5 industry leaders highlight how they created success

David McCrae | 4th October 2016

Whether it’s leading a team, a department or a company, I’m sure you want to get more out of your workers. Before we launch into this article fully, I want to make a distinction between management and leadership. A manager keeps the hamster wheel turning, check-off the to-do lists and work on the process. The process is important, but it doesn’t create change. It doesn’t generate growth. This is where leadership differs. The leader brings together the collaborators, sets the vision, and identifies the goal. The leader also keeps their finger on the pulse, they feel the change before it happens, they adapt and set fresh priorities. The leader pushes for change and growth.

You don’t want to be an efficient manager; you want to be an effective leader.

The late great Stephen Covey makes the distinction with this analogy:

“You can quickly grasp the important difference between the two if you envision a group of producers cutting their way through the jungle with machetes. They’re the producers, the problem solvers. They’re cutting through the undergrowth, clearing it out.

The managers are behind them, sharpening their machetes, writing policy and procedure manuals, holding muscle development programs, bringing in improved technologies, and setting up working schedules and compensation programs for machete wielders.

The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, “Wrong jungle!”  (Taken from The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

With this distinction in mind, let’s look at what five top leaders have to say on the subject.

1. Sheryl Sandberg: Don’t leave until you’ve left

Sheryl Sandberg is one of the most prominent figures in Silicon Valley, serving as Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer. She tells people who want to be leaders “Don’t leave until you’ve left”, to not take their foot off the pedal.

Do you find your productivity levels plummeting at the close of the day? Is it worse on a Friday? Do you slack off for the last couple of days before you go on holiday? Sheryl urges you to fight this tendency, as doing this on a consistent basis will lose you a lot of time later on in your career. During these slack-off periods a competitor will be getting ahead of you. It can cost your team success or you a promotion. You may regret this lack of consolidation in the twilight of your career, which should be the most lucrative for you.

Be sure to set out clear intentions for what you want to achieve each day, map out tasks you want to be working on every hour, work that is effective and meaningful so you don’t spend that last hour refreshing your email inbox or colour-coordinating your files.

2. Sir Alex Ferguson: Watch and listen

 In terms of objective statistics, Sir Alex is easily the most successful football manager of all time and arguably one of sport’s greatest managers. He won 49 trophies during his time managing St. Mirren, Aberdeen and Manchester United, nearly twice as much than the next manager on the list. Here’s his philosophy on communication:

There a reason God gave us two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. It means we should watch and listen twice as much as we talk.

Sir Alex was famous for the amount of analysis he did of his opponents. He travelled every week across Scotland, England and Europe to watch the team he was due to play next. He liked to collect his own data as much as possible, but he also trusted in the data of others. He met regularly with physios, coaches, scouts and his assistant manager to listen to their reports and insight. This not only ensured he was as informed as he could possibly be to prepare his team for victory, but also to plan for the future.

Sir Alex was also renowned for the amount of young talent he nurtured. Players such as David Beckham, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were all first team stars at just 18 years old under Ferguson’s tutelage. Spending time watching and listening allowed Sir Alex to gain the foresight required to identify future potential.

To be a better leader, spend more time watching the market, and more time listening to your team. Draw up lists of your main competitors, and what strategies they are employing to get ahead. When you have collated this data, listen to your team members to hear their perspectives and insights. Constantly strive to be on top of market trends.

3. Angela Merkel: Purpose-driven leadership

Merkel has led the world’s 4th largest economy for over a decade. She has served as leader of the G7 and G8. She is considered by many the de facto leader of the EU and Forbes recognises her as one of the most powerful people in the world, and has declared her the Most Powerful Woman in the World for 10 consecutive years.

Merkel has mastered “leading from behind.” This is the practice of leading through purpose, not charisma. She unites collectives through purpose. The three coalition governments she has led have been based on policies of economic growth, and her party continues to be re-elected based on this backbone.

