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The other day I was thinking about leadership and thought it would be fun to jot these thoughts down for safe keeping, maybe to remind myself or to inspire a fun discussion somewhere.

by JERRY SILVER // Twitter, Facebook, Instagram
Digital PR specialist and CEO at Spin Factory

This is a blog about digital PR and not a blog about leadership. Still, I’ve picked up a few things here and there on the subject.

My leadership insights, such as they are, tend to be of  different kind than the typical strategies you might read about elsewhere. For some reasons unknown to me, my insights seems to lean towards … the darker side of things.

Here goes:

1. Use The Push-Up Effect

For 15 long (and mostly freezing cold) months, I served as a platoon commander in the Swedish military. As a sergeant, I learnt something very strange when leading the mandatory physical morning training sessions:

If you tell a group of reasonable well-trained men to do 25 push-ups, they’ll most likely be able to do them. However, if you tell them to do push-ups on your count, without letting them know how many push-ups to aim for, even the toughest recruits will struggle already at 15 push-ups.

Now, here’s how to leverage the push-up effect:

If you want to get the most from your team, you shouldn’t be the only one with the bigger picture. Or if you want to break people down before building them up again, deprave them of basic information.

2. Ask People To Repeat Your Instructions

If you ask someone to do something, then ask them to repeat your instructions back to you.

You will quickly find out that your way of giving instructions isn’t exactly as crystal clear as you might have imagined.

This often has nothing to do with people being stupid or not paying attention. Interaction between two complex brains, via vocal cords, eyes, ears, air and massive amounts of preconceptions and biases from both ends … well, it’s a miracle that we can understand each other at all.

When delegating, give clear instructions and have the team leader repeat your instructions back to you.

3. Pace Your Leadership

If you never get your hands dirty, your team won’t respect you. If you get your hands dirty all the time, your team will kick back and applaud you while you do all the work.

This is another military story:

When the sun was shining, the vehicles worked, everyone had had something to eat, well then I made sure to not lift a finger. I allowed my team to do their job while I just kicked back.

But as the freezing cold in the dead of night came upon us,  and our terrain vehicles broke down and the fire wouldn’t lit, while everyone was hungry and at the brink of exhaustion — I personally felt rested and strong. But my team didn’t think of that.

My team only saw me rising to some extreme conditions, really getting my hands dirty in a situation where they really needed me lead by example. Since I hadn’t been sweating through my clothes all day, I was able to give them my best effort, make clear decisions and fix our broken-down bandwagon.

When those situations occurred, I really put on a show.

Don’t waste your leadership energy. Save your strength for situations when your team are the most susceptible for a full-on leadership display.

4. Ask People To Write Your Instructions Down

Okay, so I’m a digital guy. But digital devices run out of battery. And they go pling-pling and they tend to demand all kinds of attention.

So I like note-taking the old-fashioned way. Like, Hemingway-style. I therefore ask people on my team to carry a notebook at all times. Preferably a Moleskine.

I don’t care if anyone has a perfect memory or not. If I give instructions in-person, that person better write it down.

Be strict with note-taking. And the younger the team, the more crucial. Write. It Down.

5. Don’t Give People Solutions

If you’re being too helpful, your team can respond by shutting down their brains. It’s absolutely true – and I’ve seen it happen too many times.

Here’s the thing:

If your team comes to you with a problem, asking for a solution, then you shouldn’t give it to them. Even if you easily could.

I know it sounds crazy.

Here’s what to do instead: You tell them to go back, think it over and come back with two possible solutions to their problem. Or two possible answers to their question. Then when they return, you ask them which one of the two solutions they themselves would recommend. And in nine times out of ten, you then ask them to go with exactly that.

This process is so time-consuming, the team member will try to cut corners by coming up with possible solutions and answers before turning to you. And when they realise that you trust their judgement on which solution to go with, they will get confident enough to start coming to you with solved problems instead of just … problems.

When someone comes to you asking for a solution, don’t just give it to them. Your job is to make people think for themselves, not to think for them.

6. Use Dog Psychology

Dogs respond very badly to negative feedback. They can’t really process it; it puts them in a state of fear. Dogs are so dependent on positive reinforcements from their pack, that the absence of it scares the living daylights of them.

I’ve found that using positive reinforcement paired with the absence of positive reinforcement works really well when working with humans as well.

You shouldn’t avoid confrontation by default, but most people who have done something wrong are already in a state of shame and fear. Going berserk on them will only hurt their results long-term.

