There can be a lot of weight given to the abilities of the leader of an organization. Perhaps you have heard someone describe a business leader or sports coach by saying, “They took them to great heights!” Maybe it is the skeptic in me, but I wonder just how much was attributable to leadership prowess and how much was due to other factors. Here, I will share three important tools that should be in your leadership toolbox.
Beware of ‘Rising Tide Syndrome’
Early in my tenure at IPC, I was at a dinner meeting with an association executive director who was also closely tied to the electronics industry. Over the course of dinner, he proceeded to share with great pride how he had grown his association (“single-handedly” was implied) over the previous four years. This was 2013. He had taken over company leadership at the end of the great recession and—surprise, surprise—experienced growth every year thereafter. What was left unsaid was that practically every other company experienced growth over that period. A rising tide lifts all ships.
Now, this particular executive may have done some amazing things to be successful, but the message here is that we should not assume that as leaders we are solely responsible for the successes we are seeing. There are quite often too many variables in play to claim all the credit with any high degree of confidence. Leaders need to recognize that there are things we can control and things we cannot. A healthy dose of humility should be a well-used tool in the leader’s toolbox.
A Team Mentality
Whenever I am asked what it takes to be successful, the first thing that comes to mind is my team. Surround yourself with people who are better and different than you are. This takes many forms—diversity, intelligence, expertise in different areas, etc. I like to use the example of the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s. They had the leadership of coach Phil Jackson. They also had Michael Jordan—who seemed to know how to play the game—and Scottie Pippen as the second option, who was nearly as reliable. Additionally, the team had Dennis Rodman, who played a very specific role—rebound and disrupt. John Paxson and Steve Kerr were the outside threats in their various areas. That team’s dominance during that decade was undeniable.
When you have a high-functioning, focused team—one where each player knows their primary role, performs it well and has a broad skill set to contribute in other areas—it is amazing what can be accomplished! So, add a team of strong, talented players to support each other to your leadership toolbox.
Consider the Drive
This is the final trait I would like you to consider, and one area in which I believe a leader is well-suited to make a direct impact. Drive consists of these elements: unrelenting push for an objective and a sense of urgency to make a change. But be sure to exercise caution here; driving full force down the path that leads off a cliff is leadership, but it is not good leadership. Use your team to consistently make course corrections as required by changing conditions. Assuming you have confidence about the path forward, and a certain level of bullheadedness to make change happen, drive is another tool that should be used to smash through barriers keeping your group from success.
Humility, team, drive—there are likely many other equally worthy attributes we would want in our leadership toolbox, but these three are pretty important to me.
This column originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of PCB007 Magazine.