10 Principles of Truly Great Leaders

great leaders

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 superpower.” -Kevin Kruse

 

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.

 

“Great leaders understand the true value of time. You can never get a minute back once it’s wasted.” -Kevin Kruse

 

Lead With No Rules

Build a Powerful Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

powerful

Powerful

Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook called the Netflix “freedom and responsibility” deck “the most important document ever to come out of the Valley.”

The document is 124 pages and it outlines the principles behind the unique corporate culture at Netflix. It has had reverberations far outside of Silicon Valley and way beyond Netflix itself. The principles have been debated and adopted by organizations throughout the world. It has been viewed over fifteen million times.

Patty McCord helped write the document. She worked at Netflix for 14 years as the company’s Chief Talent Officer. In her book, POWERFUL: Building a Culture of Freedom and Responsibility, Patty shares what she has learned about building a high-performance culture. I recently asked her to share more about her experience.

 

Challenge the Rules

You challenge many of the existing HR rules with new ways of thinking. What advice do you have for leaders that will help them embrace these changes?

It begins with questioning, literally, everything we do in HR: policies, procedures, guidelines, practices, permissions. What is the purpose of each of these activities? Do they achieve the desired result? If you started from scratch, would you embrace these methods?

 

“People can handle being told the truth, about both the business and their performance. The truth is not only what they need but also what they intensely want.” -Patty McCord

 

Many people think that compensation rules the day, but you have a different philosophy. What’s the “greatest motivation”?

I truly believe the greatest motivation is to be part of an amazingly talented team that gets real work done that matters to our companies and our customers.

 

“Be selfless in debating. That means being genuinely prepared to lose your case and openly admitting when you have.” -Patty McCord

 

Hold Rigorous Debates

12 Rules for Managing Your Employees As Real People

 

Think your people are your greatest asset?

Do you survey your employees but ask the wrong questions?

Is corporate engagement one of your goals?

 

Widgets, FTE’s and Assets

What I think I love most about Rodd Wagner’s new book WIDGETS: The 12 New Rules for Managing Your Employees As If They’re Real People is his clear, unambiguous writing that calls it like he sees it. He upends common practices and wisdom, throwing out what you know and replacing it with what just makes sense. Our conversation is likely to change your position on a few subjects and have you rethink your practices. It did for me.

Why did you call the book “Widgets”?

If you spend enough time at enough companies, the bad terms used to refer to people start to accumulate. “Human capital.” “Full-time equivalents” or “FTEs.” “Headcount.” “Aprons” at a home improvement store. “Blue shirts” at Best Buy. I could barely contain my shock when leaders for one temporary staffing firm referred to the people they place as “inventory.” And the department responsible for people? In most companies, it’s called “Human Resources.” At one company, a mass layoff is called a “resource action.”

These are euphemisms, and euphemisms are most dangerous when used to refer to people, because they make it easier to disregard that we are talking about someone’s son or daughter, brother or sister, and they deserve the respect and dignity of being referred to as people. I used the title “Widgets” to take a hard whack at these bad habits and all the dehumanizing practices that flow from that perspective.

 

“Your people are not your greatest asset. They’re not yours, and they’re not assets.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

What is wrong with many employee engagement efforts today?

Employee engagement is in a rut. It’s become hackneyed. It’s routinized.

Commission a survey. Beg people to participate. Get the results back. Distribute scorecards. Train some trainers; unleash them on the company. Cajole the CEO into using the word “engagement” in his next speech. Ask managers to do some team sessions, which maybe half will do before tucking the forms in a desk drawer. Leave the way managers are selected, coached, supported, and held accountable untouched. Let the executives feel good that they checked the employee engagement box. Go quiet for 9 or 10 months until it’s time to start the Sisyphean cycle all over again. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

JacketBut the most pernicious problem with engagement initiatives today is the way some consultancies and companies talk about the people who are neglected and, when the survey comes around, tell the truth. So-called “disengaged” employees are vilified, their motivations and character questioned. They’re said to be “more or less out to damage their company” or trying to undo what the more “engaged” accomplish. Our research contradicts these assertions that those who are most frustrated are some kind of “cancer” inside the organization.

Of course, recognizing that they will be suspect if they give low marks to their company, many employees have realized it’s career suicide to tell the truth. So they don’t. Who would under those circumstances? “Just mark five to survive,” one admin advised her colleagues. In many places, it’s now difficult if not impossible to even get a true measure of engagement. That’s the mark of a fundamentally flawed and broken system.

 

If an employee does not give high marks on a survey, look first at the manager, not the employee.

 

Inside the Head

Getting inside their heads is your first rule. It’s individual; it’s unique; it takes up significant time. And yet, it’s the most important of all. Would you share why this rule is the first?

I’ve been fielding and analyzing employee surveys and other data from more than a decade-and-a-half. Every time I plot the numbers on a new study, the first thing that strikes me is the massive range in individual responses. You simply cannot predict how a person will feel about his or her job based on generation, age, gender, race, tenure, industry, company, or any of the other group statistics that are used so often to stereotype employees.

Engagement is an individual phenomenon. Everything – how much money people want, what they consider a cool place to work, how they like to be recognized, what they envision for their future – is unique to that person. Therefore, applying all of the other New Rules depends on first understanding that one person and responding to his or her personality and ambitions. This is the reason that every good piece of research on employee engagement finds that a person’s direct supervisor is one of the key players. That manager is in a unique position to know the employee well and match him or her with the resources and opportunities inside the company.

 

“When recognition is common, employees develop resilience against adversity.” –Rodd Wagner

 

Best Friends at Work

Having a best friend at work appears in most surveys, and we repeatedly hear that it is critically important. You argue otherwise. Help us understand.

First, asking about friendships – particularly sticking your nose in an employee’s “best” friendships – is quite intrusive when the relationship between company and worker is increasingly transactional. One week you’re asking about their best friends, the next week you’re sending a few thousand of them home with severance packages. So if they either had best friends at work or were the best friends of someone still there, you’ve opened yourself to some well-founded criticism that you abused their trust.

More important, in the studies my teams and I have conducted, the “best friend” concept does not hold up well in driving results compared with more

business-related questions such as trust in leadership, perceived future of the company, and collaboration. Asking about those is your business and is better connected to your results than asking what The Washington Post once called a “high school” popularity question.

 

“Transparency tells people you trust them and you can be trusted.” –Rodd Wagner

 

What can a professor teaching more on the left side of the classroom teach us about motivating teams?