Leadership is like philosophy – it was first a way of life, fully connected with action-taking and now it became an epitome of “talking, not doing.” I learned most of them the hard way but then, I reflected on that experience and read books from the world’s best leaders.
Below are 3 leadership laws that will propel you to success:
1. Lead by example
In 1956, while Martin Luther King was on his way to becoming the leader of the civil rights movement in the U.S., his house was brutally attacked. A bomb blew up on his front porch, destroying a part of it and breaking all the windows of the house. Dr. King was in the house with his wife, Corretta and his newborn child Yolanda.
An angry, African-American mob appeared in front of the house and an all White police force was also there trying to calm the situation down. The situation slowly started to escalate between the mob and the police and Dr. King saw where it was leading.
It was in that specific moment of danger, just surviving a bombing in front of his house, he went outside and addressed both groups: “If you have weapons, take them home. If not, don’t seek them here. We can’t solve this problem with violence. We must meet violence with nonviolence.”
The crowd calmed down and dispersed after that speech. He believed non-violence to be the way forward and he was willing to lead by example, showing people that it can hurt you only if ruins your character.
Leadership is all about showing the way, not telling people the way. We learn from behaviors and we copy what other people do, especially when those people are in higher hierarchical positions than us.
That’s why children become like their parents, why employees start behaving like their CEO’s, and why you take the outermost fork on the table when you have a formal dinner. Leadership is about leading by example because people follow actions, not words.
“I’m the kind of person that when I saw a lack of African Americans in the apparel business, that was something I set out to do, and I lead by example.” – Daymond John
2. Simple things radically followed
Leadership is about looking beneath that ugly, hideous stone, uncovering the harsh truth underneath it and then having the courage to deal with it. That’s exactly what happened at Alcoa, an aluminum company, while under the leadership of Paul O’Neill.
O’Neill managed to turn around Alcoa from a devastating failure into one of the most successful companies in the U.S. and snagged multiple rewards for his leadership style and effectiveness. Much of that was focused on simple things radically followed. The most important of them was security at work.
In case of any security problem at work, it was supposed to be reported to the main office in Pittsburgh within 24 hours. A minor security incident happened at one of the Alcoa plants in Mexico and O’Neill learned about that from a nun who asked about the sick people at the plant – something O’Neill didn’t know about.
After an investigation, it was discovered that there was a minor incident with the fumes inside the Alcoa plant that the manager solved within 2 days. But the problem was that it wasn’t reported to the Pittsburgh headquarters, which prevented them from fixing that specific problem at every other plant in the world.
This was a cardinal sin and the manager, Bob Barton, was fired within 2 days of O’Neill finding out. Barton was in the company for decades and was a great manager. Everyone outside the company was shocked at this decision, but inside the company, people made the comment which shows why you need to radically follow simple things “Barton fired himself when he didn’t report the accident. There wasn’t even a choice there.”
Tough decisions are tough but if you have a decision making system in place (almost everyone does), then these decisions become clear. If you want to be a successful leader, you need to radically follow through with the value system that was put in place. If you can do this, it will propel you to success.
3. Live in the present but live for the future
You need the undying faith that, in the end, you will prevail but at the same time, you need to face the brutal facts of current reality. This is known as the Stockdale Paradox. It tells us about General Stockdale who was imprisoned in a POW camp in Vietnam. He survived because he believed, without a doubt, that he would emerge victorious from the camp to see his wife and be free again.
At the same time, he faced the brutal facts of the current situation which meant living day in and day out in the camp, never knowing when his freedom would come. With this paradox, you live in the present moment, dealing with the problems that “attack” you today but you never lose faith that you can be victorious in the future.
“Remember then: there is only one time that is important– Now! It is the most important time because it is the only time when we have any power.” – Leo Tolstoy
This grounds you in the present but leaves enough space for you to envision a future where things fall into place. People follow visions of the better future but they don’t follow people who only live in the clouds. You need to merge both and you will become a successful leader.