone of leadership. Ken May began working at FedEx while he was in college. He started at the bottom sorting packages. He gradually worked his way up, becoming the Senior Vice President of North American Operations. He then became CEO of FedEx Kinko’s and is currently CEO of Topgolf. When asked about his career climb, May is quick to say, “I just work hard at whatever I do. I don’t complain. I don’t blame. I just work hard. I’m grateful for my job, my organization and my customers. I try to never promise what I can’t deliver.”
May knows that he can’t expect anything from his employees that he isn’t willing to model. His employees know they have a boss, a friend and an example in May. He, in turn, has a loyal workforce. As May has been heard to say, “Personal reliability at the top is the beginning of a successful organization, a dedicated workforce and loyal customers.”
3 Levels of Leadership
Leadership is an inside job. It starts inside with your personal leadership traits, such as integrity, trust, competence, authenticity – all of which are aspects of personal reliability. In fact, our company logo is a group of three stacked L’s representing the three levels of leadership: personal, team and organizational. You cannot expect your team to be reliable (or any other trait for that matter) if you are not being reliable. Since reliability, like leadership, is built from the inside out, the most important question a leader should ask is, “How reliable am I?”
“Reliability, like leadership, is build from the inside out.” -Lee Colan
“It’s a myth that a leader’s personal qualities must remain separate from their professional identity.” You share a story of an awful tragedy and how you kept that private during a leadership retreat. Tell us more about the intersection between the personal and professional.
The core premise of my work is that leaders personal and professional identities aren’t separate. They are inextricably linked. Leaders have been fooled into thinking that being impersonal and rational leads to success. It doesn’t. Poor engagement and alienation results. Without personal qualities, leaders are faceless bureaucrats, and their staff find it difficult to connect with them. Our experience of being with any leader is greatly influenced by their personal qualities.
My book deals with leaders’ professional identities. By thoughtfully choosing what is personal, what is private, and what they let come to the foreground in their interactions, leaders influence how others experience them. I coach leaders to bring helpful personal qualities into their interactions. Leaders with personal qualities like contempt, demanding, and cold create anxiety and emotional turmoil around them. People don’t like working with them. Leaders with personal qualities such as being insightful, approachable, and succinct have powerful effects in inspiring others to action.
The secret in my book Leadership Material is that if you don’t know who and what has shaped you as a leader, you won’t be able to lead people. The key lever for developing as a leader is through your earlier life experiences. By uncovering the likely source of unhelpful behaviors, you then have a choice of your current authentic response which builds relationships and produces results.
“When people feel understood and accepted, they flourish.” –Diana Jones
Reliability is something every leader wants more of from his or her team. Your challenge is to coach for reliable individual performance as the building block of a reliable and profitable business. Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.
“Reliability is a customer magnet, whereas unreliability is a customer deterrent.” -Lee Colan
When a customer needs something done by a set date, or a service performed in a specific manner, he’s seeking someone who can provide that service with certainty. Many companies have built their reputations by providing that certainty for customers. For example, FedEx realized it could corner the market by promising to get your letter to its destination overnight, without fail. The company created an entire niche that never existed before. McDonald’s has built its iconic brand based on a promise of a reliable experience, regardless of which location.
Ultimately, excellent leaders help good employees become even better people. They help their employees build better lives for themselves and others while producing better business results.
“Excellent leaders help good employees become even better people.” -Lee Colan
There are five habits that excellent coaches use to create the reliability advantage. The five habits give your team the biggest boost if applied in sequence. However, you must use your knowledge of your team to determine when to accelerate through or spend more time on a specific habit. The root meaning of the verb “to coach” means to bring a person from where they are to where they want to be. Consider the role of a football coach. He sets clear expectations for his team with a game plan to win. He asks players if they have any questions to ensure they are clear about their respective roles on the team. He also asks them questions like, “How can you improve your performance or overcome a certain obstacle?” Then during the game, he involves them in changing the game plan, if necessary, based on what they are seeing on the field. The coach also observes and measures each player’s performance (e.g., number of tackles, yards gained, etc.). Finally, the coach gives constructive feedback and recognition so his players can elevate their performance in the next game.
