Teach me how to behave like a leader
December 18, 2011 9:53 PM   Subscribe

Teach me how to behave like a leader - and skip all of the theory. I want books and/or podcasts that teach leadership behaviour step-by-step.

I want to learn how to behave like a leader, and I don't care for all of the theory, I want simple, solid, teachable behaviours.


- How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie
- Manager-Tools Podcast (simple, solid and teachable, but it's about management, not leadership)
- Influence, Cialdini

What I'd like is a book that was written by somebody like Tindwyl (believe it or not!) from Brandon Sanderson's book Mistborn 2 - The Well of Ascension. To get the tone, and style of advice, I've included some quotes from her (in this case, teaching a king how to be a leader):

Stop saying 'um.'

Kings don't argue, they command. And, part of your ability to command comes from your bearing. Slovenly clothing invites other slovenly habits - such as your posture. Once you learn to stand up straight, that will be a decent improvement.

Voice an objection. Don't be vague.

Nobody 'lets' you do anything. The first change in attitude has to be your own - you have to stop thinking that you need permission or agreement from those who follow you.

Be strong. He accepts counsel, but only when he asks for it. He makes it clear that the final decision is his, not his counselors.

Unclench your fists now. You're going to have to work on that - a statesman should not give visual clues of his nervousness.

You still hedge too much in your language. It makes you seem timid and hesitant.

Don't apologise unless you really mean it. And don't make excuses. You don't need them. A leader is often judged by how well he bears responsibility.... It is your responsibility to deal with these things, and if something goes wrong, it is your fault. You simply have to accept this.

You have to feel confident that your actions are the best. You have to know that no matter how bad things get, they would be worse without you. When disaster occurs, you take responsibility, but you don't wallow or mope. You aren't allowed that luxury; guilt is for lesser men. You simply need to do what is expected.

Successful leaders all share one common trait - they believe that they can do a better job than the alternatives. Humility is fine when considering your responsibility and duty, but when it comes time to make a decision, you must not question yourself.

Keep eye contact. Use subtle, but firm, expressions. Never appear hurried, but don't seem hesitant. Sit down without wiggling, don't shuffle, use a straight posture, don't form your hands into fists when you're nervous.
posted by damian_ to Human Relations (21 answers total) 87 users marked this as a favorite
Honestly, most of those sound like at best empty postures or at worst, behaviors of a dictator.

Leaders have a million different styles. Many "look nervous" or don't make eye contact and none of that makes a damn bit of difference.

What matters is this: Leadership is responsibility. Whatever happens is your fault. Never "You screwed that up," always "I or we screwed that up." (I now see this is in your quotes above; it's very out of place with the others.)

Never complain to your employees. If you have to criticize someone, do it privately and with respect. Never badmouth one employee to another. Set expectations and stick it; nothing is worse than the boss who pretends everything is fine, then blows up six months later over something the employee didn't even know he didn't like.

You cannot be their friend. You can be friendly, but not their friend. Don't add them on Facebook. Don't push yourself into their personal life unless invited and even then, be careful.

PROTECT YOUR PEOPLE. When criticism comes from outside, stand up for them. Always. If someone tries to confront them directly, make than person talk to you, not the employee.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:03 PM on December 18, 2011 [31 favorites]

Can't emphasize it enough: No one gives a shit if you say "um." If you have their back, they'll love you. If you're out to advance yourself or protect your own image, they'll know it, no matter how good your eye contact is.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:05 PM on December 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

One qualification to the above:

It's ok to ask for help, but you need to be able to make firm decisions, even when you're not 100% sure they're right. People want to follow someone who knows where he's going. There's a joke people tell on movie sets:

Q: How many first time directors does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: I don't know, what do you guys think?

