Great Leaders Have No Rules

What does it take to really be considered a great leader?

Is it about all charts going up and to the right for your team? Is it a good report in a 360 feedback event? Maybe it reduces the turnover of employees in your team. The metrics for what makes a leader great are different for different people. However, according to author Kevin Kruse there are 10 principles you must follow to ensure you give yourself the best chance of being considered among the greats. In his book ‘Great Leaders Have No Rules: Contrarian Leadership Principles to Transform Your Team and Business’ he lays out the bad habits you may have fallen into in a bid to improve your relationships with your team or to ‘up’ morale. Although some of these habits may have served you well at certain points it is worth auditing what you are doing now and deciding if there is an opportunity to either tweak what you are doing or stop some things altogether.

Find out how to build excellent habits here and here

The first principle of a great leader

Guard your own time. He talks about cutting off the ‘got a minute?’ requests that a leader has to constantly navigate. A leader wants to make themselves available to their direct reports but the downside according to Kruse is that you, the leader, never gets a chance to get into the flow state to do what Cal Newport calls Deep Work. The principle is to simply close your open door policy. The risk is that you are then telling your employees that you are not available which can have a knock on effect of making you seem aloof and uncaring. If this happens, morale, efficiency and productivity can be negatively affected. So what is the solution? You must schedule time to allow your employees to interrupt your day. If you are working on next year’s budgets, constant interruptions are going to take you out of your flow state. So let people know you are not available on certain days or at certain times. Then on the flip side of that, let people know when you are available for drop in chats. Once you are consistent with your schedule, people will begin to respect it.

A great leader knows when to switch off

The next principle is such an obvious one but when it is said out loud you can sometimes wonder why you didn’t think of it sooner. The principle is – shut off your smartphone. The bottom line is that if there is no customer service department for you to get in touch with, it is because you are the product, not the customer. The social media companies that we all scroll through are engineered to get and hold our attention. That attention is sold to the highest bidder. This is not serving you or the projects you are supposed to be working on. Put the phone down and lead by example.

A leader has no rules

The next principle is to have no rules. Now this rule is a bit counter intuitive but the concept does hold water. The idea is that as a team or a company grows there are rules introduced that are supposed to save time but if they go unchecked they cause untold misery to the individual who is trying to follow them. These are rules we are all familiar with, they make no sense in the real world but someone, somewhere thought it was a great idea so now we are all stuck with it. Look for these rules in your team and eliminate them. 

Focus on being likeable not liked

Your job is not to be liked in your team, your job is to get stuff done as efficiently as possible. You should be likable and if people like you it is a bonus. There needs to be clear boundaries set for your direct reports. These boundaries are important for everyone involved. If you have to have a difficult conversation with a colleague you may continuously delay it because you don’t want to ruin a friendship. This will be a disaster.

The other side of the last principle is to lead with love. This principle ultimately means you should see and acknowledge the entire person. Make sure they know you are aware of them as fully formed individuals with hopes, dreams, fears, contradictions etc. You achieve this by asking about their weekend, knowing their children’s names, and knowing where they want to go with their career. 

Plan your time to the second

The great leaders have every second of their day accounted for. This allows for your time to be used wisely. Kruse suggests the 3 C’s to organise your day. Create: The first few hours of the day is when you will be at your most creative. Collaborate: set all of your meetings for the afternoon when you will collaborate with colleagues. And finally Connect: in the evenings, spend time with family and friends.  

Playing favourites might seem like a bad idea but Kruse says that if someone has earned the right for privileged treatment, let them have it. It will (hopefully) inspire others to want to reach that status. 

A controversial principle suggested by the author is to reveal everything including salaries. He believes it will level the playing field and each person will have something to strive towards. The trick is to have defined roles for each department with achievable levels much like how state bodies are run. Revealing the profit and losses of the company will help individuals understand where their efforts are having an impact leading to increased intrinsic motivation. 

Great Leaders lead with love

The penultimate principle links the ‘lead with love’ principle. And that is that you should show weakness. Really what this means is to be a real human. Bring your whole self to work and let your team know when you have made a mistake. This will lead to building trust with your team and this goes a long way to getting things done. 

The final principle for anyone in a leadership position is that there is never any time off. You are always a leader, so these principles must become part of the fabric of your being. 

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