Let’s start this article with a group participation question: Everyone that has felt uncomfortable as a leader during the past six months, will you raise your hand? I sense that there are a lot of hands in the air. Everyone that is in a leadership role should have their hand in the air. The past six months have been very disruptive for everyone, particularly for those in leadership positions.
During my career, I had the opportunity to work with Bill Campbell. He was a revered mentor to many people in leadership positions in Silicon Valley. After working as head football coach at Columbia University, he worked for the corporate offices of Eastman Kodak Company in Rochester, New York. When I met Bill, I had just moved from a field assignment in Kansas City into a specialist role in the Consumer Imaging Division as my first assignment in the corporate offices. Bill was a director of marketing communications. At that time, Kodak was a $13 billion company and was spending a few hundred million dollars annually on advertising and promotional activities for Kodak consumer products.
When I met Bill for the first time, my impression was that he was a driven, passionate person. He created a nickname for everyone that he regularly worked with; it was his way of communicating his loyalty to them. Bill was the poster child for leaders that were sometimes described as a “people-person.” He was an advocate of getting together at the tavern across the street from Kodak Office for a beer after work. On Friday evenings, we would gather for dinner. We would talk about business, but most of the conversations were about families, friends and life.
Bill moved on to a variety of roles in Silicon Valley and enjoyed great success. He eventually became a mentor to many leaders of companies, both start-ups and industry leading companies like Apple and Google. He provided counsel that made him legendary among those that he worked with. His focus was always on the interaction of leaders with their people.
An article that was recently published in Fast Company, a monthly business magazine published in print and online that focuses on technology, business and design. The article provides a summary of Bill’s principles during a time of disruption and crisis. A summary of Bill’s principles includes the following:
- It’s still the people: The top priority of any leader is the well-being and success of their people.
- Lead with empathy: As a way to relate to people, get them to talk about their lives and perspectives outside of their roles at work.
- Be present: Listen to what people have to say; people that you lead deserve your undivided attention. Avoid distractions. Find a way to connect with people in an environment when you can’t meet with them face-to-face.
- To care about people, care about people: For people to succeed while working in today’s challenging environment, people need to know that leaders and colleagues care about them.
- Team first: When working on a problem, work on it as a team. At the same time, recognize that we are all individuals and our circumstances are different. Be empathetic of those that have challenges outside of their work life, but also of those that step in and do more.
- Leaders lead: When times are challenging, that’s when leaders have to step it up and lead. Bill understood that sometimes leaders need a kick in the backside to get them moving.
- Have a plan: Establish a time frame, understand the reality of the current situation, determine the areas that you are going to focus on and build strategies that you are going to implement to achieve those goals.
- Be honest: Discuss the facts as you know them and communicate. No one has perfect knowledge; if there are unknows, acknowledge them.
- Be an evangelist for courage: Be a cheerleader, celebrate successes and victories of others. Be positive.
- Decisions aren’t about consensus: Listen to diverse perspectives, make it safe to have an alternative point of view. If the best decision doesn’t come from a discussion, break the tie and expect everyone to rally around the decision.
- Take care of yourself: You are vulnerable to the same stresses as everyone else. Find time to take a break from your work every day. Find activities that help you re-energize and practice them regularly. Give yourself permission to close down for the day and get some rest.
That’s a long list; you may not be able to do everything on this list all of the time. Do your best. We’re all individuals and our environments are different for each one of us. Most importantly, take care of your team and take care of yourself. That is the obligation of a leader.