10 Things Real Leaders Do
I’m puzzled. Maybe you can help me figure out this conundrum that keeps poking at my mind’s eye. It’s seriously driving me nuts. I just can’t seem to make sense of how people claiming to be aspiring entrepreneurs and business leaders mostly follow the pack.
Think about it. All that online searching for inspiration, business ideas, social media and personal branding tips, advice on personal improvement and productivity, the lowdown on how others made it big, not to mention other people’s personal habits and favorite apps.
That sounds suspiciously like trying to replicate what others do. Does that sound like “leading” to you?
Trust me when I tell you, that’s not what real leaders spend their time doing. More importantly, that’s not what real leaders spent their time doing before they succeeded in becoming leaders. This is what they did to get to where they are … and still do.
Lead. This is not complicated, folks. Lead is the opposite of follow. When you spend a lot of your time trying to replicate how others do things, that’s not leading. It’s following. Great leaders lead by example. First they do, then they point the way for others to follow. You’re either one or the other, not both.
Manage. Yes, leadership and management are different. Hallelujah. Whether it’s managing their company’s organization, brand, products, customer experience, operations, finances, whatever, business leaders spend most of their time managing. Leadership is a skill set. Manage is what they do.
Strategize. In the old days, the big buzzword was invention. Then it was innovation. Now it’s improvement. Whatever. If you want to lead in business, you have to come up with a unique solution to a big problem that people are willing to pay for. You can call that Sylvester if you like, but I call it strategy.
Create culture. The root of the word culture is cult. Steve Jobs created a unique, cult-like culture at Apple. Likewise John Mackey at Whole Foods and the original Trader Joe … Joe Coulombe, that is. If you’ve never been to Google, check out the movie The Internship. Great leaders are not cast in a mold. They break the mold.
Inspire. We all need inspiration at times, but real leaders are usually inspired by their lives, which typically revolve around work and family. And since their job is to inspire and motivate others, they tend to have a pretty big source of it inside. If you’re in constant need of inspiration, you’re probably not leadership material.
Related: Never Turn Down a Paying Customer
Prioritize. Before everyone became so obsessed with personal improvement, productivity, and time management, real executives and business leaders learned to prioritize their time. And they prioritize their organization’s time by setting direction and goals, as well. That’s how the work gets done on time.
Juggle. No matter how well you prioritize or delegate, when your business is growing, you’ve got to keep a lot of balls up in the air. And if you’re not growing, you’re stagnating. For CEOs, especially in high-growth industries, multitasking is just a way of life … and I don’t mean tweeting while watching a YouTube video.
Plan, execute, adapt. There’s a three-part cycle to operating just about any business: plan, execute, adapt. In the beginning it’s mostly ad-hoc, but the bigger a company gets and the faster it needs to scale, the more formalized its operating processes must be.
Make smart decisions. Life is full of decisions but the vast majority – like what to eat for dinner or which phone to buy – aren’t super critical. Business is not the same because, unlike food choices, competitive markets are essentially zero-sum games. The bigger your title, the more critical your decisions. Great leaders make smart decisions.
Win. Just about any type of human performance is described by a bell-curve. Every field has its top performers, its bottom performers, and everything in between. Leadership is no different. Good leaders win more than they lose. Great leaders consistently beat the competition. That’s just what they do, and they do it better than anyone else.
Bottom line: Leaders lead and followers follow. It’s not complicated – you’re either one or the other. Which are you?
Related: How to Know When to Change Direction
Steve Tobak is a management consultant, columnist, former senior executive, and author of Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur (Entrepreneur Press, October 2015). Tobak runs Silicon Valley-based Invisor Consulting and blogs at stevetobak.com, where you can contact him and learn more.