What Makes a Good Leader? 4 Rules to Follow

What makes a good CEO? What makes an inspiring leader? Most importantly, are you a good leader? As a former CMO, and now an entrepreneur, I have managed both large and small teams. A good leader isn’t someone who tells others what to do. It’s not someone who cracks the whip just because they can. A good leader is someone who guides and mentors the team, who offers counsel and looks to foster a good working environment.

I’ve been in business for more years than I care to admit. Over the years, I have picked up a tricks of the trade and learned a few lessons that have made me a better leader. Here are a few steps you can take to improve your leadership skills.

Be yourself, always
My attitude is always about owning who I am in everything I do: Sell me, sell the company; sell the company, sell me. When people hire me and say, “Make it like it used to be,” I say, “No. You can’t go back, and I don’t want to.” I don’t look the way I did when I was 20; I look better. Sure, I have lost some hair, but I also lost any doubt as to who I am. I have gained some weight, but I have also gained experience, character, and worldliness that make me better than I ever have been. Simply put, I am all that I say you should be: fearless, bold, and relentless. That’s not arrogance, that’s awareness—that’s an attitude that says, “I own who I am!”

The most inspiring and successful leaders are in their positions because they aren’t afraid to be themselves and represent their brands. For instance, Richard Branson’s bold personality is felt in every aspect of his business. The “Virgin” brand is synonymous with bold and adventurous. A company’s values are what people are attracted to. They don’t want to follow someone who is trying to be someone else. Be yourself and your employees will appreciate it.

Be a good listener
“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” Winston Churchill

Most respected leaders are exceptionally skilled and have the intellectual capacity for leadership; they wouldn’t have gotten to be CEOs without being the best in the business. However, it’s typically good social skills that make great leaders stand out. A great speaker who is constantly engaged with their peers can rally a group of followers much faster than one who hides in the corner office. However, it’s not only a big personality that makes a good CEO. To me, one of the most important tasks of the CEO is, listening. If you fail that simple, yet somewhat overlooked, task you’re putting your business in danger. It’s as simple as that.

Listen to your employees, as they’re typically most aware of the issues within your company, and also, your first line of defense. Listen to your consumers as they may have sound advice on how to improve your product or service. Also, leave the judging to Judge Judy and listen to the entire criticism before fighting back. Don’t assume you know it all. Trust me when I say, you don’t.

Take risks
In business, change is necessary, and there are always risks involved.

Is anyone going to die? Probably not.

Everyone in my company has heard me ask this question on numerous occasions. Most of us aren’t leading a team of surgeons and no one is going to die from taking a risk in business. Lose some money? Maybe. One thing’s for sure, you won’t get anywhere without taking a risk or two. However, make sure everyone on your team is aware and 100 percent committed to achieving the goal. I always say all leaders are a bit irrational but, it’s still your job to convince everyone else the “irrational” risk is worth taking.

Change isn’t about being irresponsible, reckless or careless. It’s about constantly taking the temperature of your business to make sure it still has a pulse. It’s about taking risks that align with the changing times and your company’s values.

For example, Elon Musk took a notable risk with his company Telsa in 2008 when he invested his last $35 million in the company. Today, Telsa is worth 2.5 billion so I’d say that’s a risk that really paid off.

There is no secret formula to evaluating risks. For me, I ask myself whether the potential outcome will get me closer to my business goal. If the answer is yes then I go for it.

Learn to handle failure
Every successful leader has experienced failure in their careers. What happens when you hit rock bottom? When you’re done crying, there’s nothing left to do but look at the wreckage and honestly confront what you’ve done. The key is tenacity and taking responsibility for what comes after.

At Kodak, I came up with this big idea to hire Vinnie Pastore (“Big Pussy” on The Sopranos) to do an ad for us. My idea was to build a campaign to engage our customers and portray Big Ink as out of touch with our target audience. I decided to create a mobile texting and email campaign (this is prior to the Facebook boom and the launch of Twitter) by offering consumers electronic discount coupons for our products and decided to play the spot in movie theaters to a captive audience.

The campaign tested well prior to launching, so what could go wrong? We received TWO responses. Not 2 million, not twenty thousand, not twenty. TWO! What happened?

Someone from my team said the following, “Jeff, what’s the first thing you are asked to do when you walk into a movie theater?” And there it was, the ‘ah-ha’ moment on why we failed, the first thing you’re asked to do in a movie theater is turn of your phone. Launching a texting/e-mail campaign in one of the few places using your phone is banned was not the smartest idea. Even those customers who wanted to text in would have to remember to do so after watching a 2-hour movie and the odds of that happening are slim.

At this point, it’s very tempting to point fingers and assign blame, but change agents accept the fact that failure is inevitable sometimes, especially when you think outside the box and think BIG! Sometimes, when you swing for the fences, you end up striking out. It sucks, but it’s part of the game.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Great leaders aren’t afraid to do so.

Good leaders, lead. They think big, they come up with great ideas, they fail, they counsel, mentor, and are part of the team. If you think being a leader is finally making it into the c-suite or the corner office, you have the wrong perception of what being a leader is all about. Sure, the corner office and the c-suite look good on a resume and might impress a few of your friends, but the fact remains that you spend more time at the office with your team, than you do with your own family. It might be best to have your team on your corner, rather than fighting you at every turn.

© Jeffrey Hayzlett.  All rights reserved


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