It's tempting to try to make it a democracy, especially for people who are new to leadership, but it's not.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:09 PM on December 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

You don't know what you don't know (Rumsfeld's unknown unknowns) combines horribly with Dunning Krueger effect when you reject input that the 'leader' has not solicited. Knock that off post haste and make it clear that concerns will be respected and evaluated as they arise. Not on a schedule and certainly not at whim. Expect clear definitions of problems and provide incentive for offering solutions and prevention tips. Bosses are like doctors - employees and patients alike are waiting to be invited to ask questions, and often don't volunteer any more information that has been solicited. (so, Suzy Super Long Smoke Break doesn't get brought to management's attention, and neither does that overflowed bucket of toxic sludge. If you have time to inspect every inch of the place daily, continue the status quo.)

That's not 'theory,' or something i found in a book, that's my experience managing a dental office at the tender age of 24.

Also, people (customers, employees, etc) respect your time as much as they think you respect there's. If you keep them waiting, and/or cut them off mid sentence....be prepared for lateness, absenteeism, and general slacking off.

Man. I have a lot of these tips burbling around. Want to hire a consultant to follow you around and hammer the rough patches out of your style?
posted by bilabial at 10:29 PM on December 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Most of those tips sound like "how to be an ass."

In my experience, the huge majority of your effect is going to come from a few simple things. The rest is gravy.

Here are the things:
Don't hoard information. People can help you if they know the what the goal is and what the plan to get there is. If all they know is "he told me to email X, Y, and Z metric for November to Dave," then they can't tell you that Y is a misleading statistic and you'd be better off using W. Or that you completely forgot Q.

There is no such thing as "do as I say, not as I do." Expect your people to have the same attitude, enthusiasm, and quality-of-work as you do. You can not see an unacceptable condition and not demand that it be corrected. You no longer have that luxury. Your people will see you do it, and do the same thing 10 x over. Then small "acceptable" deficiencies combine in surprising ways to big problems.

If your decision causes something bad to happen, it's your fault. Own up to it. If your worker's decision causes something bad to happen, it's your fault. Either you knew about it and failed to intervene, or you didn't know about it because you were supervising poorly.

There is no such thing as a single-point failure. Every problem has more than one cause. Usually there are at least 3: engineering (the procedure sets the worker up for failure), training (the worker should have known better), and supervision (the supervisor failed to notice and prevent/correct the problem). Avoid the temptation to focus on the obvious proximate cause, which is usually the worker.

Follow up. If you tell someone to do something, they know that you will ask them about it later and not forget if they stall long enough. If they need something from you, they know that you will get it or direct them to the right person. If they have a complaint, you will hear it and do something if the complaint is valid. They know you will, if necessary, do the unpleasant thing and call out the lazy internet-surfing-all-day guy or the nasty-trash-pile-of-a-desk guy. They know that you will tell them straight up if a complaint is invalid and not pretend to hear it and then round file it as soon as they leave. Basically, stuff of all kinds gets resolved in a timely manner, instead of just floating around indefinitely.

These things seem more about personal integrity than "leadership", maybe. That's because being a leader is mostly just being the kind of person people trust enough to follow.
posted by ctmf at 11:18 PM on December 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

Who are you trying to lead? Why do they want you as their leader? What's your goal? Are you running a lunch shift at a fast food restaurant or trying to put together a team to build a Facebook-killing app? Did the group choose you to lead or were you appointed there by someone else?

Leadership is contextual. And it's about relationships and inspiring people and holding them together through tough times and knowing when to be tough and when to yield, when to take the reins and when to ask for advice and contributions. It's very demonstrably not about stocking up on a list of behaviors that read like a how-to guide for boy scout troop leaders in the 1920s. Emotional intelligence and humility are the two qualities I would value most and I am not sure they can be learned, not totally.
posted by yogalemon at 11:20 PM on December 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

adapt constantly and learn to recognize situations in which your input is necessary. make that input valuable by making sure that your audience trusts you. if you haven't yet built up that trust, sometimes you may need to take risks to do so and do things that you may not like to do. again, adapt.

an old boss used to say, "i won't ever ask you to do anything that i won't personally do" and a couple years later, we'd still be tossing the trash together or putting up flyers for shows on freeway overpasses, even though she is nearly twice my age.

as grand theft auto 2 taught me at a young age: respect is earned. earn it well (fear != respect...) and use it wisely!
posted by raihan_ at 11:51 PM on December 18, 2011

Best answer: Nobody 'lets' you do anything. The first change in attitude has to be your own - you have to stop thinking that you need permission or agreement from those who follow you.