If you’re happy with a team members specific performance, give them lots of praise. If you you’re not, don’t give them any. This will foster the culture you want.

7. Always Leave While You’re Ahead

I’ve never actually learnt this one, but I know this in theory:

Don’t get crazy drunk with the team. Have fun, drink moderately and then, before it gets too late, excuse yourself and get the hell out of dodge. Go home and spend some quality time with your family or something.

It doesn’t matter if you’re the coolest dude ever. Not even twelve shots of vodka will change the fact that you have hiring and firing power. You negotiate people’s salaries and you allow them to put food on their tables.

Let the team get crazy drunk, play spin the bottle and dance on tables. Yes, you might miss a crazy fun night out. Yes, they might think you’re boring. But it doesn’t change what the right thing to do is. Go home.

8. Always Take Time-Outs

Here’s another military learning:

You’re navigating your team through the woods. After a while you realise that you’re lost.

Transparency is mostly a great concept. But so is timing.

You could tell the team that we’re lost in the woods, that they probably won’t get any food today because of it. And yes, there will probably be lots of freezing and less sleep as a result of it.

In theory, your team could help you get your bearings back, but their minds will most likely go reptile on you:

How could this happen? Why did this happen? What will happen now? Who is to blame for this? Why are everyone trying to express their frustration instead of listening to me while I express mine?

Instead of just having one problem (being lost), you know have dozens (reptile brains).

Instead, take a break, occupy the team with a task and take the smartest person aside. Together with that person you scope the lay of the land (the terrain) and you calibrate your tools (the map and the compass).

The two of you will figure it out. And the person you take aside will also be an important ally in whatever decision you decide upon next. Then you get back to the team and you present the new direction. No reptile brains — just action.


Most questions I get when I’m acting as a leader? I have no idea on how to answer them. But I don’t say that.

I say “let me get back to you” and then I go into a room, I close the door behind me, I have a slight episode of fear and panic, then I calm myself down and figure out a course of action, I take a deep breath and then I go back and I say, “Okay, so here’s the plan.”

9. Trust Your First Instinct

I never knew leadership was so much about guess-work. Your gut instinct will probably play a huge part in all of your day-to-day operations, so get used to it.

Even if you acquire all the information there is to acquire, it might still point you in the wrong direction anyway. There are no guarantees.

It’s scary at first not knowing if you are about to make the right or the wrong decision. But you won’t know until afterwards. If there’s no way for you to make a more informed decision, then to heck with it. Make the bloody decision and be done with it.

When push comes to shove, what you have in the end is your instinct and your ethics.

Do you have any favourite leadership hacks? Please share in the comments!

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Behind the keyboard:

Jerry Silver is the author of Doctor Spin, a PR blog that's been around for 15+ years. His fascination for corporate communication and human psychology runs deep. Via his own agency Spin Factory, every day's spent on coaching people and organizations on how to adapt to a 'digital first' world. In 2016, Cision Scandinavia named him "PR Influencer of the Year". Jerry lives in Stockholm, Sweden with his wife Lisah, journalist and television host, and their two-year-old son, Jack.

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Add your comment:


#4 is great. On my last meeting with a client I brought my notebook. I hate computers when we are there to learn from eachother and its kinda hard to draw something on a computer.

Jerry Silfwer

iSennbrink Yup. And it will take a while before a digital device gets more stylish than a Moleskine… Thanks for stopping by Björn.


When you run a business you often have to make some tough decisions. Especially you’ll frequently have to make uncomfortable or unpopular decisions. Usually these decisions have impacts on different stakeholders and will affect them in a negative or way. So when you have to make a tough decision make sure that:
1) It’s the best one for the company and it’s future survival.
2) That it’s good for the employees
3) That it’s good for you
You’d be surprised how many people manages to screw up the order in this priority list. Never put your self first, always put whats best for the company first. Because without a company there can’t be any employees. Even a nightmare decision like firing half your work force (which I have done) is a no brainer with this checklist in mind.

Jerry Silfwer

Poppetotte I hear you. But I’ve always felt that leadership is more of constantly ending up at crossroads where you can’t really tell which road is 1), 2) or 3).  But, at the same time, it’s not exactly easy for anyone to make those calls, so someone has to step up to the plate and make a decision.
I’ve seen research that suggests that psychopaths are over-represented amongst leaders. I think this could be related to these constant “crossroads of insecurity”; the psychos don’t sense risk properly, so they have no problem with stepping up with complete confidence. And we mistake them for alphas and say “here, go ahead”.
In either case, we’re a strange species, us humans.


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