8 Leadership Skills

8 leadership Skills

Trying to define leadership is like defining music. Trying to improve your leadership skills is like trying to write a song. There is no recipe, guidebook, or formula; it is much more art than science. You can sure learn the basics and some good fundamentals but at the end of the day, it’s about practice, learning from mistakes and learning from others. I never had a legendary mentor (Yoda was too busy) or a teacher that changed my life. Not surprisingly, very few of us have that. The way I keep improving my leadership skills is by learning from everyone and anyone around me, skills, behavior, habits, mistakes, how they speak, how they present, and so on. I have learned from my own mistakes and from the mistakes of others around me. You don’t have to have a mentor just open your eyes, learn and be ready to change. Here are some ideas I find important and some lessons I’ve learned.

Always look at the big picture

We usually start with the big picture, with the dream, with some huge aspiration. The challenge is that slowly and without noticing we’re getting sucked into the nitty-gritty tiny details, perfecting our idea, re-analyzing everything and suddenly we risk going astray without noticing. Try driving a car and only focus on ten feet in front of you. You’re most likely going to smash your car into bits (so don’t try it, just trust me). There is a reason why we focus on the road far ahead while driving. Always look far and try to see the big picture. The trick is that there is always a bigger picture that is eluding us. There is your current project big picture. Beyond that, there is this year’s big picture. Beyond that, there is your career big picture. Beyond that, there is your life big picture. Beyond that, there are things that are bigger than you. The current project seems pretty small details now, isn’t it?

Pay attention to details

Of course, only looking far will get your nowhere as you’ll stay with the dream. At the end of the day, it’s about the details and getting things done. Read emails all the way, find the typo in the copy, ask if that line on the design should really be there. Go back to it again and again examining it from every angle possible, and making small improvements, iteration by iteration. Nothing is perfect but you can sure get close.  The key is to balance seeing the big picture while paying attention to details. A good ratio is 90/10, where 90% time spent on details and 10% spent on the big picture

It’s all about the people

It drives me crazy when leaders and managers refer to employees as “resources”. Computers are resources, pens are resources; people are not. It may be just a figure of speech, but for me, it shows disrespect and lack of care. Leaders should care about the people they lead, care deeply. As the saying goes: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Don’t pretend to; people are smart enough to see through phony behavior. You may be a great businessman, a great salesman, a great speaker, but if you don’t care about the people you lead, you are not a leader, you’re just a person taking a walk.

Mistakes are inevitable 

Over this weekend I heard someone describes this concept in the clearest way. He said: “At any given moment you are in one of these three states: you either just made a mistake, are in the process of making a mistake, or will make a mistake soon”. Just live with it, don’t worry too much about it but learn to recognize your mistakes, admit it and learn whatever there is to learn from it. Being afraid to make mistakes only holds you back. Embrace it, acknowledge it, learn from it, and move on!

Be brave and speak up

Be vocal, be open, be direct and be respectful. Nothing good ever came from people who kept things to themselves. I know this quite well since for a period of time I did keep things inside in some foolish hope to keep the peace.  As Bernard M. Baruch once said: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”. If you need more encouragement, listen to the song Brave by Sara Bareilles and just let the word come out.

Find your style

Don’t try to become like the leader you think you should be or the leader you admire. Leading is not about some persona, it is about doing the right things for the right reasons and inspiring others to follow you in that journey. You can do it just the way you are, with your unique style and way of leading. I like humor and use it all the time, I like knowing people personally and what makes them tick, and I like pushing things the limit. That is my style. What is yours? Oscar Wilde once said: “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”.

Don’t get stuck in the past

We all know we need to learn from our own mistakes and the mistakes of others. We all know we need to learn from the past and remember it. However, it is also important to leave the past behind. Sometimes we do or say things (or don’t do or say) that haunt us for a long time. Sometimes we miss opportunities, and sometimes, bad things just happen. Learn what is to learn, then let it go and move on. As Holocaust survival once said: “What was, was. What is, is. And that’s that”. If he can, you can too.

Believe in yourself

In the movie “Pretty Woman” Richard Gere tried to encourage Julia Roberts to believe in herself more, to which she responded with: “The bad stuff is always easier to believe”. Movies aside, it is the truth. I have seen it with others and I have seen it with myself. I have always been my own worst critic and most times things are never good enough. If funneled incorrectly it can and will drag you down. Turn it around, celebrate who you are, improve where you need to improve and march forward with your head held high. You can be your own critic if you’re also your own biggest fan. Believe in yourself as others do, they can’t all be wrong. Remember, “It is never too late to be what you might have been”.

Disrupt the Universe

nebula

We just came back from our family retreat, which is an annual program organized by my wife Orit’s school (NJCHS). The entire high school, student, faculty, staff, as well as the families are grouped together for three and a half days at a wonderful Kibbutz-like place (Brandeis-Bardin Institute). During these days, the students, with the help of the faculty are transformed into a stronger, tighter, more supportive community. Witnessing this was very impressive and inspiring.

Every year, the founding head of school, Dr. Bruce Powell, gives a speech. Dr. Powell is an inspiring leader and educator with a track record of establishing multiple Jewish high schools in the Los Angeles area. His speeches are never just any speech; they’re the type of of speech where you’re afraid to blink for you might miss a word, a verb, a gesture. For me, it is a chance to learn from a true leader who has proven again and again his ability to execute a vision into a reality. It is an important time especially because he is not the typical business/technology leader I usually hear, therefore provides me with a fresh perspective. I would like to share with you some of Dr. Powell’s speech, in my words.

It is said that the Founding Fathers of the United States of America have done something so extraordinary that they have “disrupted the universe”. They have created something so great and profound, so different and inventive that it changed everything. A new way of governing that did not exist before, which changed the course of humanity’s history and future forever in ways no one could have imagined, besides them.

However, this is not the only time the universe was disrupted. Many people before and after have made changes that disrupted the universe, some for good, some for evil. Some made changes in a small way and others in a bigger way.  Are these people really so few and far in between? Are these people so special that they only appear once in a few decades or centuries?

The truth is that we ALL have the ability to disrupt the universe; we all have that ability within us. It is not due to some unique gift, a random gene, a minimum IQ or a level of income.  It is simply a matter of will! Some factors are how hard are you willing to work to achieve your goal? How much are you willing to sacrifice? And how dedicated are you to the goal?

But one important point, which is often lost in the never-ending noise, is the ability to know a big thing from a small thing. I know it sounds trivial and obvious, important and truthful facts usually are. Really ask yourself: how often do you stop to think about what you’re doing in the big picture? How often do you pause to think if the task, project, argument, meeting, trip, deal or anything else you do with your wife, husband, partner, kids, employees, manager, partners, etc. are really important? How often do you really know big things from small things?

The answer is always: not often enough!

Especially because it is so easy to lose ourselves in the small tasks, to stay focused on the moment, to stay close to the familiar and the safe that we don’t ask the question: Is this important enough? Is this leading me in direction of my goal and vision? Is this a big thing or a small thing? These questions are so simple and obvious, yet we don’t ask it enough.

Maybe we’re not here to start nations, to build empires, to conquer courtiers or to find cure for cancer. Maybe we’re here to raise a family, to start a business, to be a friend, to help others grow, to lead, to create something that was not here just a second ago. Remember that everything you do disrupts the universe in some shape or form every little thing even if you don’t know it, just like the “butterfly effect”.

Your life is your personal journey to take. Remember that you have the ability to disrupt the universe, just stay focused, work hard, and always remember to know big things from small things.

Make it count!