The Top 6 Things Good Leaders Do!
We’re going to talk about leadership in this episode so, get ready! It’s one of may favorite topics to talk about because it’s one of my favorite things to study and practice. I don’t believe we can ever end our study and practice of leadership principles if being a good leader is important to you. For some, it’s not, and I get that. Everybody is not cut out to be a leader. Everybody is not interested in being a leader, or leading the way in certain things. I was reminded last week while working on the all important core values of a new start up I’m a part of that not everyone can be a leader, and that’s a good thing. Having an office filled with leaders can actually be a problem because you need people to get stuff done. Not that leaders don’t get stuff done, but leaders tend to be type A personalities, and you often need lots of type B personalities to get the work done. One isn’t better than another, except maybe situationally. There are times you want a leader on this particular task, and there are times you really need somebody who is more laid back, more in the moment, more task oriented and more likely to be head down, grinding away at getting stuff done. I want to make this point really clear at the beginning that one is not better than another, except when you need one more than you need the other. If you’re the owner of the company and your people rely on you for their paycheck this week, my guess is that your people want a leader at the helm doing what they imagine good leaders do. If you’re the owner of the company and you need good people to get stuff done, my guess is that you don’t necessarily want or need all of your people to be outstanding leaders, you want them to do a good job and get the job done. You might hope that they’ll make some leader-like decisions from time to time in your absence, but every good company is built by, and with, a handful of leaders, and likely even more doers.
I did an episode some months ago on some of the differences between leadership and management. I’m a big fan of gaining clarity by finding contrast and one of the best ways to learn about something is often to learn, not necessarily about it’s complete opposite, although not a bad thing to look at, but by something that provides some contrast to the thing you’re studying. Management is not the opposite of leadership, and leadership isn’t the opposite of management, but they can provide some nice contrast to gain some clarity on the difference between the two things. As we talked in that episode, good managers can be leaders, and good leaders can also be good managers. One can exhibit traits of the other and vice versa. You can also have really good leaders who are horrible managers, and really good managers who don’t exhibit much in the way of real leadership skills or thinking. The big news in the real estate and lending world this month was the recent firing of 900 employees from a mortgage company called Better.com, by the CEO, Vishal Garg. The fact that 900 employees were let go isn’t the big news, in my opinion. Apparently, they were the bottom 10% in productivity and performance, so some of the reports indicate, and companies have to layoff or fire people all the time. The problem with the firing of these 900 people was that the CEO did it quite unceremoniously over a Zoom call that ended up being recorded and broadcast to the rest of the world at some point. Let me assure you that this is not the first time a CEO has had to let lots of people go, nor is it the first time that those people were let go unceremoniously. A year and a half ago, Weight Watchers did the very same thing, but with 4000 employees. A 5 minute one way zoom call letting all of them know they were done. Bad management? Bad leadership? Probably a lot of both, in my opinion. Those are both great examples of leaders who weren’t acting like good leaders. They might have been when it came to the numbers, but they weren’t being good leaders when it comes to how you treat your people. But leadership is more than management. To quote John Maxwell, leadership is; “people more than projects, movement more than maintenance, art more than science, intuition more than formula, vision more than procedure, risk more than caution, action more than reaction, relationships more than rules, and who you are more than what you do.”
With that we’re going to talk about six things that leaders do or should be doing, to do more than just manage, but instead, really lead. Let me say before we dive into these 6 things that, like with everything, being should precede doing. What I mean by that is that, if you want to be a leader you have to be a leader in your mind first, then you’ll start acting like a leader and leadership will be your natural path. If you want to be a millionaire (whatever that means), you have to think and be one first before you’ll likely ever have the experience. Most people think the opposite; that you have to be given the title first and then you are that thing. You have to earn a million dollars first and then you’re a millionaire. But that’s not how it works in the real world. We must always remember to start with belief first before we can expect to experience something. That’s why the last part of John Maxwell’s list says that leadership is more who you are than what you do. You become a leader by being one first.
