3 Easy Ways to Be a Better Leader

By following these three simple steps you will almost-immediately become a more effective, more productive leader.
President & CEO, Predictable Success
September 21, 2012

Media coverage of business leadership typically focuses on high-profile events: tough decisions, breakthrough strategies, roller-coaster ups and downs. But in reality 90 percent of business leadership is the unglamorous hard work that's done in the trenches every day.

The good news is that by focusing on just three everyday behaviors, you can pull real gold out of your daily grind and transform even the most mundane daily activity into a rich opportunity to grow both your own leadership skills and your business.

1. Stop anticipating answers.

Visionary leaders rightly trust their own judgment. After all, it's that judgment that got them to where they are today.

Trouble is, as time passes and we rely on our judgement more and more, we begin to distort the data we receive from others by sending hidden clues about what we want that data to say. The tone with which we ask questions, the wording we use, the editorial we insert as preamble all gently (or not so gently) nudges others to tell us what we want to hear, rather than the unadorned truth.

Success in business demands high quality, objective data above all else, so try this exercise tomorrow: Identify one important thing you need to ask someone, then ahead of time, strip your question down to its absolute basics—no emotion, no presuppositions, no shading.

For example, "Why is our subscriber rate down 23 percent over the last month?" is a much more useful question than "I notice our subscriber rate collapsed immediately after we started the new advertising campaign."  The latter makes clear where you think the cause and effect lies, which subtly distorts the answer you will receive.

Neutralize your questions, and you'll get much higher-quality information in return.

2. Focus on results, not activities.

Every leader fights a constant gravitational pull away from their leadership role into the daily act of management. And of course, every leader needs to manage at times, but overall, in the long term, your most important role is to lead, not to manage.

One way to get the balance right is to shift your focus from activities to results. In other words, measure your success not by what actions you took over a period of time, but by what you actually achieved with those actions.

When I'm coaching leaders, I recommend they replace their to-do lists, which is essentially a list of actions—calls to make, people to see, etc.—with a list of specific goals like sales targets, perhaps, or branch openings, or new product launches, whatever is appropriate to their position.

Try it for yourself and see: set clear, unambiguous, achievable goals for next month, and for 30 days, manage your daily activities solely in order to achieve those goals. You'll be surprised how many calls, e-mails, meetings and reports you really don't need to be involved with, once you have a relentless focus on results, not activities.

3. Be a resource.

Most leaders spend a lot of their time pushing and prodding others in order to get things done. In all that activity, however, one thing tends to get overlooked—being a resource to the people who work with and for you.

Unchecked, our leadership becomes a "push" function. We're constantly checking on others, reminding them of their commitments, making decisions about what they should do next, pushing our agenda forward. What gets lost in all this push activity is the other side of the coin—how you can help them.

Identify the two people you work with most, and try this: Schedule a short, 20-minute meeting, and ask just one question "What can I do to help you do your job better?" Listen, and act. You'll be amazed at how much they'll appreciate you for it, and how much of a difference you can make in their productivity.

Read more and watch videos of leadership advice from Les.  

President & CEO, Predictable Success