5 Stupidly Simple Leadership Skills, and 5 Advanced Ones
Most people want to lead but aren’t sure how to start. It’s easy to wake up, start the day, and then get whisked off into the current of mediocrity. At some point, we get so caught up in keeping our head above water that we don’t have time to think about how we could improve or influence the lives of others in order to help them.
It turns out it’s easy to influence others. There are simple skills that we can learn in a few minutes that can instantly improve our ability to lead effectively. And with each skill, there’s a simple version and a more advanced one.
I’ve collected these over half a lifetime. I wish I knew some of them 20 years ago.
1. Say Hi to Everyone Within 10 Feet of You
Before Sam Walton created one of the largest companies in the world, he ran a single retail store, the first Wal-Mart. There is one rule that he lived by and that he also taught each of his employees.
Always smile and say “hello” to anyone who comes within 10 feet of you.
This simple rule helped customers feel accepted. It made the store appear welcoming and friendly. The employees even greeted each other. It’s also a powerful rule to live by, even if you don’t work in a retail store or in a service position.
Look someone in the eye and say hello and watch how people change around you. You can never influence someone until and unless you see them as a person who is worth greeting.
There’s a simple way to make this rule more advanced. Use 15 feet instead of 10.
2. Never Talk to Someone Without Knowing Their Name
“What’s your name?”
It might be one of the powerful questions you can ever ask. If you are about to ask for help, ask for the person’s name before anything else. It doesn’t matter if you’re at an airport, a grocery store, a restaurant, at work, or anywhere else. Knowing someone’s name is often the first sign of respect that you can offer.
One of the first lessons I learned as a lawyer was to always use the proper name for each individual associated with a project. If someone is a doctor, then use the right title. If someone is a the Chief Financial Officer, then make sure you know thta. Pay attention to spelling names correctly. Ask how to pronounce each person’s name.
If you don’t think names are important, try messing them up for a while and see what happens.
Use the name when you talk to them and about them. Don’t just ask for a name, but use it often to prove that you know it. Each mention will add to your credibility.
3. Never Talk About Someone Unless You Would Say The Words In Front of Them
Most people have a problem: they say whatever comes to their mind, without thinking about the effects of their words. But words can cut as sharply as any blade.
At a prior job of mine, one of the first acts of the new CEO was to install a poster in our break room, which said, “Loose lips sink ships.”
Loose lips sink ships.
You might wonder why that sign was so important to the CEO. It was simple. He knew that undisciplined words can ruin organizations. He encouraged us to speak with praise, encouragement, and positivity. But he also encouraged us to be critical, with one caveat. If you were going to criticize, you had to be talking to the person you were criticizing. You had to confront issues directly, rather than sulk and complain.
My rule for influencing people is this: never talk about someone unless you would say it directly to their face. This rule forces you to do two very important things.
- You must be honest about what you are saying. It is much harder to lie or even exaggerate about a person if you imagine you are right in front of them.
- You protect your own attitude by limiting negative words and thoughts. You only address a negative situation with the person involved and not with anyone else.
Loose lips sink ships. Cowards try to seem smart by bringing others down. Only a leader has the discipline to only raise up others with their words.
The advanced version takes a little more courage but is incredibly powerful. Once you limit your speech to only what you would say to a person’s face, then hold others to the same standard while in your presence. Don’t let someone talk about another person in front of you unless you would feel comfortable with the other person being present. Do not take part when someone else says something about a person that they wouldn’t say directly to that person: either leave or go get the person who is being talked about.
4. Never Complain About a Problem Without Proposing a Solution
Complaining is talking about a problem without talking about the solution to the problem. Stop complaining. It doesn’t help anyone.
There are many benefits to complaining, but solving the problem you’re complaining about is rarely one of them. I wish I remembered this every time I had even an inkling to complain.
I once was talking with a friend of mine who is a pastor. He was discussing how he was using his limited resources to do some amazing work in inner-city and urban areas. He was helping kids, serving adults, and changing lives. For some reason, though, I felt the need to tell him about a group of people that he was neglecting.
Just as I was about to share my viewpoint, though, I stopped. I realized that I was going to complain to him without proposing some way to accomplish what I wanted. The last words a leader needs to hear is that someone sees fault but isn’t willing to pitch in and help. He had already told me he was maxed out on his time and resources. His organization was already doing everything it could. My comment would have seemed out of touch and heartless.
I stopped myself from saying what popped into my mind. I vowed not to complain to him if I could not propose a solution.
Don’t complain if you don’t have a solution.
The advanced version of this skill is simple: complain and then solve the problem. Or propose a solution. Instead of complaining and putting the burden on the leader who listens to our complaint, take the burden upon ourselves to form a solution. The solution doesn’t need to be perfect, but it should include what we will contribute. I guarantee that a complaint that comes with a proposed solution and a promise to help will encourage and uplift any leader.
5. Never Ask Someone to Do Something That You Are Not Willing to Do
I noticed that my young children are often not very good at cleaning up after they make a mess. I can scream at them, prod, pull, yell, and do anything else to get them to clean up after themselves. It rarely works. Only when I bend down and start picking up toys with them do they start to clean.
The leader who will be on the front lines is so much more compelling than the one who sits near the back and barks commands.
Actually do what you ask others to do. There’s an enormous difference between the demands of “go” and “let’s go”. There is no better leadership demonstration than when a leader does exactly what he or she asks others to do. A leader who makes the same sacrifices that are expected from the group is worth following.
These simple skills can transform organizations, families, and even communities. Practicing these skills can build credibility quickly. And when you start with these simple skills, your authority will grow almost effortlessly.
- Say hi to everyone who comes near you.
- Use someone’s name, often.
- Never talk about someone unless you would feel comfortable saying it with them present.
- Never complain about a problem without proposing a solution.
- Never ask someone to do something that you are not willing to do.
There’s more to building credibility than practicing these simple skills. But these are an incredible start.