A 33-year career with a major corporation is a long run.
The opportunities I had to play leadership roles as president, business unit VP, marketing EVP and CMO enabled me to achieve deep levels of expertise and practical experience in virtually every aspect of an organization.
I learned how to consistently deliver successful results.
These key learning points were critical to my success.
1. Be Informal
Informality breeds trust. A tight leadership style begets little organizational rhythm and as a result, produces spotty results. People trust people who are real and don’t act out their position in the hierarchy.
And simplicity is a critical component of informality. Simplicity attracts followers. It’s all about having an uncomplicated storyline that people get, believe in and are able to execute on.
2. Honour the Front Line
The front line is in control; it’s where the intentions of the organization’s strategy turn into successful performance and results. They deal with customers; they hold the power of whether a customer buys from or ignores the company.
I spent a copious amount of time with the front line. My calendar was replete with meetings involving frontline teams across the organization to understand how they did their job and to learn what was blocking them from performing at an even higher level.
I wandered into what I called my “Bear Pit Sessions” with no entourage; it was my job to listen and accept their comments — and brutal criticism — with an objective ear and to act on their suggestions to improve the ways we served customers.
3. Muzzle Your Ego
Surely, the ego is an amazing driving force for success, but it can also steal it from you. In situations where things have not gone the way you intended, the ego must be muzzled. When an individual suffers a setback (and everyone does at some point) the overwhelming force that pushes them to lash out against the injustice must be subdued.
As difficult and repugnant as it may be, if you’ve lost the race for a promotion or other move, the right thing to do is to openly congratulate the winner. You will be noticed for this act and by doing so will earn the right to compete another day. What people around you will remember is not that you lost the contest, but rather that you behaved in a dignified and respectful manner when you lost.
4. Invent Your Own Language
Language captivates. Unique words for common concepts attract attention, interest and support. I had a specific strategy to put a spin on common words in order to have people sit up and take notice. I found that if they paid more attention to my message because of my language, they would lean in and learn more efficiently.
Cutting through the idea clutter is essential for success. Here are a few examples of my phrase lexicon.
- “Cut the crap” to eliminate non-strategic activities.
- Kill “dumb rules” (for reduce bureaucracy)
- Watch out for “yummy incoming” (to avoid tasks that you might like but are unproductive).
- Covet the “foxes” (for reaching out to the people in the organization who make people selection decisions)
- “Roy’s Rule of Three” (for focus on the critical few things that need to be done)
5. Be First
First responders earn the prize. Be the first one to offer to help in times of trouble regardless of whether it’s your job or not.
Success is often achieved in the face of a screw-up or when the original plan falls short of expectations. Be THAT person who jumps into the fray to get things back on track.
6. Show People What to Do
Connect the dots and unleash the passion in people. Translate what the organization wants to achieve and what each person must do to deliver it; if employees are left on their own to determine their own tactical approach to achieving strategic goals, inconsistency and dysfunction will likely result from everyone doing their own thing.
I led what I called “line of sight” workshops with every function in my data and internet company and had them define what they thought they individually had to do differently to support the strategy of the organization. My leadership team had to approve each function’s conclusions before implementation began.
7. Focus Focus Focus
If you’re not focused, you’re going to have difficulty achieving anything.
Limited time and resource bandwidth make focusing on the critical few tasks essential to drive ahead, plus it shows that you really do understand the strategy of the organization.
People with a to-do list of a dozen tasks think that having lots of stuff to do is great, but it’s not; chasing “the possible many” is a great way to make zero real progress.
Successful people know the few critical things that MUST be done and they do them to the exclusion of other noise around them that could gobble up their time and energy.
8. Be OK with Imperfection
Success is not bred by the quest to be perfect.
In fact, perfection can paralyze an organization and prevent them from making meaningful progress toward their goals.
Perfection-seekers love the analysis and pondering that goes on when deciding a course of action but the problem is that while all this intellectual activity is going on, no action is taken and no results are achieved.
Successful people know that imperfection drives results and that real progress towards strategic goals is made when they get their strategic plan “just about right” and they tweak it as they learn about what works and what doesn’t work while they execute it.
9. Serve People
Serving humans is a critical factor for success because rarely is success an individual act; it’s accomplished through highly effective teams.
The command-and-control paradigm doesn’t work; it creates literally no long term value for an organization — servant leadership does.
People who ask others “How can I help?” Stand out in terms of how well they engage others and deliver unmatched performance and results as a leader of a team or as a team member.
10. Be Committed
Commitment is a prerequisite to success, whether it be to an idea, an organization, a cause, a profession, a technology, or a mobile app that you believe will solve a critical world problem.
People who are casually interested in anything generally don’t achieve anything great. They simply don’t put in the time and emotional energy necessary to progress in today’s complicated and unpredictable world.
Successful people are mindlessly loyalty to their truth and stay with it until they see the payoff they expect.
These simple truisms for successful work. I know because they guided me on my career journey.
Ironically, I learned none of this at school.