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.
Reading time: 6 minutes
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Do you have any favourite leadership hacks? Please share in the comments!
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