Effective Leadership

I recently enjoyed the privilege of speaking to an inspiring group of young people at Plan International Uganda’s SmartUp factory. I delivered a presentation on Effective Leadership and shared my story as co-founder and president of Nested Savings. I have modified my notes from that presentation into this blog post.

My definition of leadership: Leadership is about making a change. It is about deciding that the status quo in a particular area – healthcare, technology, development, politics, family, etc. – can be better, and then embarking on a journey characterized by relentless effort to disrupt that status quo.”

Here are a few traits that characterize all effective leaders:

They step up: A few years ago, I attended a workshop focused on crisis management. During the session, the gentleman sitting behind me fainted and went thundering to the floor. It was a real life test of our ability to apply the skills we had learned just moments before. Interestingly, although everyone in that room was a self-proclaimed leader, most of us backed away from the gentleman in crisis. A friend of mine, Joey, acted differently. He rushed to the floor and turned the gentleman on his side, instructed someone to call the medics, and started assuring the guy that he was going to be okay. Among a room full of leaders, only Joey took swift action. Interestingly, once he stepped up, I felt inspired to do something as well. So I started moving chairs to create space for the medics.  Other people also started taking action. Some helped with the chairs, others comforted those who were emotionally shaken by the incident, etc. This incident was a great depiction of what it means to step up as a leader and how stepping up can inspire others to take action.

They enroll others: Every effective leader understands the importance of surrounding him or herself with a team that persists through challenges, is creative in the execution of tasks, and comprises of members whose character, attitudes and values promote cooperation inside and outside the workplace. An important point of which many leaders are unaware is the distinction between hiring and enrolling people. Hired people are those whose primary motivation is their salary and benefits whereas enrolled people are those who work on a team because they believe in the leader’s vision. Hired people typically do what they’re told to do, check assignment boxes, and start looking forward to going home as soon as they arrive at work. Enrolled people on the other hand, due to their familiarity with, and enthusiasm about the vision, might work for free and frequently offer suggestions of creative new ways in which the vision can be pursued. They are the ones who stick around during tough times. Effective leaders are skilled at enrolling people.

They take responsibility: On the journey to success, things will inevitably go wrong. Effective leaders are those who lead the way on the path to finding solutions for problems. The typical boss is quick to exercise authority, assign blame, and say,  “Go fix it!” whereas an effective leader often shares the blame and says, “let’s go fix it!” Perhaps the most striking thing about effective leaders is that even when they take responsibility for solving problems, they find ways to shine the spotlight on other team members. Giving people credit for their work is the best way to motivate them to do more. A team member who is enthusiastic about taking on new challenges is one who can never be paid enough money or given enough benefits.

They understand the difference between failing and being a failure: Effective leaders possess sufficient persistence to create new plans to take the place of those that fail. Study the image below.

They are willing to serve: The world’s most effective leaders are those who understand that they exist to serve their employees/team members, and their customers/clients. Lousy leaders often feel entitled to respect and admiration simply because they created jobs, products, and services. While there is some pride to be enjoyed for doing those things, effective leaders are careful not to let that pride overshadow their humility. They invest considerable time and effort in ensuring that those they work with, especially their employees and team members, are happy. In Richard Branson’s words, “clients do not come first; employees do. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.” Effective leaders put their team members’ needs first and worry about the bottom line later.

Some questions from the audience:

Q: What is the biggest benefit of being a leader? 

A: You learn something new every day.

Q: What is your favorite book? 

A: Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Q: What if you’re ready to be a leader but there are no opportunities? 

A: Attract what you want by being what you want. Go volunteer somewhere and be an opportunity for someone else. If you want a great opportunity, be a great opportunity.

Concluding thought: There is no such thing as a genuine leader who is “too busy” to do anything which may be required of him in his capacity as leader. When a man admits that he is “too busy” to change his plans, or to give attention to any emergency, he admits his inefficiency. – Napoleon Hill.

Thanks for reading! Now go forth and be an effective leader!