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3 Fundamental Components of Effective Leadership

May 25, 2018
8 months, 3 weeks ago

I’ve been reflecting about what has worked, and what hasn’t, in my career over the past decade and counting. And some concepts have been brewing in me for the past few months that I simply have to pen.

In a nutshell, Carnegie Dartlet has been the definition of “anomaly.” For years we’ve experienced unprecedented growth and revenue, and with that, a continuous hiring of staff—well over a dozen in the last year alone. And if I have anything to say about it—and I do—this party is just getting started. We launched the company because we knew we had something globally special, and it was our calculated intention to disrupt the competition and set a transcendent standard in strategic communication. That’s happening. The status quo will die under our watch.

However, it’s the quality of our staff that has me thrilled more than the growth of our company. I need to clarify: it is difficult to work for Carnegie Dartlet. Nothing easy about it at all. “I want to work for you!” they say. “No, you probably don’t…” I reply. We demand excellence, we work exceptionally hard, and our eyes are ever on the horizon. We have a group of battle-hardened superstars in the company, all of whom (as far as I’m told) love it… They deserve eye patches to wear around in public.

My favorite thing about business management and entrepreneurship is providing employment. It’s the most satisfying thing I get to do. And not just any old employment, but stuff that’s deeply worth someone’s time. Work that grinds and shapes and makes people better. Employment where variety is endless, opportunities are constant, and people get to work with some of the finest companies in the world—work that our employees will look back on when they’re old and bored with tears and smiles.

I think about the covenant that is employment every day, and I hold this responsibility sacred. Somebody entrusted their livelihood to Carnegie Dartlet, believing this exchange of time will—amongst the options—produce gains that exceed those alternatives. They believe in the leaders who began the company and the mission that impels us today, and they follow us wholeheartedly into the unknown.

So, what makes an exceptional leader? Here are the three fundamental aspects of effective leadership that I believe are immutable. If you possess these things, you will find yourself followed, and trusted, and able to build what you’re seeking to build. If you possess none of these things, you’re not leading anything, so quit fooling yourself and go fall in line.

1. Know where you’re going

Basic, right? Wrong. Knowing where you’re going and formulating a decisive vision is more difficult to harness than you’d imagine. It’s far more comfortable not to have to worry about the formless unknown that is vision and let somebody else take that consummate risk; the risk of being the person in the front of the line when something fails.

It’s an emotionally and psychologically heavy burden that few people (intelligently) decide to carry. Most people simply don’t (and don’t want to) formulate and crystalize a future that’s inspiring and meaningful enough for the masses to care to follow. Where are you actually going? Can you articulate it clearly? Is it so vague and ambiguous that it’s been genericized into nothingness and therefore is no vision at all? Carnegie Dartlet knows where it’s going and why it matters.

Is your vision to have a profitable year so that the Board is pleased? Hint: that’s quite literally the vision beating within the majority of organizations, with some fluff and lace teased up to blanket it. I’ve had enough evening whiskey sours with executives to know this reality. When a leader doesn’t know where they’re going with potency and focus, it carries a stench that the organization detects quickly. And when the team picks up that scent, they’ll begin making plans to move toward the exit.

Likewise, when a leader knows exactly where they’re headed, it’s unavoidably intoxicating. “Eh, I don’t really know what I’m doing yet with this thing, I just have some early ideas and I’m hoping to get some folks on board…” Okay, good on you. Keep ideating. But you’re not leading; you’re speculating. Leaders have somewhere to be, and the right team members will want to go to that place.

2. Elemental competence

If you want to lead people, you need to possess the intrinsic and diverse set of capabilities necessary to get to the destination. This doesn’t mean pretending you’re superlative at everything. That’s an impossibility. Elemental competence is found in the individual who knows how to put the pieces of a complex social, emotional, psychological, and physical environment together and is likewise honest about their own lack in the process. The leader isn’t supposed to do everything and be great at everything; rather, they have to be great at understanding how to locate and position everybody else to be maximized in the pursuit. This capacity has to be demonstrated to be trusted.

Elemental competence requires that in knowing where you’re going, you will make the very best decisions to march your team down the field. If those who follow you don’t believe you have the elemental competence to orchestrate the plays, then they’re at risk, and they’ll know it. And they’ll often make preparations to board the next, safest ship. After all, nobody wants to be on a ship with a captain who doesn’t actually know how to navigate.

There are plenty of captains like this who have risen the ranks into corner offices. We’ve all met the “leader” who feigns competence by calling a host of unnecessary meetings full of meandering conjecture, sucking up precious time like a black hole because “running meetings seems leader-y.” An elementally competent leader should be too busy for this waste, too busy envisioning new territories, designing plays, recruiting, creating unseen opportunity, calling in subs, benching people (shout out Nick Saban!), and on and on. The elementally competent leader reads the stars and navigates accordingly to get where they’re going, and the crew will be better for it.

3. You must be for them

An exceptional leader must be for those whom they lead. Meaning, they must authentically and genuinely have their team’s interests at heart alongside their own. Leading is challenging; it will be painful at times, and there will be anger and mistakes and tears. But through it all, those who follow must know you are for them. That you have their back. That you sincerely “care,” to put it plainly.

I’ve witnessed leaders where this dynamic is prevalent, and it’s a sight to behold. When this characteristic is present, you can make a really strong go at leading even if you’re lacking the other two items. Now, in that scenario, you’re also going to wander around fairly aimlessly in a disjointed environment, and that chaos will soon overcome any amount of your altruism. Nonetheless, of all three items, if this is the one leg of your three-legged stool that you have secured, you’ll rally some folks and make some amount of progress.

In truth, I’m not a naturally affirming guy—I’m often not available due to scheduling and other demands. I don’t shower praises as often as I should or radiate a ton of warmth on the job. I don’t buy the team coffees because it annoys me to carry around drink trays. But I assure you this: if you ask those who’ve entrusted their lives to follow in the Carnegie Dartlet vision, I believe they will tell you they know I’m for them. That this is more than an employment contract in my heart and mind. That this obsessive, inventive, relentless, insistent, inattentive old Tyler is for them. That I care how they feel and what happens to them and theirs.

I’m not suggesting I’m an exceptional leader yet, but I think my three-legged stool at least has some healthy nubs for legs that keep the seat steady. I intend to extend these nubs. For your sake as a current or aspiring leader, let me offer you the simplified reverse engineering of the above:

  • Don’t waste your time pursuing anything without knowing what your efforts are driving toward and why your efforts are meaningful.
  • Don’t pursue anything that doesn’t suit your intrinsic capabilities. Mozart composed, Jordan played, Earhart navigated, Curie discovered, Jobs imagined. If you’re first stellar at a thing, your odds of being able to lead others in that conquest are much improved.
  • Don’t lead something unless you have the capacity to sincerely care about those who join you in the quest.
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