The first thing leaders do is they think longer term. By necessity, managers and the talent they manage has to focus on today, maybe next week, possibly next month. Their job typically entails focusing on the short range goals of whatever needs to be done today. Managers have to live in the now since, by definition, they are managing things, tasks, deadlines, and processes. In episode 38, called Time is of the Essence, I talked about the example I heard from Guy Kawasaki regarding the curve of progress and evolution and how ice 1.0 was the cutting of big blocks of ice from the lake to keep your food refrigerated. Ice 2.0 was the rise of the ice factory, and ice 3.0 was the proliferation of the small ice maker called a refrigerator/freezer that fit in your home. The ones cutting the blocks of ice out of the lake were the workers and managers. But one out of them thought longer term and said, “hmmm, what if we could manufacture ice in a factory?” A hundred years later one of those ice factory workers or owners said, “hmmm, what if we could, instead, use this factory to make millions of mini ice factories so that every person with a house can have their own? We’ll call them ‘ice boxes’ and we’ll be rich!” Leaders tend to think bigger and longer term. They look ahead to the future and wonder about the next year, next 3 years, the next 10 years, and they do so, not only to ensure that their company has a bright future, but so their people have a place to work at tomorrow, next year, and 5 years from now. One of the big problems in the appraisal industry is a severe lack of leadership, and leadership thinking, in my opinion.
One of the biggest complaints, and something of a myth in our industry, is that when you take on an apprentice and pour your time and energy into training them, they will eventually just leave you and become your competition, so don’t do it! When you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers. It’s not that all apprentices choose to leave their mentors at the first chance they get because they’re just so eager to be in business for themselves, it’s that, for many, there is simply no real future and no upward mobility for the apprentice within the average mentor’s business. People want to be lead. People will follow somebody with a vision. People want to get behind somebody with a vision greater than their own and, where there is a lack of vision and leadership, there is a lack of growth opportunity. For most reasonable appraiser apprentices, they’d love to have a good future laid out for them with a charted growth plan, increases in pay and opportunity, maybe some benefits like health insurance and paid time off, and some upward mobility opportunities. Mentors and supervisors, what do you really expect these people to do after 3, 4, or 5 years of having to work out of your basement? What do you expect them to do after having to put up with you and your attitude and personality for the last 4 or 5 years? What do you expect them to do with no health insurance and a growing family? And what do you expect them to do when there is nobody thinking long term in the organization (term used loosely) except them? Leaders think longer term than others, I would encourage every single one of you to have your vision checked! No, not your eyesight, your vision of the future. Are you thinking big enough, and long term enough for yourself to have a bright future, and for anybody else you’d hope to bring with you along the way.
The next thing good leaders do is they tend to think in four dimensions. What I mean by that is that they tend to see the box within the box. They think about and are able to see themselves, their role, the company, and their people in a bigger picture of potential outcomes. As opposed to the person who thinks really only of him or herself and how their actions may only have consequences for themselves, the leader thinks about those in front, those behind her, and those to the left and right. The leader thinks about the box they sit in, the box others sit in, the box the company sits in, and how all of those boxes are related. Keep in mind, I’m not just talking about the person at the head of an organization. I’m talking about a state of mind, a way of thinking, and a way of being. There are many leaders in the world that have no title. There are many leaders that lead from withing the middle of organizations simply by the way they think, by the way they act, and who they are. You don’t need to have a title to be a leader. You don’t need to be the captain of the team, the coach, the CEO, or even the supervisor to be a leader. You’re a leader by the way you think and what you believe. You’re a leader based on your actions and by following these 6 leadership principles. Don’t wait for the title to be a leader. Think beyond your area of expertise and control and expand your mindset to how your stuff affects others and their stuff.
