I was very fortunate to have my assistant from Toronto join me here in Kingston. Yesterday, we were talking about what happened after I retired from my role. That led to a few thoughts about some key things I have learned as an executive during my career. And, yes. I am still learning.
This space is for rent
The role is temporary and the office is not my home. Over 30 years now and I have been able to manage my career in roughly 10-year segments at each executive role. This is a bit unique as many executives will spend only 5 or 6 years in a role before moving on — either as a forced or unforced departure. Because I know that the office is really only on loan for a short period of time, I treat the office with respect and humility. It is a privilege to serve an organization in this capacity. But I also know that there will come a time when I will need to move along and to make way for a new leader.
Lead by serving others
I am likely one of the world’s poorest micro-managers. I just cannot see the value in directing senior talent on a task-by-task basis. I do see the value in empowering a team to take accountability and responsibility. My work is largely focused on supporting and coaching the team through good times and bad.
Build a great team and a great culture
Building a great team is the most important task of leadership. Building a great culture is a very close second. It takes time. Usually a few years. During the first few years there will be lots of change and lots of challenges. Old ways of getting things done and old leadership patterns are changed. With a great team, the change is for the better. A new culture is developed which usually carries along with it the best of the old culture. Gradually, the new becomes normal, even exciting. Failing to build the team and the culture is a failure of leadership.
Have a clear vision for the future
This is another way of saying: “know why you are in the job”. Leadership is about seeing and achieving a desired target state sometime in the future. Leadership is about guiding people towards that desired target state.
Leadership is change. And change is difficult. I can always tell when change is in high gear. Sometimes it is hard to work through the change. It can be easier, so much easier, just to let things stay the same or to make slow, steady incremental change. Life is not that way. Business is not that way. And a leader has to step up and make decisions — especially the really tough decisions.
Early in my career, I often tried too hard. And I often came across as too focused and too intense. My character was overshadowed by my intensity. I have not lost the focus and discipline in life but I also know that my character and my values are consistent on a day-to-day basis. I believe the most important lesson I have learned in my career is to be authentic and to stay grounded on a solid set of values.
It is important to love what you do in life. I try to let that passion come through whenever I meet with my team either in 1/1 sessions or in townhalls.
Caring for the team means thanking each person on the team. It is that simple.
Richard, I fully agree with your insights on leadership. I know you have demonstrated those characteristics and inspired me to do so. Thank you. — Simon