One of my favorite leadership fables is The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari, a bestseller now over a decade old, by business coach Robin Sharma, so I was glad that he sent me his new book, another fable, The Leader Who Had No Title.
“This is a result of over 15 years of working with a number of Fortune-level CEOs and successful entrepreneurs,” says Robin. “They have certain patterns of thinking and behaving, supported by specific strategies that they use in both good and turbulent times, that most people don’t use. These can all be distilled into teachable actions.”
The story centers on Blake Davis, a veteran of the Iraq War, stuck in a dead-end job, who receives wisdom from a number of somewhat unlikely sources, ultimately learning some valuable lessons in personal leadership that enable him to turn things around.
According to Robin, “We live in a time of intense disruption... once-iconic companies have fallen apart, and once revered leaders have fallen from grace. I happen to think we have a leadership crisis, made more urgent by dramatic change that can easily overwhelm anyone in business. The old model of leadership is dead. It’s no longer about a title on your business card, but rather a way of thinking and being. Call it leadership 2.0. It requires leadership at every level.”
That’s not a new concept. But what is new is the story itself, and the toolkit of tactics included to accompany the narrative, many of which are focused on the kinds of things that help build leadership capability most in troubled times.
I asked Robin which of the many strategies and tactics are most helpful to entrepreneurs and small business owners. Here’s how he responded:
Focus on five. “Over the past number of years I have studied the traits of people most consider geniuses. One of the things geniuses do is to develop an obsessive focus around a few things. Most businesspeople try to be all things to all people and as a result end up as members of the cult of mediocrity. The essence of mastery is being obsessively great around about five things.
“So, articulate the five things that need to happen between now and the last day of your career to feel you led a world-class career. Then every day, focus first on those five things. Small daily improvements over time lead to stunning results.”
Make it better. “What do the best businesses do to create things that leave people breathless? They focus on leaving everything better than they found it. It’s part of their hardwiring always be pushing the envelope and making their products and services better. Nothing fails like success and so the best never fall in to the trap of complacency.”
Make business personal. “The business of business is relationships. It’s a cliche and near-platitude, but so easy to forget in this world of technology, which seems at the moment focused on creating personal fame. At the end of the day, people do business with people they like and trust. Put your relationships first and the money will follow close behind.”
Do good. “To be a great leader, first become a good person. That’s what people will remember most.”
Keep thinking. “Work on the way you think about things, your mental outlook, your mindset. Exercise your mind like you do your body. Every outer result is a reflection of the way you are thinking and perceiving a situation.”
That’s a simple list of good advice for anyone. Which, of course, is precisely Robin’s point. These things aren’t new ideas, but they are good ones, and ones I know I can either easily forget, or take for granted, or both. And every once in a while, a simple story like the one in The Leader Who Had No Title, helps me to get back to some basics. Sometimes a fictional story facilitates understanding, because you see yourself in one or more of the characters. For me, the valuable messages I took away from the story is that real greatness requires goodness.
“Ultimately,” Robin concludes, “Life is pretty short. And the CEO gets buried next to the street sweeper. All that matters in the end comes down to two things: did we realize our leadership best? And how many people did we influence? Think about it: what would your company look like if everyone shows leadership in everything that they do? What if every day everyone comes in looking to innovate, to wow customers, and leave everyone they meet better than they found them?”
Answer: probably much different. And much better. But as with most things, it’s a lot easier to explain, but much harder to actually do. Fortunately, The Leader Who Had No Title has a good story with some useful tools to make it all a bit easier.
Matthew E. May is a design and innovation strategist, and the author of In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing. He blogs here. You can follow him on Twitter here.