What Great Leaders Understand

There are tangible reasons some leaders are better than others. Some people may believe it’s luck, others may think it’s karma, still others insist it’s just a timing thing.

 

But the fact is some leaders are better than others because they understand stuff that average leaders just don’t get. Chief among that stuff is that decisions matter and they matter because every decision changes something once it’s acted upon.

 

The best leaders are always at least a few steps ahead of weaker leaders. It’s like when you watch a good pool player. They are thinking where they want to leave the cue ball for their next two or three shots. Great Chess players are always several moves ahead of average Chess players.

 

So it is with the best leaders. They know that every decision has consequences, some could be good and some could be not so good. But they understand that every single decision comes with consequences and they not only consider the consequences they also consider the consequences of the consequences and the consequences of those consequences. They are generally way ahead in their thinking than average leaders.

 

Average leaders make too many decisions without thinking of even the first layer of consequences. They are more reactive decision makers than proactive and that puts them behind the curve pretty much every step of the way.

 

That’s why average leaders always seem to be scrambling to “fix” what wasn’t broken until they broke it. They often receive recognition for being a great “fire-fighter” when the fact is they are a Pyromaniac of a leader. Their poorly considered decisions cause many of the fires they are later applauded for extinguishing. 

 

People don’t follow Pyro Leaders because the heat they generate makes it too hard to succeed.

 

If you want to become a more effective leader then you simply must understand that your actions and decisions have consequences. Not only must you understand that but you must also accept responsibility for those consequences, especially if those consequences turn out to be less than desirable. It’s only by accepting responsibility for your decisions that you’ll learn to make better ones.

 

It’s pretty tough to get ahead when you’re perpetually two steps behind. Consider the consequences BEFORE you act on your decisions and your decisions will likely change considerably. 


Then you’ll have the chance to truly lead.

Proactive Leadership

The Minnesota Timberwolves, the NBA franchise in Minnesota has had numerous head coaches through the years. I think (I hope) all of them had the goal of leading their team to an NBA Championship. I also assume all of them knew a whole lot more about basketball than I do. 

Too many of them however knew far less about leadership. One such coach who shall remain nameless was a basketball genius. He knew exactly what his players needed to do to succeed. He understood the strategies of opposing coaches and the game plans they developed. He was a master at the X’s and O’s of the game.

What he wasn’t able to do was get his players to commit to his style of play. Actually he couldn’t get his players to commit to much of anything.

He was a very reactive coach. 

He would see a player make a mistake in practice but being a strident conflict avoider he didn’t point it out. Not surprisingly the player would make the same mistake in a game and the coach would be doing a slow burn but still he kept quiet.

Here’s the trouble with that slow burn deal; eventually the slow burn turns explosive. So it was with this particular coach; after seeing the same mistake again and again he exploded in a rage that was almost frightening. 

His reaction had the exact opposite effect of what he needed. Not only did it not correct the mistake, he lost the trust and confidence of the player he verbally destroyed and most of the other players on the team as well.

Once his players didn’t trust him it became impossible for them to commit to him as a leader. 

Reactive leaders seldom seem to fair very well, proactive leaders on the other hand often do very very well. 

Proactive leaders do not do the slow burn. They compassionately and quickly confront problems and mistakes before there is a danger of an explosion. They understand that conflict is a necessity of leadership. They don’t shy away from pointing out mistakes and offering suggestions in order to “keep the peace.” 

Proactive leaders would prefer to celebrate a noisy disheveled success rather than mourn a quiet and orderly failure. 

To lead effectively you must be willing to risk upsetting a few people for a short time. The alternative is to upset a whole lotta people for a very long time. One scenario has the chance of leading to eventual success, the other is a pretty darn direct path to failure.

Conflict avoidance doesn’t work, it never works. I don’t often recommend using the word never but in this case I’ll even repeat it. 

Conflict avoidance never works. 

The best time to coach your people is in the moment a coaching opportunity presents itself. If you’re truly a leader you’ll be prepared for that moment and you’ll be proactive in preventing the identical opportunity from presenting itself a second, or third, or fourth time.

Proactive leaders get in front of problems and mistakes before the problems get in front of them. After all, it’s called “leading” for a reason.