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How to Not Suck as a Leader

August 20, 2009

So much has been written on the subject of leadership over the past thirty years that sometimes I honestly wonder if there is anything left to say. Popular authors and motivational gurus like John Maxwell have found so many clever ways to slice and dice and list and repackage their critical leadership advice that I am just about left speechless. Apparently, these trusted career advisors have discovered that there is an infinitely unfulfilled market of poor suckers like you and me who believe we are simply not good enough as we are, feeling unfulfilled, underpaid, or are just plain tired of being bossed around all the time.

But as I reflected further on my vast experience as a business executive and former career-ladder-climber, I realized that yes, there may be one hidden jewel that hasn’t been covered yet. So how about this for a new slant on Leadership:

 “Some of you will suck as leaders.

 Has that been said before? Really, I know that probably won’t motivate some of you to try harder, or to buy more books and seminars, but maybe it’s time to face the facts and save a lot of time and money. Not everyone will make it as leaders. Not everyone is cut out for it, no matter how many books you read. Not everyone has what it takes.

“But, Brad,” you ask, “How can I know if I suck as a leader?” Well, friend, I’m glad you asked. You have come to the right place. I will spare you all of the leadership hype and give it to you straight.

So now, for all of you aspiring leaders out there, let’s just cut the crap and get right to the point. I will sum up for you very succinctly in six bullet points the non-negotiable, bottom-line, end-of-the-day secrets of leadership for a lifetime. If you follow my advice, I can guarantee that you will not suck. Post this up on your cubicle wall. Hang it from your car rear-view mirror. Make your spouse repeat them to you as you fall asleep. And pray for strength, because the path to greatness will not be easy, or quick.

1. Don’t be a pansy.   Nobody likes a whiner, so suck it up and do your job! Put on a positive attitude and just accept the fact that no matter where you work, you are going to face difficult people, grueling office politics, long hours, crazy bosses and demanding customers. This is how you get experience and grow. What did you expect?

2. You must deliver results.  If you think you will be a good leader because you are a “people person,” you might as well get off the train right now and take the job at the shoe store in the mall. Soft skills do count, but if at the end of the day you can’t deliver hard, tangible, profitable results, then no one is going to care about your people skills.

 3. Have an opinion.  No matter what kind of work you are doing, it’s important to stand up for what you think. And not in a bossy, know-it-all way, but as an offer to truly help your company do better and show that you can take initiative and see things that others don’t. If you can’t work up the nerve to speak up at meetings and contribute some brilliant (or even mediocre) ideas, then don’t bother showing up. There’s nothing more annoying than seeing the same people sitting at meetings over and over again who never open their mouths.

4. Make a decision.  There are good decisions, and then there are bad decisions, but by far the worst is to make no decisions at all. It’s important to gather feedback and analysis, but ultimately you must take on the responsibility of making a decision and living with the consequences of it, which you will never really know until days, weeks or months later. Decision-making involves a combination of risk-taking and responsibility. If you don’t have the stomach for either, then don’t bother reading another leadership book. You won’t make it.

5. Keep Good Moral Character. At the core of every person are the nuts and bolts of how they will behave in a crisis. Will you keep your head? Can you maintain a moral compass? Can you handle ambiguity? This represents your character, and it usually shows up best under pressure. Being ethical is just the ticket into the Leadership game – it’s your character that will drive you to the finish line.

6. Make Lots of Friends.  Yes, it matters if people like you. You’ve got to be well-liked, and it can’t be because you try too hard. Bottom line: no one wants to work with an ass. Your ability to get promoted is directly linked to your boss’s opinion of you, and if you want to lead an effective team, it sure helps if they think you’re a good leader AND a great person.

There you have it. That’s all you need to know. Now get out there all you potential leaders, and try not to suck! You can do it!

10 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2009 8:22 am

    While i dont care much for the ‘suck’ angle (a little too gutteral) , i do totally agree that not everyone is cut out to lead.

    How many supervisors took the job because it paid a dollar more an hour, with no concept of what leadership entails. And then those same people are made managers and then department heads and then vps and so on.

    Your reality check is a good one. And I do love your six points. Perfect.

    I posted today on “Submission to Incompentence” which I think dovetails into this article.

  2. August 20, 2009 10:54 am

    I loved point #5. Keeping good moral character in those tough times will reveal the true you.

    I will share a phrase I heard and I pass it on to others: When you are squeezed, what comes out? For me, I hope its good moral character.


  3. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    August 21, 2009 6:09 am

    David – I am headed over to your link right now!

    Yvette- Nice to see you! Yes, that thing about what comes out when you are squeezed can be very revealing. Most of us hate pressure and stress, so we try to avoid it. But often times we have to face it head on, or else it just smacks us in the face and we have to deal… and the test begins. Let’s pray for moral fortitude in all of us!

  4. August 22, 2009 10:34 am

    That was great, Bradley! Good advice for people who not only want to be great leaders, but great human beings. Loved this.

  5. August 24, 2009 9:19 am

    You’re so subtle…

    I think I’m a born leader.

    Or shoe salesman.

    Or both!

    But I hope it’s not both, because I have an aversion to other people’s feet.

  6. August 26, 2009 1:50 am

    This is the stuff that makes a blog worthwhile.

    I stopped over from Katdish’s blog. Glad to make your acquaintance, Brad.

  7. September 29, 2009 9:28 pm

    Hi Bradley,

    You are incredibly bright, no doubt. Your delivery, however, extends beyond that which is brutal. Ultimately you will push away more people than you let in. Good luck with that approach in the long run. It will likely not serve you well.


    • Andrew Turner permalink
      February 19, 2010 11:52 am

      Hey Matthew, you make a point, however I wouldn’t typify it as “brutal” any more than Christ was when he illustrated poor practice of #5 by calling the folk “whitewashed tombs.”

      In my experience, the best examples whether biblical or human always have a so-called “brutal” streak which is nothing more than honesty. Honesty needs to be tempered with tact, but I often find, in particular with men, that past a certain point, a “brutal” shape-up-or-ship-out comment needs to be made.

      This was illustrated too me once and it flavored my entire life. It was a summer job and I was slacking off, joking around with a coworker. The boss yelled at us, quite loudly, in public “Are you going to stand around and talk, or are you going to go home?” And that was that. I was 13. No tears, and the delivery was perfect.

      Bradley’s commentary was the truth in an area that truth is needed, and it was tactful (what would have been inappropriate would have been personal attacks with no solutions) . Far too many people consider themselves leaders, when in actual fact they are not, simply because they do not follow the rules, as outlined above. Not everyone will be a leader, because that is the way things are (some vessels of clay and some of gold). The sooner some accept this, the better. This doesn’t negate their importance because in fact a follower is what makes a leader happen. Christ did not consider equality with God to be grasped, for instance — if ever there was an example of a follower, it was Christ.

      I would like to attach a #7: Thinly veiled manipulation or manipulation at all is not leadership and is in fact a lie and a liar’s domain; it is deceit.


  1. Three Leadership Priniciples That Have Guided My Career « Shrinking the Camel

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