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I’m often asked my thoughts about leaders and leadership. It’s an interesting subject, as one has many examples of great leaders, terrible leaders, “wanna be” leaders, experts on leadership who have never led, experts on leadership who’ve forgotten what it means to lead, and people who just like to criticize leaders no matter what they do. Advice is coming from all directions.
Over the years I’ve learned as much about how to lead from my mentors as how “not to lead” from the one to two less-than-ideal situations I’ve worked within in the past. Every experience is a learning experience.
Most of the inquiries I get come from lower management individuals wanting to move to upper management, or line staff wanting a shot at a management role. Here is my usual advice.
Every day is an interview.
Do you “lead” every day? Do you lead in your job duties? Do you lead your teammates and set an example of a positive “can do” proactive attitude? The funny thing about getting “promoted” is you never know when it might happen. You don’t always know when the company might be expanding, a key leader may be resigning to move on. So, you better be at your best every day in every way so you can be chosen. If you coast or lay back, expect to be passed over. I also tell my team that tenure means nothing. Skill, work ethic and attitude trump tenure every time.
The crowd isn’t always right.
Don’t confuse leadership in a company with being the “union leader” of a non-existent employee union. Some productive, constructive, respectfully delivered suggestions for change within your company is a good thing. But, constantly criticizing the company, the leadership, the direction and taking the side of the staff on every issue is not leadership. In fact, I’d say it is the opposite of leadership. Tell me: Who can’t be a leader if it means never asking someone to do something they don’t want to do, never siding with management, never disagreeing with a teammate and always bashing the company?
Lead by example, even when times are tough.
Leadership is about leading people through example and inspiration to do both the easy and difficult things. It is about convincing your team to do the right things even if sometimes they don’t want to do them. It’s astonishing how many young managers think leadership is all about appeasing every demand, acquiescing to every desire and satisfying every whim of employees without any regard for systems, processes or profits. That’s frightening.
Get things done.
And finally, I say if you want to move up it can be very simple: attack problems with an explosive infectious positive attitude, be ahead of the game — meaning see problems to solve out on the horizon not after they’ve already happened — inspire your teammates by example, make your boss’s job easier, display publicly a huge passion for your company and business, and finally, when you feel it necessary to constructively criticize, do it professionally, respectfully and in private.
In closing, I’d like to issue a challenge to those leaders out there who are working quietly in positions they don’t enjoy anymore, for companies they don’t believe in anymore or for executives whom they fundamentally disagree with on the direction of the company. We know who you are and how you feel. You can’t hide it and you’ve become ineffective. I challenge you to either step up, reinvent yourself and initiate positive change within your company or go somewhere where you are happy. You and your new company will benefit from your gutsy change and believe it or not, the company you leave will benefit by having the opportunity to fill your shoes with someone who aligns better with its philosophy.
Don Allen is the CEO of Tampa Fitness Partners and area developer for Orangetheory Fitness Gulf Coast Region.