By Chris Weatherly
This is a question I hadn’t fully wrestled with until I was asked to give the opening keynote at a leadership summit last year.
I was humbled by the opportunity and the magnitude of the request – to set the tone for the conference while trying to inspire a room full of accomplished regional leaders. Simple right?
At this point, we were over a year into a significant restructure and re-brand of our digital sales and operations at Capitol Broadcasting Company. WRAL Digital Solutions was growing fast, in an industry that was evolving even quicker, which was all very exciting, and a bit scary as well. I felt like I could talk to the room about managing through change, or managing a cross-generational team, but both topics felt hollow and uninspiring.
What I wanted to unpack, and what I wanted to fully understand for myself, was the difference between managing and leading.
As I prepared my talk, I began to think back on leaders I had come across in my professional and personal life who I wanted to emulate, the ones who inspired me to be a better version of myself, and the ones who simply drove me away. I was able to identify six core leadership principles I believe anyone can benefit from, wherever they are in their careers. These principles were what I shared with that group of leaders last year, and are the same principles I have tried to make the foundation of my day-to-day role at WRAL Digital Solutions.
1. Leaders define success and failure, and then focus on succeeding at the things that matter
I felt the weight of this when a buddy of mine shared a quote from a Californian pastor named Francis Chan who said: “Our biggest fear should not be failing, but succeeding at the things that don’t matter.”
It sounds obvious, but before you can lead anyone else, you first have to know what success and failure look like for you, and none of it matters if you are succeeding at the things that don’t matter. Leaders take the time to critically reflect on and define what true success and failure look like in their own lives and roles, and then hold true to those definitions, while managers focus almost exclusively on achievement and outcomes.
2. Leaders embrace their weaknesses as an opportunity to empower others
This principle was driven home for me when I read the story of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie immigrated with his poor parents to the United States in 1848. By 1902 he was the world’s richest man, owning over a quarter of America’s steel production.
Despite all of his self-made success, Carnegie believed wholeheartedly in delegation and empowering others. While alive he said, “no person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”
He was so tied to this belief that his tombstone reads, “here lies a man who knew how to enlist the service of better men than himself.” Talk about a legacy of embracing your weaknesses.
Leading often means acknowledging when you aren’t the smartest or most capable person in the room. It requires humbling yourself and elevating others for the better of the team you lead.
3. Leaders take risks
Full disclosure, I typically like to calculate my moves and think through all the possible outcomes to mitigate my risks. It’s how I’m wired. However, the times I have truly stepped out of my comfort zone are when I’ve seen the biggest payoff and growth. In fact, the two of the best career decisions I’ve ever made was quitting a job I was miserable at (with no backup plan) and requesting a transfer to a different division, to start completely over at the bottom of the org chart.
As leaders, it is important to take individual risks, but also to take risks on your top employees or team members. Too often we put individuals in a box, limiting the impact they can make on our organizations to a few bullet points on their job description and fail to see how to harness their true potential and passion. Our focus becomes filling a particular role, and not on maximizing the talent we have.
4. Leaders establish balance
Nobody wants to be on 24/7, yet a recent study from Deloitte said that the average U.S. internet user checks their smartphone up to 86 times a day and nearly 9 in 10 check their phone within an hour of waking up or right before going to bed.
The adage goes – “show me your calendar, and I’ll show you what you value,” but if you look at many of our calendars, there’s very little balance.
Leaders, you’ve got to intentionally set the tone with your team. If you’re sending assignments at 1 a.m., or to people on vacation, they are going to feel the pressure and expectation to respond and will begin to resent you, and ultimately burn out.
Similarly, encourage your team to occasionally step away from the day-to-day and do something creative. If they’re only always going from task A to task B, the organization itself is never going to get better and more efficient. That space has to be created from the top and is something I know is hard to do.
Peter Drucker once said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So make sure you’re keeping the culture well fed.
5. Leaders practice empathy
John Maxwell famously said, “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Leaders recognize the weight and impact of their words and actions and aren’t afraid to show they care. We’ve all had a boss or executive give an uplifting word when we feel unnoticed or discouraged and know how powerful that can be, and we’ve all experienced what happens when they pile on.
Present leaders who invest in their people and show empathy to their individual circumstances are the ones who inspire.
6. Leaders seek two-way mentorship
We all need mentors – people we trust who see the bigger picture and can speak truth into our lives. Individuals who have been there before and made many of the same mistakes we are hoping to avoid.
Just as important though, is giving back to the next generation of leaders. Instead of joining in the chorus of stereotypical and disparaging comments directed towards the next generation, what if you took the time to seek out a new millennial hire in your company, buy them a cup of coffee, and actually get to know them? Stepping outside of your bubble, you might be surprised at the level of passion, thoughtfulness, and insight you find, and how that fresh perspective can help reinvigorate you to keep pushing forward.
These are just a few leadership principles. You may disagree with some or all of them. However, no matter where you are in your life or career, just starting out or winding down, the legacy you leave will ultimately be defined by how you answer this one simple question…
Which do you fear more, failing or succeeding at the things that don’t matter?