The next leadership principle is that leaders break rules. About 4 months ago I did a two part podcast series called Rules are for the Other Guy, where I talked about one of my old bosses, a man named Frank Nall, and how he broke all the traditional rules to become a multi-millionaire multiple business owner. Another way to say this that might a little more PC is to say that leaders aren’t afraid to push the boundaries. Part of thinking in four dimensions is being able to see beyond what is right in front of you, and also to see where the often arbitrary, man-made rules of doing something. We’re not talking about breaking the law here, friends, we’re talking about asking a set of boundary pushing questions whenever you run into something that would appear to be a limitation. These questions sound something like, “says who?”, “Based on what?”, “by what right”, “why are we doing it that way?”, “who decided that and why?”, and then they listen for the answers. In the vast majority of cases, the answers given to a real leader are wholly unsatisfactory. Why? Because leaders tend not to just follow the crowd or just accept as true everything they’re told. One of the biggest differentiators I’ve noticed over the 30 years or so that I’ve been studying real leadership is that leaders tend not to accept status quo, nor do they just accept as true everything they’re told. Leaders ask questions of almost everything where those not so inclined to step out front and lead tend to just accept everything they’re told. Rules? Say’s who? Who made these rules? Why? By what right do they have to make these rules, and why should I have to follow them just because some person says so? Why are you doing that that way? Have you ever questioned why we’re doing it that way? Or doing it all? Why not? Leaders tend to break with conventional rules because they’ve learned over the years that many of those rules are arbitrary and were created to keep people in line, keep them obedient, keep them quiet, keep the status quo, and maintain a level of sameness that’s easy to manage. Leaders aren’t afraid of trying to find a better way to do something, even if it’s at the expense of weird looks, muffled whispers, and probing questions from the rule followers around them. It’s usually only after a leader has found a better way to do something that others around them will nod their heads and says, ‘yep, we knew there was a better way, and this is it!’
There is a saying that pioneers are the one’s that get arrows in the back, and there’s some truth to that. There is a fair amount of data from the startup world that the concept of ‘first mover advantage’ is a myth that was created almost completely by two Stanford PhDs in an article written during the dotcom bubble. Their premise was that there was tremendous value in being the first one to market with a great idea. However, after all the real numbers were in and 10 bloody years had passed, the reality was a bit more clear that you don’t have to be a ‘first mover’ to be a successful leader. They coined a term after all the data was in and they learned that you could be a ‘fast follower’ and actually end up being the market leader. Being a leader and questioning some of the rules does not necessarily mean you have to be a pioneer and blaze new trails to be considered a good one. Many times the questions being asked, and the rules being challenged, are the one’s set forth by the so-called ‘pioneers’, the first movers. “Why did they do it that way? What were they thinking? Did they even listen to their customers?”, and so on. Leaders ask lots of questions, take nothing for granted, and from time to time break some of the conventional rules.
The next thing almost all good leaders do is they tell stories. This is actually one of my favorite traits, right after the rule breaking one! I noticed early on in my development that the leaders I was most moved by, and the leadership style I was most attracted to, was one where the leader was a good story teller. Not all leaders have this capability, and not all storytellers are good leaders. It’s just that really good leaders have learned the importance of weaving the lessons, the values, and the inspiration they want to impart into stories that they tell. Good leaders, in my opinion, have their thumb on the pulse of the morale, the motivation, the attitudes and emotions, and the overall atmosphere of the company or groups they lead. They’ve learned that one of the best ways to relate, to connect, and to get inside the heads and hearts of those they lead is to tell stories that make their points. Instead of just giving commands and orders, which is not leadership, in my opinion, good leaders tell stories that contain the ‘why’ and the importance of getting something done. It’s through the stories and parables that those under the guidance of the leader are hearing that makes them want to own the process. Good leaders inspire those they lead by making them feel they’re part of something much bigger than the numbers, much bigger than the paperwork, much bigger than the project that needs to get done. They do that quite often by being a good storyteller and imparting the core values and the greater mission through those stories. Again, being a good storyteller is not necessarily a mandatory requirement for being a good leader, just as being a great storyteller isn’t a guarantee that you’re a good leader. But if you want to take your leadership capabilities to the next level, work on your ability to tell a good story.
