5 Lessons from the Best

One of the best things about our work is that we so often get to work with the best. As we workshopped some wickedly challenging  problems for some very smart clients this week, time and again we shared quotes and thinking from some amazing leaders that we’re fortunate to call our clients, and friends.

1.     80 | 20 rule when it comes to people

From a brand-new client who has built something extraordinary from a family business.

The quote: “We work with an 80| 20 rule. 80% of the time, we strive for and achieve excellence. But we know we’re dealing with people. That’s the other 20%, and we work with that.”

What it means: That excellence has to be the goal. If you want to build something special, you have to expect to be better than everyone else doing what you do. Excellence for every customer and in every opportunity.

But ‘people’ (i.e., all of us) are irrational, emotional, growing, and voluntary. Acknowledging all that takes a little bit of the following:

  • Generosity, because when the person next to us has a bad day, we can lean in and pick up some of the slack
  • Understanding, because it happens to everyone
  • Planning, because you have to be way above the bar to go over it when one of your team is falling a little short
  • Optimism, because the growth in people will surprise you when you least expect it
  • Vulnerable, because it will be you falling short sometimes, and you’ll need to make space for that person you least expected to support you.

We love the rule. It creates high performance alongside the reality of every person we know. 

2.    When the context is complicated, step into it

From one of the most important professions in the country right now.

The quote: “The expectations of every one of us are high, but that’s what we trained for”.

What it means: When you’re dealing with people and culture, context, and the work you do, is everything. It is the potential you have and the space you have to achieve it.

But context can be hard. Complex. Complicated. Frustrating.

Expectations can be unreasonable.

But you never land in that context un-prepared.

By the time we find ourselves in big jobs, with complicated contexts, we’re experienced, seasoned, and battle-hardened. We’re ready. It’s why we chose the work we chose, believed in ourselves to make it happen, and trained for years to be at the top.

Not everyone on your team will be as ready though. They might be apprehensive, even a bit nervous. They have less experience, fewer examples of getting back up. They are yet to be convinced that they can do it. They look up.

Even with those pangs of doubt, not a lot of sleep this week, and a strong desire to procrastinate a little longer, you’re it! You’re the best the team has, and it is your job to lean into whatever that ugly context is and make good things happen. Whatever the odds.

When the leaders are ready to lift to impossible expectations, everyone else gets behind them and makes it happen.

3.   Leadership is not about you

From the CEO of a law firm to the CEO of a consulting company

The quote: “Everyone wants to tell the story of how they got here, but what they’re doing now they’re there is much more important”.

What it means: The real test of a leader is not their resume or even their back story or the path to here. The real test is the space they create for others to be great.

Too often, we hear leaders talk about their story, but if you want to choose a good leader, ask the hard questions.

If you want to know whether you’ll do well on their watch, ask them about the list of others who’ve done well on their watch. The longer the leadership journey, the longer that list should be.

If you want to know whether they’ll have your back, ask them about the list of people they’ve supported through mistakes and where they are now.

If you want to know if they can coach, ask them for the list of people they’ve taught to coach, and where they are now, and who they’ve coached.

Good leaders leave a legacy and plenty of room for others to have achieved great things.

Leadership is not about you. It’s about your impact on everybody else.

4.   With a looming recession, your team and the culture have never been more important

From a banker.

The quote: “I’ve no crystal ball, so who knows whether we’ll have a recession or not. What I do know, is that whatever happens, I want to be with the best team possible.”

What it means: There are over 200,000 bankers and economists in just Australia alone. Almost every one of them has an idea, a plan, and a prediction. Some of them even have jobs aimed directly at preventing catastrophes or benefitting from them if they do unfortunately happen.

Almost all of them have predicted correctly in the past and also got it very wrong.

Why we love the quote right now goes back to another quote from Ilchi Lee, South Korean educator and peace philosopher: “Now the choices you make are not about finding your path. Rather, they are choices to open the path you have found”.

So, recession or not, most of us will need to respond to whatever happens.
It will be the people around you, and the culture they have to bring their best, their relationships with you and each other to be confident to do so, and the agency to step up and in, that will determine how you navigate whatever the path will be.

Your team will need to be the smartest, the most resilient, the most creative, and the most connected to bring out the best in each other.

In short, people and culture have never mattered more. They’ll determine everything you experience.

5.   If you get it wrong, make the decision. Everyone knew 12 months ago

From the CEO of a sports machine!

The quote: “When we get it wrong, we’re usually the last to know. Everyone has seen the issue and has been waiting for us to do something!”

What it means: Every leader makes a bad decision. Interviews, references and performance tests and trials have all long been proven to be deeply flawed prediction techniques, but they’re still pretty much all we’ve got. So, we use them, and they fail. That’s not the issue.

It’s how you respond to it that matters.

And everyone is watching.

Too fast a decision, and you’re a bad person and a bad leader for not supporting people for long enough. You’re too quick to judge.

Too slow a decision and the team is carrying the weight of poor performance and poor behaviour.

So, how do you get it right?

You’re kind and fair. You coach and support. You listen to their explanations and excuses, and try to be what they need from you. But ultimately you’re clear.

If the person is bad for the team, or worse still, bad for the organisation, it is your gig to make the hard decision.

Think like this: every person wants to be on this team and the right ones will make it hum.

If they’re not the right person, everyone is waiting for you to act, and they have been for a while.

As you walk into the room to let the person know, look at the rest of the team. That is who the decision is for. As per the above quote – Leadership is not about you. It’s about your impact on everyone else.

In summary, every good leader has learnt and has something to teach.

These were our favourites from just March.
Looking forward to learning more in April.