9 Things All Great Leaders Do

I just finished listening to an ETL (Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders Seminar) lecture by Bob Sutton of Stanford, wherein he talked about leadership and what characterizes great leaders from average or even bad ones. It echoed a lot of my thinking and experience to date, as well as giving me a few new things to think about. If you have 45 minutes to kill, take a listen – you will not be disappointed.

Here are a handful of the tenets which I particularly enjoyed:

1) Work hard to be in tune with how others are responding to you.

2) Manage by getting out of the way.

3) Obey the 5 – 1 rule – have 5 good interactions for every 1 bad interaction. This equation/balance is substantiated by a lot of social research.

4) “Fight as if you’re right, listen as if you’re wrong, and surrender even if you think your idea is really good [but no one else does]”…in other words, have the courage and the wisdom to act on what you know right now, but have the humility to update when new information comes along… Nobody wants to work for pig-headed bastards who don’t want you input.

5) Create a culture of disagreement – Organizational behavior is structured such that it promotes sycophancy. On top of that, research on flattery shows that when someone flatters us [even falsely], we still like them more and when someone delivers us bad news, we like them less. This has the dangerous potential of creating a culture of sycophancy… as a great leader once said, “when two people in business agree, one of them is unnecessary.”

6) Disagree but then commit. If you don’t agree with an idea or direction, give it your absolute best effort – that way when it fails, you know that it was a bad idea, not a bad implementation.

7) True rock-stars help others succeed. Get rid of rotten apples [even if they are rock-stars] – they stifle everyone else’s performance by 30%-40%.

8 ) Have your people’s back. Good bosses protect their people, even from “idiocy from on high.”

9) Know when to push and when to back off. “Managing is like holding a dove in your hand, if you hold it too tightly you’ll kill it and if you hold it too loosely, you lose it.”

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