This may be okay for some king in a fantasy novel, but in the real world leaders don't get results without getting the people who are actually doing the work to buy in to the goal.

I have recommended it before, but based on the selected quotes I'm thinking the best book for you to read is Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute. It's about how one of the most important gifts for a leader is the ability to both see themselves as they are to others, but to see others as they see themselves.
posted by winna at 12:00 AM on December 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the great answers so far everybody.

I forgot to mention to please disregard the quality of Tindwyl's advice! It's as an example of the style/tone I want (simple, actionable, teachable, direct) and not necessarily good advice in itself.

Want to hire a consultant to follow you around and hammer the rough patches out of your style?
Sounds like exactly what I need (if only I had the funds). All I can afford is book or a podcast that I can read/listen to each day, a self-coaching resource that goes into some depth about to improve my leadership.
posted by damian_ at 12:16 AM on December 19, 2011

Being The Boss is an article I wrote that seems pretty relevant to what you are looking for.

It's written for organisers of volunteer-run festivals, but plenty of the contents could apply to any leadership position.
posted by emilyw at 1:58 AM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's going to take time. It's like most other skills, most of us don't have them built into us, we learn them. And my experience has been that if I don't show that I don't know what I'm about, and ask for help, it's completely clear and I look like a jerk, with good causeā€”I'm being a jerk.

As you learn the craft of leadership, along with all the ins and outs of the particular job you are in, you will gain more confidence, won't be long you'll be crackling with ability, and passing responsibilities to each of your team members as they fit, you'll be knee-deep in it and smiling as you go through the day. Who knows, you might get past the craft, and into the Art that's in it.

I lead best in things I know well. When I was running commercial carpentry crews, there were guys coming onto the site asking for work, I'd talk to them, see if they had their head up their ass or not, if I was interested I'd say "Lemme see your tools." and we'd walk out to their truck or car trunk and just by looking I'd know. Which isn't to say that all of their tools were all shined and lined up decorously, though sometimes that works, dependent upon the guy; some guys keep their tools so orderly that they don't want to work, they spend their time oiling their tools. Another guy might be sortof slobby yet by looking I can get a sense of him, what he can do.

I could not do that were I not intimately familiar with that work, and with the guys who perform that work, how they talk, what they don't say and what they do say, blah blah blah.

All of that is the long-winded version of saying that you've got to know the gig if you want to come across like you do, otherwise you'll have to utilize another managerial skill, asking your people, and trusting them, and by doing that you'll find who is trustworhty and who isn't, plus over time you'll learn the ins and outs of the gig you're working.

A good boss I had at CPQ, everything was about the role. What role was he in on this project, or on that one, what role he wanted me to take in this gig or that one, what role did I see myself it. Then we'd clarify. I got one hour face time with him each week, each minute freighted, you'd best believe I came in loaded, ready to get all the information he could give me to help me fulfill my role(s) in each project. And Dennis came in loaded also, had it all ready; our sitdowns were really intense. Fun, but intense.

That was his style, and perfectly suited to the organization he lived in, which I completely loathed, and didn't last long there, year and a half maybe. But I loved Dennis and I've carried what I can of his style, where it fits. But as noted upthread, there's a trillion different great styles, I've worked for lots of people, the ones that I want to give most to are those that I actually love, in a work way. Dennis had that, a number of other bosses I've had also, it's like I wanted to give to them. I just love that, and I love when I'm able to set it up in areas of my life, people who want to give in that way. How fun is that, right?

