3 dark laws of leadership your team needs to hear

3 dark laws of leadership your team needs to hear

These principles sound negative, but they’re quite effective in preparing people on my team to lead through change. I call them the "lugubrious laws of leadership"

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March 13, 2019

One key to being an effective leader is the constant reinforcement of ideas or concepts. If you saw a Coca-Cola commercial once 15 years ago, the company can’t expect you to remember what happened or what its desired impact was. That’s not effective marketing. 

The same rings true in leadership: You need to consistently repeat ideas and concepts for folks to absorb, understand, and apply themselves. I try to do this every day with my three laws of leadership.

I call them the “lugubrious laws of leadership” because they sound negative, but they’re quite effective in preparing folks for leadership and change, and they help future leaders deal with that change. Here’s a look at why I think they’re important.

1. Somebody hates your face

There’s always one person who wants to see you fail for irrational reasons – maybe it’s the sound of your voice, maybe it’s your resemblance to their uncle, or maybe they just don’t like your hairstyle. Sometimes their reasons are legitimate, too – perhaps they feel you’ve wronged them in the past.

It’s easy for leaders to get caught up in trying to make everyone happy.

Whatever the reason, this law is important because failing to please everyone is a reality you’ll always have to deal with. You need to admit that their distaste for you is real, that it’s an issue, and then you need to move on without allowing it to drag you down. It’s easy for leaders to get caught up in trying to make everyone happy, and it’s especially difficult when you’re passionate and really want to be successful. The bigger the organization, the larger this subset of people grows, and the more insidious it can feel. 

No matter how hard you try, you won’t please everyone. Instead, acknowledge it and focus on the things you can change.

[ How does your EQ stack up? Read our related article, 8 powerful phrases of emotionally intelligent leaders. ]

2. It’s always your fault

I’ve been part of many organizations in which people who have authority look for ways to blame others. Leaders can’t waste time devising plans to prove they’re not at fault; instead, look for ways to prove that you are so you can expedite the problem-solving process.

When you enter that meeting of stakeholders who are prepared to outline why you’re at fault and you say, “This is my fault. We own this. Now let’s fix it,” it’s disarming because they were prepared to battle about blame.

Sometimes you need to admit you’re at fault even when you aren’t. It’s painful, but there are ways to mitigate the blame later. I’ve said, “Here’s what actually happened,” or, “Here’s what your group owned and here’s what our group owned. Here’s how we addressed the issue and here’s what we’re going to do to prevent it from happening again.” 

3. Only results matter

Ultimately, leadership is about getting results. Results are the only things that clients, stakeholders, and shareholders really care about; they don’t care about your effort or your intentions or how passionate you are. The amount of time you spent on something and how badly you wanted it to work doesn’t matter if there aren’t results to show for it. This can be difficult for leaders to acknowledge, but doing so will help you achieve that end result as quickly and efficiently as possible.

By reinforcing these laws to my team, The same rings true in leadership: You need to consistently repeat ideas and concepts for folks to absorb, understand, and apply themselves. I try to do this every day by reinforcing these  with my three laws of leadership with my team.

[ Is your leadership playbook outdated? Read our new report from HBR Analytic Services: Transformation Masters: The New Rules of CIO Leadership. ]

Robert Walden is Chief Information Officer at Epsilon, where he is responsible for cybersecurity and global infrastructure services for Epsilon's portfolio of client-facing products and solutions, as well as internal corporate IT services. He has been delivering business value through technology for more than 15 years, with a broad background in IT that covers financial services, manufacturing, retail, consulting, and marketing services.

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