Great Leaders Know Themselves Greatly: 5W to POP!

I am a student of leadership.  I’ve worked for some of the world’s most admired (and infamous) companies; the giants of financial services, consulting, retail, consumer products, manufacturing, logistics, and even in the public sector.  With nearly 20 years of experience studying and developing leaders across countries and across industries, one leadership truth, is that great leaders know themselves greatly.  What do I mean by this?  Well, good leaders understand their leadership W’s (who, what, when, where, and why).

Who: My personal brand. (Best described by what other’s say about me when I leave the room)

What: My impact.

When: My today, the legacy I will leave, the history I have made.

Where: EVERYWHERE. (assume it’s on the front page of the Wall Street Journal)

Why: My purpose, my values, my passion, my mission.

Great leaders understand their leadership W’s well enough that they act with such consistency that their followers can predict or explain what a great leader will do in a given scenario.  This is what I call 5W Leadership Awareness.  There are a lot of very successful good leaders that I have worked with, on the other hand, I have only worked with a few great 5W leaders. Part of the distinction between good and great is that in public pivotal moments a great leader knows herself well enough that she behaves the way she does in private less stressful moments. And, of course, time and time again, we see how hard this is, especially since we know that nothing is really private. This means that great leaders act consistently in the boardroom, on a golf course, at the bar, during an interview, at their place of worship, and in their home office (i.e., email!).  Their consistent sense of self, purpose, vision, priorities, and value carries through everything they do, say, and think. This is not to suggest a robotic approach, rather that great leaders have such clarity on their W’s that they behave in a consistent and predictable fashion.

This clarity helps great leaders have great followership.  Their followership understands what their priorities are, what makes them tick, and what their core beliefs are. Today, I want to share is a stepping stone to 5W, these are what I call my POPs, my Personal Operating Principles.  Some are grander than others, some have greater application than others, some are direct reflections of my value sorter (blog post coming soon!), and some are more tactical. POPs are a great tool to keep yourself focused on being the leader that you want to be.  At the beginning of a project, when on-boarding a new team, and when doing some self-reflection, I always review my POPs, consider what’s most relevant for my current goals and I share them with my team.  Feedback from my teams, leaders, and peers has been that they really appreciated getting to know my point of view in such a succinct way, they had better clarity into who I was, and they liked understanding what was important and some keys to success in my eyes.  I keep a running list of my POPs, I am always adding to my list, and highlighting ones that are most relevant to a certain situation. Here are 10 POPs that I found myself using recently.

  1. Responsiveness builds trust: Trust is hard to build and easy to lose – respond to people, even if it’s to communicate that you need to set up time in the future
  2. Have a continuous improvement mindset – think critically and robustly:  We share a collective responsibility to be better tomorrow then we are today
  3. Make others look good….your manager, your peers, your direts, your clients: This, in turn, makes you look good
  4. WIIFM (MT, MC, etc.) – What’s In It For Me (My Team, My Customers, etc.): Consider benefits (and drawbacks) from a variety of positions
  5. Assume positive intent: Discuss, regroup, escalate, if necessary, and  move on: No one woke up this morning with the intent to screw with you, if it happened, it was not intentional
  6. Create the agenda: When in doubt, create the agenda for the meeting and be prepared to lead it
  7. Prior to a meeting, follow the Rule of 3: Determine the 3 things you need for the meeting to be successful (What are the 3 items you need a decision on, the 3 pieces of information you need to share, the 3 key points you need to communicate)
  8. 2 Ears, 1 Mouth…maybe they should be used in that ratio: Listen and do so actively
  9. Be kind (and if you weren’t) rewind (and do so immediately): Apologize, course correct, and move forward
  10. Start from a point of agreement: Leverage common and/or organizational goal

Please feel free to use my list and if you would like to partner to develop your POPs, work towards your 5W Leadership, work on your Values Sorter or connect further, please reach out to Alison at Alison@AGDvisors.

I would love to hear any POPs that you have or have observed in leaders.