Say what you will about their current status as a world power, but any historian will confirm that, at its peak, the sun never set on the British Empire. And that's in large part because they were blessed with exceptional leaders through the ages. So, while visiting with my entrepreneurial-minded colleagues in our London office, I asked them to list the most important qualities any leader must possess. Some will seem obvious, but I think you'll find a few gems in here to match the Queen's jewels:
1. Warmth. I'm a big believer in showing empathy and vulnerability in leading my troops but, warmth? I'm colder than a mid-January day in northern Minnesota. So, amp up your warm and fuzzyness.
2. Consistent persistence. I found this tip interesting since, while I never lose sight of the big picture and where I'm driving the company, I often allow other projects to fall by the wayside because I lack consistent persistence.
3. Respect. Steve Jobs never respected respect. And Donald Trump avoids respect like a strong wind, but I go out of my way to show respect to every single person in my organization, including our receptionist, office manager and back-office staff. I even treat the fruit stand guy on the corner as a peer. (Who knows, he just might become the Elon Musk of fruit stands.)
4. Service. This is a biggie. I've worked for CEOs who showed up at the office, ordered their secretaries to bring them a steaming hot cup of coffee and proceeded to spend the next two hours reading the Journal, Times and any other pertinent trade journal. Not me. I get my reading done before work and spend my day asking the staff what I can do to help them. Most end up ignoring my request, but at least I roll-up my sleeves and do my best to lead by example.
5. Integrity. One can interpret this word in many ways. I see integrity as having the cajones to fire abusive clients, turn away unsavory prospective clients and show poisonous employees the front door ASAP. Employees respect leaders with a spine.
6. Be unafraid to listen. Leaders who espouse a "My way or the highway" approach to protocols, processes and procedures may manage a tightly controlled business, but they miss out on the creative suggestions from staff members who have thoughts on new, and better ways, to get the job done. I constantly tell my employees to walk into my office with ideas, as well as problems. But when it comes to the latter, I tell them to bring along suggested solutions to the issue at hand.
7. Be unafraid to speak out. Too many CEOs are too timid to speak out on controversial issues of the day. I'm not. I write a blog that tackles everything from politics and religion to entertainment and sports. In each instance, I frame up the image and reputation issue at hand and then posit my view. Speaking out has created widespread awareness of my firm, differentiated us from competitors, and has only cost us one small, insignificant client in 20 years of business.
8. Share success and failure. It's easy to celebrate the big wins, but the best leaders are fully transparent about the catastrophes as well. We've come precariously close to total disaster on three separate occasions but, by sharing every detail with the staff, we rallied together as a team and re-built the business into a stronger, better entity.
9. Know when to kick ass and pat backs. Truly exceptional leaders know exactly how to motivate each key employee. Some need their egos stroked. Others want compete autonomy. And, then there are the gifted, but lazy ones. Reading the psyches of your direct reports and motivating each in precisely the right way is intrinsic to success.
10. Communicate your vision. Every entrepreneur has a vision but, if you can't clearly communicate it to your employees, you'll never reach the promised land. We make a point of not only explaining our vision, but holding workshops in which we simulate new business and client meetings, as well as casual cocktail receptions. We monitor each closely to see if our troops can communicate our vision and do so with energy, enthusiasm and conviction.
11. Remain cool-headed. The beauty of the entrepreneurial life is that no two days are alike. That's why maintaining an even keel in good times and bad is essential to gaining employee confidence. I think the current response by NYC's senior leadership to the rash of ISIS threats is a superb example. Not one seems flustered. Not one has suggested we're not prepared. Not one hasn't assured and re-assured New Yorkers to go on with their daily lives. That is true leadership.
You may never face an epic crisis but, if you do, maintaining a cool, calm and collected demeanor will be essential to guiding your company through the threat. No leader EVER gave a better demonstration of grace under pressure than Sir Winston Churchill in June of 1940. Imagine if he had applied those same qualities to building a business? He'd have been the Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs of his day (all rolled up into one mega entrepreneur). And Churchill.com would be worth billions right now.
As a leader, I'm on an endless quest to learn more about leadership. So, here's a quick tip of the deerstalker to my colleagues across the pond. I gleaned quite a few subtle, but significant, leadership tips. Whether I incorporate any of them is anyone's guess.