3 Ways to LEAD your Leader

Every now and again I get the privilege to sit with some great leaders.  Some I simply observe - to see what they do and what their followers do in return.  But on the rare occasion IÕve been lucky enough to get them to slow down - to reveal the running commentary in their own head of why they do, what they do, when they do.  This is one such account from early in my career.

Learning from a Leader

We were just finishing an Innovation Session with a very high profile company.  Decisions had been made.  Everyone knew what to do next.  All in, a great day and session.  In the moment, I ran into the CEO in the kitchen as he was grabbing a cup of coffee before heading off to the airport.  He was the last one left.

He clearly felt good - a sort of quiet and confident high.  And then, he just opened right up.

"You know, I donÕt know half of what theyÕre doing, or what theyÕre about to do." he says.

I was shocked.  I was in the room with he and his team as they were making decisions and he seemed like he knew everything - every detail, every trade off, every nuance.

I said, "I had no idea.  You certainly played it off well."

"I hope my team thought that too."  he replied.  "You see, IÕve found that I simply cannot be present in every single thing we do as a company.  Even the big stuff.  But I have my ways of keeping everyone honest."

"When they first present me with new ideas, I hit them hard with questions.  And fast.  I ask about one area of the idea but I go way down into the minutia."

I asked him, "Why?  I mean, arenÕt you supposed to be thinking about strategy and your teams think about how to get it done?"

"It should be that way.  But I have to build my own confidence too.  I have to believe that they really have this.  That they know it.  And that when they donÕt know it, they admit it.  ThatÕs why I get into unreasonable details when I know they canÕt possibly know them all.  Because I want to hear them say they donÕt know.  If they claim to know it all, I worry that theyÕre lying to me, or worse, lying to themselves. It makes me believe they donÕt really love the idea, theyÕre trying to impress me. But they donÕt realize...if they donÕt know the answers, it's not a big deal.  I know they can go find out.  But theyÕll worry about it - and thatÕs my bigger picture play.

At the end of the day, I just want to feel confident that theyÕre worrying about that issue.  More than I can or would.  I want to know that if they run into problems, theyÕll fix them.  That theyÕll anticipate issues and think about it.  I want to know that they have it in the back of their mind all the time...so I donÕt have to. I want to see from their actions that they love it and theyÕll care for it as much as I would, maybe more."

That was one of my favorite learning moment from years past.  And no matter where I am in an organization - volunteering, working, leading, following - I do always reflect on that experience and think:

Am I showing others that I love this effort/project? 

Am I demonstrating through my actions that IÕm worrying about it more than they are? 

Am I giving my (insert boss, customer/client, employee, investor, licensor, etc. here) confidence that I care so much about this that IÕm thinking one step ahead?

If I am, I know IÕm one step closer to not just winning their confidence, but doing the right thing while IÕm at it.