I just really think you can't fake it by unclenching your fists and faking looking cool; once you know the work, your role in that work, the role(s) of those you're supervising, you know all that stuff and your fists won't be clenched anymore and you won't need to fake anymore about looking cool, you will be looking cool, because you'll be having fun working your ass off, and so will your reports.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:26 AM on December 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Leaders pull from the front, managers steer from behind.

I've worked for some good managers but have never come across a proper leader.

I also found this, which is probably a bit short for your needs but seems to cover most of the issues and which has a reasonable list of resources at the end.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 4:14 AM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Books I require anyone entering a supervisory role in my organization because they are the basics:
The one minute manager
The one minute manager meets the monkey

Then continued study:
Three signs of a miserable job
John Maxwell is an amazing author on leadership. He has leadership 101 series you should look into

As you mature as a leader:
Leadership Gold - Maxwell
21 irrefutable laws of leadership - Maxwell
Newer book called "multipliers"

You need to figure out what kind of leader you want to be. Your post looks more like someone that people would work for out of fear. They would leave you as they are able so eventually you would have a team of under performing ignorant people afraid of independent thought. Because the ones that could would have left, and the ones that stayed gave up due to your style.

I ask people who work on my team how their stomach feels on Sunday night (the last night is their weekends off) . The reason is if they feel worry or discomfort about going to work the next day I need to do something different as their leader.

Anyone with a title can be a manager. Only the best can sacrifice enough to be a leader.
posted by jseven at 5:01 AM on December 19, 2011 [13 favorites]

Best answer: Leadership is as much about innate character as it is about learned behavior. Officer training in the military is a decent start, but bear in mind that the military spends years teaching the basics, and it takes many more years of gradually increasing experience to truly learn to lead.

Leadership has nothing to do with one-off statements about what "kings" do. It has everything to do with truly understanding who you are working with, what their own motivators are, and how to act such that those those motivators align with the task that needs doing.

As a starting point, look into the US Army's Leadership field manual: http://www.gasdf.com/regs/fm_6-22_army_leadership.pdf
posted by ellF at 6:55 AM on December 19, 2011 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You might find Power Money Fame Sex by Gretchen Rubin to be relevant to your interests.
posted by flex at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2011

It's better to be silent and thought a fool, than to speak up and remove all doubt. If you're the boss, you probably have the luxury of delivering an answer when you're ready, so learn how to keep your mouth shut until you are ready to speak. Listen to others, think about the options, and then speak. If there's a debate, remain calm and cool while underlings fight things out.
posted by pracowity at 2:40 PM on December 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks again to everybody for the heartfelt and thoughtful responses.

The booklist from jseven especially resonated with what I was looking for - looking at the summaries and reviews online, each of these seems to be really valuable.
posted by damian_ at 6:09 PM on December 19, 2011

Best answer: I really liked The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
Its written as a narrative, so you see his leadership and team model being applied in context.
posted by jpdoane at 6:48 PM on December 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I pulled this a while ago, sorry for no attribution but it really resonates with me.

Leadership tends to be transformational when open, reliable and credible.
Leaders recognize and are grateful to employees for their commitment, talents, sacrifices and dedication.
Leaders set high and fair standards and hold their people accountable.
Leaders are clear, straightforward communicators. They are candid, and as a result, viewed as trustworthy.
Leaders care more about the success of the company or others than themselves -- they know that follows.
Leaders inspire camaraderie.
Leaders create a sense of shared purpose.
Leaders foster creativity and innovation. They encourage collaboration. They understand their role, their industry, their mission deeply.
Leaders anticipate. They see around corners.
posted by thinkpiece at 9:35 AM on December 20, 2011

Lincoln did some pretty good leading.
posted by Oddly at 12:31 PM on December 20, 2011

Best answer: I like the several-hundred-year-old Art of Worldly Wisdom (also translated as the Pocket Oracle and Art of Prudence), by Balthazar Gracian. It contains advice very similar in spirit and tone to the advice you quoted in your question. It's three hundred maxims/principles of "worldly wisdom," and they are definitely applicable to leadership.
posted by jayder at 5:11 PM on December 25, 2011

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