In the past few weeks I have had the opportunity to address the leadership teams of a couple of Fortune 500/FTSE 100 companies on some of the best management practices I have come across.
To prepare for these opportunities I reviewed a piece written eight years ago to mark the 2012 retirement of a boss and mentor, Jack Klues, which was called 8 Management Lessons from a Great Boss.
Almost a decade later the lessons still resonated and rang true. All they needed were a few edits and additions to incorporate the passage of time.
1. There is no substitute for hard work: Talent matters but is not enough. Hard work, focus and persistence are what makes for success. Never “call it in”. Tim Ferris and all those books of 4-hour workweeks and stuff are fantasies. If you want to do well, you have to work your butt off. Period. Even if you are supposedly smart.
When you see people, you admire do things effortlessly, it is because they have practiced, continuously iterated, and learned. As a result they have sculpted intellectual and emotional muscles that now make their performance second nature.
2. Constantly learn and keep upgrading your skills: The best managers are perpetual students constantly growing. They exhibit three traits:
a) Exploration: They explore new areas outside their category knowing that the future of their industry is likely to come from outside of it. They seek guides and experts to help them navigate what they do not know. They travel to meet start-ups and to different nations to understand other perspectives and new approaches.
b) Engaging provocateurs/ jesters: Often it is only the clown that can convey the truth to the Crown. Rather than have “yes women and men” chant about the greatness of the dear leader they retain challengers and questioners.
If you want somebody to reflect what you say, it is far more cost effective to replace a senior manager with a full-length mirror.
c) Setting aside time for learning: Their calendars have time set aside to learn. Usually they are prolific readers and intensely curious. As Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, notes they display a “learn it all” mindset versus a “know it all” mindset.
3. Integrity, truth and your word are everything: Winning is important. But never at any cost. Integrity, fair play, and transparency are key.
If you make a commitment keep it. No ifs or buts.
Trust is the critical currency in business and relationships and your reputation is the issuing bank.
If you have trust you also have speed.
And you do not build reputation and trust without principles and sticking to them even if it is inconvenient to your career.
Build your reputation by speaking truth to power if appropriate.
Sometimes this may mean going against the grain and what is majority opinion.
By being fearless and calling things out (politely, calmly and often with humor) versus bending the knee to the powerful, the moneyed and the in-fashion.
Realize that people who go with the flow even when the flow is not the way to go are not leaders, but opportunists and schemers.
The lack of an internal compass has them leaning in any direction where the magnetic force of power, money and fame lures.
This eventually finds them lost.
4. Be accessible and encourage challenges: Regardless of how powerful or famous or busy you are, make sure that people can get to you easily and feel safe and free to speak what is on their mind and in their hearts.
Whether it be a student, a startup, someone who sounds like a nitwit with a crazy idea, it is important to find time to meet these folks. Be wary of over relying on a bevy of executive assistants to filter and shoo away people. To grow it is essential to meet new people, to listen, and to be available.
Encourage people to challenge you. Work to be respected and admired, not feared.
5. Always take ideas, insights and imaginative new ways to grow to clients and never be scared to tell them what you think: While it is critical to have operational excellence in the day to day and to drive the results whether in performance or cost savings promised, it is key to take insights, ideas and initiatives to help Clients build business.
Any world class Client always has someone calling on them with new approaches and if you are reduced to just day to day delivery, you will find yourself increasingly irrelevant and commoditized. If there is a better way, a faster way and smarter way to substitute what you are doing with another approach, you should adopt it and or take it to them. Even if it hurts your bottom line.
Respect Clients. Listen to Clients. But never fear them. Provide them with perspectives, POV’s and provocations. Sometimes you have to choose your spot and time to push back, but never be reduced to just an order taker or a task rabbit.
6. Your success is mostly not because of you: Your success has to with many factors and most of them are not you.
First, it is the talent around you. Second, it is the company you are working for (the company comes first and never imagine you are irreplaceable or are bigger than the company), third it is the prestige of the Clients you get work with and finally a lot of it is chance, luck and timing.
Be wary of supposed “superstars” or “rock stars” who think they achieved it all themselves and take themselves too seriously.
Never forget where you came from and all those who helped you.
7. Celebrate the team and make stars of your people: The best leaders teach, empower and build legions of talent by giving them opportunities, having their back when things go wrong, and training the spotlight on them when things go right or when there is a big success.
Often, some of your most talented people will leave for better jobs due to their skills and renown. But if you have done your job right, they are less likely to go to direct competitors but rather a part of the larger eco-system of platforms, partners, and affiliated companies where they can be advocates. As importantly, the continuous success of people who worked with you will attract even more talent.
8. Put others first. Be generous. Be human: Always think of others. Give generously. Help people especially those who have lost jobs or are in career transition or may never be able to help you.
The Beatles sang “ in the end, the love you get is equal to the love you give”. When you help people the math is even better. The help you get is often multiples of the help you give since you feel good and the person you help feels gratitude and will always remember your help.
Finally, never forget that it is in the human interaction that memories and relationships are built and sustained.
Let me end with a story.
About 15 years ago there was a critical new business pitch. Due to weather all flights had been cancelled from Chicago and Jack Klues had got a private plane to fly us out from Urbana Champaign. I finished attending my elder daughters middle school graduation late in the evening and caught a train to Urbana where I arrived at a fog bound station at midnight.
This was before smart phones. Before Uber.
At that time Jack Klues was the number 2 executive of the Publicis Groupe in charge of all the media and digital assets of the company globally. He was responsible tens of thousands of employees and billions of dollars of revenue.
In the gloom and cold of the deserted station sat Jack Klues who said, “After this long trip I thought you would need a ride to the hotel”
Photographs by Clyde Butcher.
Rishad Tobaccowala (@rishad) is the author of the bestselling “Restoring the Soul of Business: Staying Human in the Age of Data” published by HarperCollins globally in January 2020. It has been described as an “operating manual” for managing people, teams and careers in the age we live in and The Economist Magazine called it perhaps the best recent book on Stakeholder Capitalism. Business and Strategy named it among the best business books of the year and the best book on Marketing in 2020. Rishad is also a speaker, teacher and advisor who helps people think, feel and see differently about how to grow their companies, their teams and themselves. More at https://rishadtobaccowala.com/