These are the same five habits that excellent leaders employ to coach their teams. First, excellent leaders explain expectations. They realize it is necessary but not sufficient, in and of itself, to boost performance. Excellent leaders take the time to ensure alignment with their teams before moving forward. Second, excellent leaders also ask questions. A leader might ask to clarify a problem or ask for ideas and suggestions. Asking questions ignites employee engagement. Third, excellent coaches involve team members in creating solutions to improve their work. This enlists ownership because we are committed to things we help create. Fourth, excellent leaders diligently measure results to boost team accountability. The fifth and final coaching habit is to appreciate people. This builds commitment to sustain and improve results. Using each of these habits in concert elevates team reliability.
Are you a leader who has had some success but now feel stuck?
What’s your leadership gap?
Understanding yourself is the beginning of influence. You must understand you before you can possibly understand others and how to influence them.
If you’re a leader of leaders, you want to understand your team, how they interpret the world, their unique way of leading. A powerful team is made up of a diverse group of leadership styles.
Lolly Daskal’s new book, The Leadership Gap: What Gets Between You and Your Greatness, introduces her system to help executives discover their own leadership style and how to leverage their strengths. If you’re a leader who has reached a point where you’re confused why your success is stalled, this is for you. If you’re wondering what’s stopping your upward climb, this is for you. If you want to take your career up a notch, this is for you.
Lolly is not only a personal friend of mine, but she has racked up numerous awards and accolades ranging from Inc’s Top 50 Leadership and Management Experts to Huffington Post saying she is the most inspiring leader in the world. She’s coached some of the world’s most prominent leaders for years.
“A leader must always set the standard of what they want to see in others.” -Lolly Daskal
You’ve worked with many leaders all over the globe. What are some of the qualities that you notice that makes a leader stand out?
For over three decades, I have worked as a leadership coach and business consultant around the world, spanning 14 countries and hundreds of companies. Many years ago when I first started, I found an interesting pattern that was showing up within everyone I was working with, even across cultures. Over time I distilled that pattern into seven archetypes, each archetype with its own quality that sets it apart.
First, there’s the leader I call the Rebel, who leads with confidence and wants to make an impact in the world. And Rebels do start revolutions—but not through revolts and uprisings. Rebels are the quiet warriors who embark on quests to achieve remarkable things. They overcome formidable obstacles to save the project, the team, or the company. They ask, “How can I push the envelope?”
Rebels need confidence to succeed—not the kind of confidence that means standing in front of the mirror and saying, “I’m the best and the brightest,” but knowing your capabilities and competencies, knowing what you are good at, and what skills you have mastered. Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do. So the more skill and talent you have, the more competent—and ultimately confident—you feel.
“Confidence is simply knowing what you’re able to do.” -Lolly Daskal
Second is the Explorer, who leads with intuition. Explorers always want to try something new. They enjoy navigating through uncharted waters with innovation and creativity, using their intuition to test the boundaries and limits of what is known. They reject the status quo and doing things the way they’ve always been done. They ask, “What can I discover?”
Explorers listen to their inner voice and their gut, and use their inner knowledge to make decisions. Instead of relying only on rational thought, they balance their thinking with intuition. They think well on their feet and are decisive.
Third is the Truth Teller, who leads with candor. Truth tellers believe they owe it to those around them to always be open and honest, even when their candor makes people uncomfortable. Even so, their honesty isn’t cruel but comes from a sincere desire to help and serve. They view speaking up as a duty. Truth tellers ask, “Where should I speak up?”
Fourth is the Hero, who leads with courage. Heroes are the ones who don’t hesitate to act while others stand on the sidelines trying to figure out what’s going on. Heroes are willing to put their entire vision and mission at risk for a shot at greatness. Heroes act in spite of fear and overwhelming opposition. They ask, “Where is courage needed?”
Fifth is the Inventor, who leads with integrity. Inventors are constantly working to improve processes and products and to perfect their craft. They are experimenters who make many small bets and are willing to fail in pursuit of big wins. they ask, “How can we make this better?”
Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity. They don’t compromise on what they want to achieve, and they give it their best. They’re never satisfied with the status quo but always aspire to a higher standard of excellence.
