Much has been written on what leaders should and shouldn’t do. Having read almost every notable article on the topic, the natural question for me to ask was, “What next?” Though full of perennial wisdom—knowledge that even those who don’t study leadership would know—something was missing. My aha moment came: if everything leaders were being told to do sounded reasonable, was there anything that sounded unreasonable that they shouldn’t do? We all have our picture of what a good leader should do, but below are seven things that could make a leader innovative just for putting them into practice.
- Hire people who disagree with you. They keep you on your toes. Because they think differently, they force you to see things another way. They force you to question your actions; this guards you against making bad decisions.
- Take the bullet for your people. Most leaders use their subordinates as human shields, but great leaders take bullets for their teams. By doing this, they may look weak to their peers, but not so to their subordinates, who will know that you truly care about them—they are then willing to go to Hell and back for you. To inspire loyalty, you must prove that you, too, are loyal.
- Treat the toilet cleaner the same as you would a CEO. The eye is small, but without it, you are blind; the ear is tiny, but without it, you are deaf; and the tongue is small, but without it, you are mute. The same can be said of those who occupy the lowest positions in your company; seemingly insignificant, they bring more value to the organization than most would imagine.
- Celebrate employees, even when they make mistakes. The common reaction for many is to chide someone when they blunder. Some will even go as far as berating you, but insightful leaders will do the opposite. Courageous employees, like everyone else, make mistakes, and great leaders allow them to, even celebrating them. Boldness is a rare virtue, and one cannot take risks without it. Therefore, it is wise to nurture and encourage those in whom it is found. Mistakes are not a bad thing; they are an opportunity to learn and grow. In fact, errors are the surest signs guiding us toward success.
- Play fair. In a world where cheaters seem to go far, playing fair seems like career suicide. We’ve all read the book or watched the movie where the bad guy goes riding off into the sunset, never getting caught, living happily ever after. But, the reality is far from it: sooner or later, we all pay for our vices and are rewarded for our virtues. Furthermore, you have to model the behavior you want your employees to exhibit. If you bend the rules, they too will bend them; if you break the rules, they too will break them; and if you model the rules, they too will model them.
- Respect your competition. Rather than scorn or deride your competition, the best thing is to learn from them—they are your best teachers. Learn from acquaintances, and you are clever; from friends, and you are intelligent, and from rivals, and you are shrewd. But, learn from all, and you are wise.
- Learn to say “no.” Saying “yes” is easy because that is what everyone wants to hear, but to be effective and efficient in your leadership role, saying “no” is equally important, for it helps you create boundaries and ward off users. You have priorities; no one else’s priorities take precedence over yours. And, if you keep saying “yes” to all the wrong things, you won’t end up with the option of saying “yes” to the right ones.