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Reflecting on 7 years of leadership advice

Article originally published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on July 19, 2021.

This week marks my seventh anniversary writing a weekly column on leadership for the Philadelphia Business Journal and its 43 sister publications, with over 350 articles written to date. These articles are based on over 40 years of experience serving in the trenches, rising up to the position of CEO of a global company operating in 19 countries, and observing other leaders as a director on public, private, private equity, nonprofit and trade association boards. I write to help others be successful.

 

To mark this anniversary, I reflect on the leadership principles that I have written about in my Business Journal columns and in my book, “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” These principles are applicable regardless of your position within your organization or the business you’re in.

 

Leadership

  • Exhibit the right tone at the top and nurture the right organizational culture. This is a prime determinant of business success.
  • Lead with emotional intelligence and personally connect with your employees. 
  • The most effective leaders create an environment where their employees are encouraged to achieve beyond their own expectations.
  • Never shoot the messenger and always face the brutal facts of reality. You can’t fix a problem unless you know what it is. Value the opinions of your experts and listen to the lone wolf.
  • Listen to your direct reports and debate them on issues. When you permit pushback, you improve the decision-making process in your company.
  • Set realistic financial goals when establishing next year’s budget, with the objective of blowing through those goals to the greatest degree possible. You can set stretch goals outside the budget process. Reward your employees for great performance.
  • Hold business unit general managers accountable for their P&L statement, but only for expenses they control. Lock in staff unit allocations for a multi-year period, and reflect positive/negative changes in these expenses in a corporate cost center that doesn’t impact the business unit.
  • Carefully consider the unintended consequences of your decisions.
  • Embrace the timeless philosophy of continuous improvement. It’s a source of competitive advantage.
  • Remember the first six words in “Good to Great” by Jim Collins: “Good is the enemy of great.” Regardless of how great you think your company is, there is always room for improvement.
  • Never act like an imperial leader. It disconnects you from your employees.

 

People

  • Hire people with common sense and good critical judgment who will know, on rare occasion, when to violate policy when it’s in the best interests of the company to do so.
  • Get out of your comfort zone and push your employees outside of their comfort zones. There is no better way for you or them to develop.
  • Encourage your employees to develop a sense of ownership in what they do. Hire leaders who will permit their direct reports to do so.
  • Encourage your employees to break paradigms. It will lead to new ways of doing things and is a source of competitive advantage. 
  • Don’t micromanage. Empower your direct reports. Set expectations, jointly establish goals and cut them loose to do their thing.
  • Don’t tolerate a tyrant. Part company with them. 

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Markets

  • Understand your markets and get ahead of market trends.
  • Work to become the preferred provider of products/services to your market and differentiate your company by delivering a great customer/client experience.
  • Understand your competition and their strategies. Don’t underestimate them.
  • Recognize that only the paranoid survive.

 

Communication

  • When talking about successes, always use “we,” instead of “I.” Not much is accomplished without a great team surrounding you. Take the blame when it’s your fault.
  • Communicate to your employees the role of their business unit (e.g., generate cash flow from mature businesses to invest in growth businesses) in achieving both operational and strategic goals. 
  • Learn how to sell your ideas to your boss, your direct reports, your peers and to the wider organization.
  • When making a presentation, place yourself in the position of your audience to determine the best way to deliver your message to get your point across. How many times have you sat through a presentation and have not been able to read the PowerPoint slides?

 

Universal Principles

  • Always project a proactive attitude. Be a person who sees possibilities and abundance, and not one who only sees scarcity and limitations.
  • Your credibility, honesty, ethics and integrity determine your reputation, your most cherished professional possession. Once lost, it is very difficult to earn back.
  • When you run into situations that require difficult ethical choices, remember the passage in the West Point Cadet Prayer, “Make us choose the harder right than the easier wrong.”
  • Lead like you would like to be led. Treat people like you would like to be treated. Practice the human side of leadership.

 

These principles will help you achieve success regardless of your business or profession.

 

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership, entrepreneurship and corporate governance. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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