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Getting Real About Leadership

Guest Post by Bill Treasurer

Real LeadershipThere are some differences between the leadership theories and ideals that you learn in college or graduate school and the actual practice of leading in the workplace.

In graduate school, I learned that you should flex your leadership style according to the developmental level of your employees. In the workplace I learned that doing that is not easy or realistic. In graduate school I was taught that leadership should spread among everyone on the team. At work I learned that when everyone is tasked with leading, no one really does. In graduate school I learned that hierarchy is bad. In the workplace I learned that hierarchy is bad indeed…but that it isn’t going away.

College and graduate school were useful because they exposed me to the multidimensional nature of leadership, and to many leadership models and theories. But the knowledge came with a price: a deep sense of righteousness about how others should lead.

It didn’t take long for the workplace to school me differently. Theories and models will only take you so far. What matters most is real, practical, and hands-on experience leading. The best way to learn about leadership is by actually leading others, not reading about it in a textbook.

Here are some simple but unconventional leadership lessons that I wish my graduate school professors had taught me.

  • Remember Rule #1: Always keep the best days of the people you’re leading in front of them. Focus on looming achievements on the horizon, not the glory days of the past.
  • Don’t Motivate with Fear: Fear is a shitty long-term motivator. You might get a short-term bump in performance, but you’ll get a dramatic drop in loyalty. Don’t use fear to motivate people.
  • Give People Opportunities: People will move mountains for you if in exchange for doing so they grow and develop. Benjamin Disraeli was right: “Opportunity is more powerful even than conquerors and prophets.”
  • Caring Matters: Get to know the career desires, goals, and aspirations of each of your people. When you know those things, you’ll care about them. And once you care about them, they’ll be loyal to you.
  • Don’t Accept Comfort: People grow and develop in a zone of discomfort, not comfort. Task people with stretch assignments that cause them to grow and make them a tad uncomfortable.
  • Everyone Matters: It’s tempting to devote time only with the folks who are just like you. But if you only hang with your tribe (e.g., gender, ethnicity, age bracket), you’ll miss out on rich learning opportunities. Leaders should go out of their way to experience the fullness of a diverse workforce.
  • Leadership Is About Them, Not You: Your job is to help your people be eminently successful. When they are, you will be deemed an effective leader…because of their work. Focus on helping them do great work.

When it comes to leading others, you don’t want to lose your ideals or sense of idealism. But work itself will refine your ideals and balance them with practicality. What works is more important than what should work, theoretically, but doesn’t in practice.

Guest Author

Bill Treasurer is the Chief Encouragement Officer of Giant Leap Consulting. His latest book is Leaders Open Doors. Bill is also the author of the bestselling book Courage Goes to Work along with the training kit Courageous Leadership: A Program for Using Courage to Transform the Workplace. Bill has led courage-building workshops for such organizations as NASA, Accenture, CNN, PNC Bank, SPANX, Hugo Boss, Saks Fifth Avenue, and the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Contact Bill at btreasurer@giantleapconsulting.com, or on Twitter at @btreasurer (#leadsimple).

Note from Jon

Having read Leaders Open Doors, I really liked the simplicity of it. Simplicity doesn’t make it simple; it boils things down to tough questions to answer and practices to embrace. The power of opportunity needs to be understood and should be a place to lead from. From strategic forgiveness to discomfort to writing down the shifts we need to make, this book delivers some refreshing practices to use. Also, Bill is donating 100% of the proceeds from the book to charities serving people with special needs.

Join the conversation

What unconventional leadership practices did you learn in the workplace? Add your insights in the comments area!

Guest Author

Guest Author

From time to time, guest writers contribute to Thin Difference. Topics include leadership, career development, creativity, and mindfulness. Our mission is to "Cross the gap and lead with a new story line," inspiring Millennial leaders.

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  • http://www.dralicechan.com/ Alice Chan, Ph.D.

    Jon, thanks for featuring another guest post on practical but important leadership tips. Bill, thank you for your list. People want to be recognized as individuals with goals and aspirations by those they follow. When a leader takes interest in them and helps them see how their personal career development maps with fulfilling the org’s vision and mission, it makes them feel good and empowered to do their best, and the org benefits at the same time. This surely beats micro-managing or trying to get them to produce by fear. Leadership starts with honoring, encouraging and empowering the human within each person (vs. what they can produce for the bottom-line of the org or some other business goal), which is what I see underlying all the points you made, Bill. Thank you.

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Thanks, Alice, for adding to the conversation. Bill did a great job of breaking it down in real, practical terms. As you point out, Encouraging and empowering are much better ways than micro-managing. The latter is closed door mentality and the first is open door mentality. Thanks! Jon

  • Marquita Herald

    Well said. I’ve particularly seen problems stemming from the “comfort” issue – namely managers who learn how to do just enough to get along – enough so they don’t draw attention to themselves, but not enough to excel. There truly is a silent epidemic of that in today’s workplace.

    • http://www.thindifference.com/ Jon M

      Agree, Marquita. Getting uncomfortable can mean we are getting closer to address real changes and real issues. We need to be confident and humble in our exchanges, getting in the crux of real issues. Thanks! Jon