The next quality a real leadership is that real leaders, good leaders, true leaders are always building up other leaders. As John Maxwell is fond of saying, “good leaders give their power away”. This one really resonates with me because of a conversation I had with my teacher, Mr. Toyoda, when I was just 22 years old. Several of us live-in students were sitting cross legged around the low Japanese table in the dining area having buckets of wisdom heaped upon us by our Sensei after dinner. Those were always special times because they were unscripted, they were raw, and they were something we craved from our teacher at the time. Here was this internationally renowned and venerated Aikido and Zen master that only ever allowed 4 direct live-in students to be part of his inner circle at any one time, and we were that group. There were students from around the world applying to be accepted to this prestigious leadership program and, at that moment, we were the only one’s qualified to hear these stories while drinking Sake and beer with this guy. It was an awesome feeling then, and even now thinking back on those years and how impactful they were in my growth. Not only was he a great storyteller, a trait we just talked about, he was so secure in his power and authority that he was never afraid to give it away. He said to the four us sitting there that night that the greatest gift a student can ever give to his teacher is to be better than them some day. To exceed the teacher in some way was what a real teacher, a real leader should always be leading with. Not only does it force the leader to continue growing, it speaks to the lack of ego in real leadership. Real leaders invest heavily in the growth and development of those around them and they give away their power in a way that doesn’t make the leader any less powerful or authoritative, in fact, it seems to magically increase their leadership aura. When a good leader invests in those around him or her to make them better leaders themselves, it doesn’t take away from the leaders power, it enhances it. True leaders are far more interested in building up those around them than they are securing and maintaining a hold on their own position and power.
The last trait of good leadership, at least for this episode, is that real leaders are, again, as John Maxwell often says, agents of change. To quote Psychologist Charles Garfield from the book, The 360 Degree Leader, Peak performers do not see accomplishments as a fixed state, nor as a safe haven in which the individual is moored, completed, finished. Not once have I heard a peak performer speak of an end to a challenge, excitement, curiosity, and wonder. Quite the contrary. One of the most engaging characteristics is an infectious talent for moving into the future; generating new challenges, living with a sense of “more work to be done”. Friends, fellow appraisers, and any listeners from other industries going through an evolutionary moment, there are many people happy with the status quo, the sameness, the ‘business as usual’ crowd. There are many in the appraisal industry who see things changing but do nothing to be part of the change. In fact, not only are they not part of the change, they dig their heels in to resist any changes because change is scary. Change means a disruption to their own personal status quo. Very few of us like change, especially when we’re pretty damn comfortable. However, when change is inevitable because the market of customers and clients is demanding it, not to mention many of them are evolving as well, the agents of change will be the ones who ultimately survive and thrive in the new world.
Change is inevitable, my friends, and I implore each and every one of you to rise up and become leaders in your businesses, even if it’s a business of one. Leaders not only embrace change, they tend to drive it and thrive on it. I’m not telling you to throw in the towel in any area. I’m not telling you to start doing hybrid appraisal orders for ridiculously low fees. I’m not telling you to help the AMCs drive fees and quality even lower. On the contrary, I am imploring you to become the leaders that drive the positive change that the market of clients and customers are demanding and, maybe in a way they don’t even know exists yet. You might be that agent of change, the fast follower, the rule breaker, the storyteller, the boundary pusher, and the huge thinker that sees better ways to get things done, even if all those around you are screaming at you to stop rocking the boat, stop making waves, stay in your lane, do it the way we’ve always done it or you’ll fu@k it up for the rest of us! No, rock the boat, make waves, get out of your lane, and stop doing things the way they’ve always been done and be a leader.
Until next week, my friends, I’m out…