“Inventors seek quality and excellence, always grounded in integrity.” -Lolly Daskal
Sixth is the Navigator, who leads with trustworthiness. Navigators know where they need to go, and they inspire others to trust and follow them. Navigators give trust as well as they receive it, keeping things simple and understandable as they masterfully steer their organization and the people within it. Navigators ask, “How can we get to where we need to go?”
The seventh and final leader is the Knight, who leads with loyalty. Knights are primarily associated with chivalry and protection; they’re willing to go to battle to defend their beliefs and are devoted to the ideal of service. Knights display fierce loyalty and partnership with others while protecting people and bringing them together.
Knights believe leadership is based on loyalty—reliable and dependable and dedicated. Knights will stand beside you and will serve you, before they serve themselves.
What makes a leader successful over the long haul?
Most leaders believe that to be successful they need to know all the elements of how, what, when, and where. But I’ve found that the game changer comes when a leader knows who they are—because getting the foundational element of the who prepares you for the how, what, when, and where—and even the why. As we know, the first step to successful leadership is taking responsibility for ourselves.
“Everyone has the power to inspire and serve the world.” -Lolly Daskal
Eventually, you say, leaders likely face a leadership gap where they are stuck and their success wanes. Tell us more.
Most successful individuals have a certain set of skills that got them to the top of their game. But there comes a time that those same skill sets stop working, and you have to learn to pivot to keep succeeding. Most of us rely on what we know and expect it to be sustainable, but if we are not changing, evolving and growing, we are not going to remain successful leaders.
Within the seven archetypes, this principle is expressed as shadows or gaps that exist within each:
The Rebel who needs to be confident has a gap of feeling like an Imposter, paralyzed by self-doubt. This gap often takes the form of negative internal messages: You are not smart enough, good enough, bright enough to make a big impact. You didn’t go to good schools or get the right education. People are judging you.
The Explorer, who is all about using intuition, has a gap of being the Exploiter, who manipulates. Exploration means letting go of control, and those who struggle with turning loose often try to find their way by manipulating and exploiting others.
The Truth Teller has the gap of becoming the Deceiver, who creates suspicion. This one is easy to spot. It’s the leader who withholds information, the boss who tells half-truths, the manager who doesn’t address concerns. When people don’t know what they need to know, rumors and speculation run wild, creating a culture of suspicion and paranoia.
The courageous Hero has the gap of becoming the passive Bystander—someone who does and says nothing regardless of what they see or hear. Driven by fear, the Bystander plays small and stays stuck where they are.
The Inventor, who is all about integrity, has the gap of being the corrupt Destroyer who is focused on doing things cheaper and faster. The Destroyer’s lack of integrity permits quick fixes, cutting corners and compromising quality and standards.
The Navigator, who focuses on giving and earning trust, has the gap of coming across as the arrogant Fixer. The Fixer tells people what to do instead of navigating with them and is so aggressive that people dismiss them as arrogant by nature. Fixers see the needs of others as more important than their own, and they move from wanting to help to needing to help. They primarily want to be needed.
Finally, the loyal Knight has the gap of becoming the self-serving Mercenary. Without the understanding that leadership is about serving others, they can’t engender loyalty from those they lead. Leadership grounded in self-absorption or self-obsession can never succeed.
Leverage Your Gaps
Is there a way to avoid or move quickly past a gap?
It’s important to learn how to leverage your gaps:
For instance, if your leadership style is in line with the confident Rebel, you need to learn to leverage the Imposter within you. There are several things you can do to leverage this particular gap when you begin to lose confidence in yourself.
“Stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement.” -Lolly Daskal
First, you need to stop comparing yourself to others and focus on your own improvement and leadership development.
Second, to avoid focusing on your failures rather than your successes, make a list of your accomplishments and place your wins in plain sight so you are reminded of them regularly.
And finally, remind yourself that perfection is unattainable and aiming for it sets you up for continual frustration and disappointment.
When you’re aware of your gaps, you know what messages to counter them with. Rebels can remind themselves that, even if they feel like an imposter, they should never underestimate themselves or their capabilities.