The Seven Golden Rules of Leadership — By Betsy Bernard

Golden Rule No. 1: Everyone’s time is valuable. Use other people’s time as you would use your own. It is violated every single hour of every single day in corporate America. Most people waste time in a hierarchical direction. Meaning, we “waste down.” We rarely “waste up.” Meaning we don’t waste the boss’s time. It’s a golden rule because we all know it is common sense. Some people have a hard time living up to it.

Golden Rule No. 2: No temper tantrums. If you have mastered courtesy — made it part of who and what you are — you are more than half way to being an effective leader. But, if you’re bold, courageous, dynamic and visionary with great skills and wouldn’t know courtesy from cotton candy, then you’ll never be a truly great leader. I worked in a company where the president was an abusive screamer. Over time, those he abused began to scream at those who worked for them. I labeled this the “Classic Corporate Abuse Cycle Syndrome.” That kind of disconnect feeds a credibility gap that pervades the whole place like a bad smell.

Golden Rule No. 3: Get to the point! Leadership is, in fact, a special case of the larger discipline of human communications. The content of what we communicate, whether in writing or on our feet, should get across what’s on our minds in a way our audience can grasp. We must sensitize ourselves to ask: What’s my point? If you can’t make a point in one sentence and then summarize it in five words or less, you better go think about it some more. Would my mother understand this message? Now, my mom is a smart lady, but she knows very little about the telecommunications business. So if it would make sense for her, I know it would make sense for other people. How, exactly, do I want understanding to change as a result of this communication? In other words, the whole object of communication lies in some “delta” — some change in the way your audience understands the situation. Leadership communication is not elevator music. You’ve got to know what your purpose is. Don’t leave people guessing at it.

Golden Rule No. 4: Be candid. How can any company have so much good news? It’s amazing how — to read the company newspaper or Web site — everything is always “Good and getting better.” The only problem is: Everybody knows it just isn’t so. Company newspapers can easily become public documents. I understand that. But when “happy talk” becomes the only language leadership speaks — even in closed meetings — then I worry. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be happy. You should be happy. But I, for one, am happiest when we’re converting opportunities to cash and converting problems to solutions.

Golden Rule No. 5: Just say thank you. And mean it. We in leadership have to remember: We are not the whole show. In the real world, the show is you and a whole lot of other people. If you want them to be excited, passionate and committed, and keep it up for the long haul, then say thank you — lots and lots! I don’t mean the phony stuff. I mean noticing and acknowledging good work, privately and publicly. I also happen to be a big believer in telling people early and often that you’re counting on them. But how can anyone have the nerve to say “I’m counting on you” and then not acknowledge when the deed is done. It doesn’t work. Expecting great things, and then celebrating great things — that works.

Golden Rule No. 6: Integrity is everything. I don’t want to work with you if you don’t have it. Somebody once described competitive business as “a never-ending search for the discontented” — meaning, of course, customers who are dissatisfied with their current suppliers — whether it’s Internet access or frozen peas or child care. The market is that huge, amorphous network of “better mousetrap” wannabes and, as such, can be convincingly described as one of civilization’s most effective providers of human welfare. Now, money is the marker we use for keeping score in this massive contest to be of greater service to other people. And money, unfortunately, has an image problem. It serves a purpose, but it’s not the only purpose. That’s why I have no trouble rallying everybody who works with me to run up the score. It’s fun to make money. It’s affirming. It tells us we’re making ourselves useful to other people. But all of us who work for investor-owned businesses need to make sure we never forget: It is not our money. When we sign on, we make a solemn promise to the owners of the business that we will be honest and faithful stewards of their money. Meaning we won’t waste it, and we won’t tolerate others wasting it.

Golden Rule No. 7: If you don’t know, who does? This is that old “vision thing.“ It is the leader’s quintessential role. Nobody else can do it. The facts do not speak for themselves. Nor can the role of setting direction be delegated. If the people hear a certain trumpet, they will prepare for battle. You, at the end of the day, have to sound the trumpet. In the end, it’s your vision, your honesty, your caring and your respect for customers and employees and shareholders that people will follow. In the end, it’s your self-discipline, your truthfulness and your excitement and commitment that people will emulate. In the end, it’s how clear you make the message, how close you watch the money, how bravely you share the problems, how widely you spread the praise. These things will determine what you can do with the gifts you’ve got. If you lead well, then the most potent of those gifts will be the one you’ve created — a winning team that believes you’re worth following.



Leadership That Rings True

FDU Magazine Home | Table of Contents | FDU Home | Alumni Home | Comments