Merkel is passionate about the European Project, and has made bold political moves based on the vision of the E.U. She has cut the reliance on nuclear power within her country; aiming to lead the way in Europe for greener energy and sustainability. She was tough on Greece during the debt crisis, wanting to keep them both included and accountable to the wider European project. She also opened up the borders to Middle-Eastern refugees, demonstrating the desire for her country and the continent to be based on values of tolerance and compassion. Her decisions are not made for her, or even just her country, they are fueled by her purpose to see the European Project succeed.

You can embody strong leadership by creating a shared purpose. Your employees aren’t very motivated to work on your dream, or the company’s dream, but they will be motivated to work on their dream. Include your team in the process of creating a vision. Give them real, meaningful input into the strategising process, and allow them to bring their personal touch to the proceedings.

Research demonstrates that employees feel the most meaning and purpose in their work when they have a sense of personal autonomy over it. Give them that autonomy, and they will work harder to bring a project to fruition.

4. Abraham Lincoln: Trust your critics

When Lincoln assumed office, he appointed every one of his main rivals in the Presidential race to office. He appointed individuals with radically different political opinions to his own. He appointed individuals he had doubts and grievances about. This was more than just political compromise. Lincoln wanted tough feedback.

Lincoln knew that his opponents would be far quicker to tell him about problems than his friends. He also knew that if he was able to convince them to agree to something, then their agreement would be stronger and more genuine. The flip side of this was apparent in the Kennedy administration, with the disastrous Bay of Pigs fiasco. This invasion of Cuba was full of logistical holes, but when individuals tried to point out these flaws, they were shot down by the rest of the team. They fell victim to a psychological phenomenon called “groupthink”, whereby a desire for harmony outweighs a desire for critical evaluation.

5. Arianna Huffington: Get more sleep

Arianna, founder of the Huffington Post, proposes “sleeping your way to the top”. She notes a badge of honour that many leaders boast about, how little they’ve slept. In reality not maintaining a healthy sleeping pattern is a recipe for failure. When you go 24 hours without sleep, you have the same reaction and concentration as someone who is drink-driving -which is why you can receive points on your license if you’re caught driving in this state! When you go 48 hours without sleep, then you have the same blood sugar levels as a diabetic.

Sleep deprivation leads to false and incomplete memories, increased emotional impulsivity and riskier decision-making, all of which could be disastrous for the prospects of you, your team, and your company. Sleep yourself Smarter.

Here are my three tops tips to help you sleep better:

  • Have a digital sunset at least an hour before bedtime. Laptops, phones and TVs project a harmful “blue light” that upsets our hormone melatonin, which acts as our body’s natural sleeping pill. If you have low levels of melatonin in your system, you will not spend time in the deepest and most restorative stages of sleep.
  • Cut the caffeine, (caffeine is not just in coffee and energy drinks, but black and green tea, coke and diet coke and even chocolate) nicotine and alcohol several hours before bed, when these substances are in your system, even in small qualities, they also prevent your body from entering into the deeper stages of sleep.
  • Create a night time routine. Our body likes routine, and it likes to ease into sleep. You can’t expect to come in from a networking event or watching a big sports game and instantly switch into rest mode. Have a bath, a cup of (herbal) tea, meditate, and read a book. Whatever makes you feel calm and relaxed that doesn’t involve a screen.

Each of these individuals found success through pushing themselves to be leaders. They were forced to make some tough decisions throughout the process that didn’t always make them popular. Sir Alex sometimes had to be ruthless in who he allowed to be a part of his team, and even sold talented players if they didn’t serve the team. Angela Merkel faced fierce opposition from right-wing movements in Greece and her own country for her political stances. Lincoln created a civil war through sticking to his values, and ultimately was assassinated for his beliefs.

Being a leader isn’t easy, so we often slip into the comfort of being a manager. I challenge you to fight this urge. The world has enough managers, when it needs more leaders. Will you step up and accept the role?