3 Foundational Rules to Effective Leadership
How a simple counter-intuitive approach will make you a stronger, more effectual leader.
Leadership takes many forms, but these forms can be broken down into two categories: Leaders and Commanders.
As a Leader, you must know the difference between leading and commanding. Leaders own results, commanders own tactics. Leaders understand that it is their Team’s success that measures their success, and it is their failures that determine their Team’s failures. Commanders invert this, seeing their success as the driver of their team, and blaming their failures on the inabilities of their Team.
Commanding that someone does something is a weak form of management and leadership. It shows a profound lack of trust, an inability to relinquish control, and an ego-driven virtue system. Commanders do not consider the input of others as they believe that they alone are going to solve the problem, that they alone are competent enough to achieve the desired results. Commanders will go above and beyond in service of their interests, and this often is mistaken for leadership because Commanders can, in the short term, have very successful teams. But that success is fragile, and never stands up to the test of time because a Commander is unable to build up those around them and create an effective team.
Commanders view their subordinates as resources to be used rather than assets to invest. A Commander has no interest in the development of their subordinates because by nature of being a Commander, it doesn’t matter. Investing in others is seen as a distraction, a pull of focus away from what is truly their ultimate goal, building up themselves. Commanders inherently view the success of their subordinates as an existential threat because Commanders view leadership as a zero-sum game. If a subordinate receives accolades, a Commander will perceive this as a threat, an intrusion on their identity as the primary (if not only) achiever in their Team.
This zero-sum approach presents ongoing challenges and conflicts as a Commander will be forced to make choices between their selfish interests and the success of their team. Often this leads to Commanders usurping the roles of their subordinates, as the investment in growing their subordinates is seen as a loss of their time compounded by an increased threat from the improved abilities of their subordinates.
To teach is the strongest form of Leadership. Built upon a foundation of trust, respect, and belief that growth comes from collective, not individual strength, Leaders shed their ego and need for control. By empowering their subordinates to lead from within, Leaders always achieve the optimal long term outcomes. Leader’s priorities are aligned with the interests of their subordinates, in service of a collective goal, creating sustainable and strong teams that can withstand challenges and threats robustly.
Leaders invest in their people. Leaders do not think or operate in binaries, they are a chess player to a Commanders tic-tac-toe. Leaders understand that to build a Team that will be successful they need to invest in long term growth, vs. the Commander who cannot see past the immediate task at hand. Leadership requires trusting your team, relinquishing control, and allowing for failure.
The 3 Foundational Rules to Effective Leadership
- Trust Your Team
- Relinquish Control
- Allow for Failure
1. Trust your Team
A Commander believes “trust is earned, not given”, a Leader knows trust is a resource, wisely invested.
The foundation of every successful team is trust, as without trust nothing can endure. Trust is an investment, and like any investment, it will either payoff or result in a loss, but it takes time to ultimately know what the outcome will be. By investing in a baseline of trust in your team, you are allowing them to grow that trust and create the environment in which they can operate with autonomy and empowerment. You should expect that as an investment, there will be ups and downs and to truly see results you must think long term and avoid any knee-jerk reactions.
2. Relinquishing Control
A Commander must maintain absolute control at all times, a Leader gives it away freely.
It is important to note that relinquishing control does not mean relinquishing responsibility. Good Leaders empower their subordinates to take ownership of initiatives and tactical operations, but they also maintain responsibility for the outcomes. Relinquishing control is a show of strength, making it clear to subordinates your power is not derived from force and that your worth as a leader isn’t tied to ego. To relinquish control is not to assign a task, it is to assign a goal and trust in your subordinate to develop the strategy to achieve it.
3. Allow Your Team to Fail
A Commander does not accept failure, a Leader expects it.
If you cannot (or will not) allow your Team to fail, you are preventing them from succeeding. Growth cannot happen without failure. A good leader will create an environment in which their people can pursue big opportunities, opportunities with a massive upside that can lead to breakthroughs for them, their team, and their company. But with these big opportunities comes risk, in most cases the bigger the opportunities upside, the larger the likelihood of failure. Enabling your subordinates to fail is the ultimate form of empowerment, empowering them to be creative in pursuit of their goal, empowering them to stretch their abilities to enhance their skills, and empowering them to have agency over their development and growth.
Taking Action To Lead
Taking action to lead is simple, and the most difficult challenge any leader faces. By employing the 3 Rules you will be able to build a foundation of strong leadership that is rooted in long-term strategic investments vs. short-term tactical operations.
If you can internalize these rules and put them into action, you can Lead in any situation. This will take time and concerted effort as it can feel counter-intuitive to center your efforts around trust. Our natural inclination is to see strength as brute force, but if you can invest the time and employ these rules with intentionality, you will see that your strength as a leader is in the ability to build a lasting, sustainable, and flexible team that will achieve more than you could have ever thought possible.