Seventeen leadership lessons

Inspired by great role models and mentors through his years in tech, George summarizes seventeen of the most important lessons learned on leadership, work, and life.  Expect this list to continue to evolve over time.

  1. Lead by example.

    1. When you’re in a leadership position, everything you do is a leadership action. Your words and your actions set an example every time.

    2. A leader’s role is not only to set an example of working hard, but also to showcase an example of setting a work-life balance.

    3. A manager who is a domain expert and point of escalation is a more effective leader every time. Pick your specialist subject and become really good at it.

    4. Never ask someone to do something you wouldn’t do yourself.

    5. Physically and emotionally, practice head up. When entering a room, it is head up. When chairing a meeting, it is head up. When talking to staff and your team, it is head up. You can’t have a bad day. That means leadership is lonely sometimes and hard all the time.

  2. Care.

    1. In a leadership position, your role is to inspire, motivate, and communicate with your team.

    2. If you don’t care, they will know it. They won’t trust you and won’t be motivated to go further and build for the future. In a nutshell, if you don’t care it will be impossible to build a world class, high performing team.

  3. Build trust with your team.

    1. With trust, there are deposits and withdrawals. You have to build trust with your team before you can make withdrawals. Trust is key to inspiring, motivating, and communicating with your team.

    2. As a manager of a new team, begin by listening to every team member in order to define the current state, gaps, and opportunities. Only then, define the to-be state and present it to the team to get their buyin.

    3. Fight for your team. Your role is to help eliminate obstacles for your team. You have to be able to justify your demands--best of all, with financials to justify them.

    4. Pick your specialist subject, be really good at it, and roll up your sleeves to showcase your skills to your customers and team. Never let anyone know how hard you work-- look cool and relaxed. Leave the rest to your’s all down to your powers of delegation.

    5. Build relationships and establish connections. Share yourself and your life with them. Say good morning, good night, and share your activities from the past weekend. Tim Armstrong shares every book that he reads. These little things add up to a lot. Learn about your team, their strengths, and aspirations.

  4. Grow revenue & profitability; launch intiatives of scale.

    1. Your broadest level goals are to grow the company and to promote the growth of your people.

    2. Help grow topline revenue as well as margin and profitability. Your quarterly goals should include ongoing initiatives of scale: documentation and education programs; tools & automation; evolving service models by delegating to vendors and to complementary teams.

  5. Map goals to individual ambitions and aspirations.

    1. Your role as a leader is to define the vision and the goals--and to cascade them down throughout the team.

    2. Individual goals should roll up to team-level goals. Ideally, the individual goals map to your team members’ individual strengths, ambitions, and aspirations. Discuss these at the beginning of each cycle, and get their buyin.

    3. Once you’ve set the mission, defined the goals, and aligned them with individuals on the team, take care of your people and they will take care of the business.

  6. Master four P’s + C.

    1. Process, Product, People, and Customers. These are the four main pillars that define the framework for any great client services organization. You can create your own mission statement or mandate, but it should always encompass these four pillars.

  7. Repeat & repeat, repeat, repeat

    1. You need to keep everyone going in the same direction and keep the objective and the path constantly top of mind. Repeat monthly..repetition won’t spoil the prayer.

  8. People need an individual approach.

    1. Most people you hire will not be exactly like you; you can't expect the same thing from every person. Figure out each person’s strengths, weaknesses, and aspirations--and adjust your style and approach to meet their needs.

  9. Plan for contingencies.

    1. Sweat more in peace, bleed less in war. Your product will break down, your client base will grow faster than you can support, and key team members will leave. You should constantly plan for account shifts and other contingencies.

  10. Praise publicly, criticize privately.

    1. Give direct, candid feedback in real-time. Behaviors that miss expectations will quickly snowball and need to be addressed right away, in private.

    2. Your strong performers also need a path for their development, not constant kudos and bonuses.

    3. Shine a spotlight on high performers across teams, in order to create a large performance incentive.

  11. Champion the company.

    1. Never erode confidence in the chain of command. Your role is to keep a cool, calm look at the stormy sea while plotting the ship's route. An open lack of confidence is a cancer that will eventually erode trust and prevent you from getting true buyin into your mission.

    2. As a leader you have to stand tall above the gossip and negativity as the company's and leadership team’s champion.

  12. Take accountability for company decisions.

    1. As a team manager, you'll have to occasionally communicate unpopular news to your team: down revenue quarters, bonus plan and benefit changes, performance issues. Even if behind the scenes, you’ve fought for your team and lost, you have to own the decision.

    2. Own the decision, no matter how unpopular. There is no “they”--only an “I” or “we”. Describe the rationale and why you agree with the decision.

    3. Leadership is harder at times of adversity. True measure of someone’s character is the ability to stand tall and succeed in the face of adversity, while sticking to his or her principles.

  13. Walk the deck to know the state of the ship.

    1. Shadow client meetings for every strategic account; meet stakeholders and executive sponsors; build your own client relationships. Help lead important meetings and pitches.

    2. Spend as much time “on the floor” with your team as possible. Grab your computer and an empty chair; work, talk, and engage with your team.

  14. Set stretch goals.

    1. Good goals create alignment, clarity, and job satisfaction. It’s better to set stretch goals and reach 80% in a quarter, versus setting ones that can be easily sandbagged.

    2. When measuring goal attainment, take quality into account as much as quantity.

    3. Scope, time, and cost may change--and individual goals may shift. Look at people's total impact, when evaluating each person’s performance for a particular quarter.

  15. Don’t wait to be asked...just do it!

    1. Take initiative and roll out initiatives that raise the bar for the entire team. Launch, iterate, debrief, and iterate again.

    2. If you want a new job, start doing it--and the rest will follow. Develop a talent bench and delegate an increasing number of tasks while you take on broader and more impactful projects.

  16. Master upward communication.

    1. Work to reduce stress and ambiguity, and build transparency with your boss(es)

    2. When presenting an analysis, less is more. If sending over a workbook full of metrics, make sure to include a topline summary and list of recommendations.

    3. Bring solutions, not problems.

  17. Teams with strong managers go a lot further because they know there is a captain at the helm.

Further reading:


Leadership, Management, Company Building