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Leadership: Itís a Learned Skill
"You got a gift, Roy. But it's not enough. You gotta develop yourself. Rely too much on your own gift and you'll fail."
It's not only a line from the movie, The Natural, it's also the way Cleve Adams views leadership. Adams, head coach for Maximum Acceleration, a mentoring program for mortgage professionals, says no matter what gifts a person is born with they still have to learn how to be a leader. YOU Magazine recently sat down with Adams to talk about some of the necessary skills and, more importantly, his idea of a necessary reading list on the subject of leadership.
"A good manager or leader is someone who creates an environment in which people can achieve personal success, while, at the same time, providing an excellent product or service to the customer." Proudly claiming this as his mantra, Adams states that achieving such goals begins with a leader's ability to relate to people. In order to develop this, he says four virtues need to exist: competence, character, caring, and consistency.
Adams maintains that this is where books come in handy. He says that by reading the right books, one's personal strengths and weaknesses are brought to light. Books identify problems and begin a process of visualization for the reader.
Many assume that people skills, also known as "soft skills", are easily learned. They assume that these skills, which are taught to us during our early years, will continue to develop effortlessly and even subconsciously throughout our lives. Unfortunately, soft skills don't seem to be a major focus in many school curriculums. In addition, during the process of learning hard skills, we may tend to minimize the lessons we learned about soft skills. This frequently results in people being promoted into management, not for their leadership skills, but rather as a reward for their excellent "hard skills" performance.
To bridge the gap between competence and people skills, Adams recommends the book Good to Great by Jim Collins. Through his study of companies that achieved and maintained their success, Collins demonstrates the importance of having the right people in the right positions within a company. Adams claims any other combination is a waste of time, energy, and money.
It's also important to look for character in the people you hire. Just as with a manager, accountability is key. Adams says the opposite of accountability in employees is acting like a victim. He explains that people who are "victims" tend to give themselves away through what they say and how they say it. They tend to talk a lot about other people's actions as opposed to their own. Two common phrases used by victims are "It's not my job", and "Just tell me what to do." These are both ways to abdicate responsibility and avoid ownership.
To learn more about character, Adams recommends The Oz Principle: Getting Results Through Individual and Organizational Accountability by Roger Connors, Tom Smith, and Craig Hickman. He laughingly says that once you get past the The Wizard of Oz analogies, the content of this book is phenomenal. It does a wonderful job of pointing out the victim mentality which has permeated our society and outlines specific steps to help break the cycle.
If you truly aspire to be a caring leader, you need to deal with the unvarnished truth 100% of the time. Adams believes that the key to accomplishing this is through constant evaluation. He says it's highly important to never send mixed messages, citing that feedback given in a formal evaluation should never come as a surprise. He adds, "Honest feedback also includes presenting the positive."
When a leader is evaluating a poor performance by an employee, it can be distilled down to one of two issues: can't or won't. When an employee can't do something, it may be an issue of training or lack of skills. These can be remedied. On the other hand, if an employee won't do something, it's an attitudinal issue and you may have the wrong person on your team. Adams recommends businessThink: Rules for Getting It Right Ė Now and No Matter What by Dave Marcum, Steve Smith and Mahan Khalsa. He says that the 8 steps outlined create a respectful, creative, and caring environment that produces optimal results while preventing employee "mental flat-lining".
Adams recommends Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done by Larry Bossidy, Ram Charan, and Charles Burck. He calls it, "One of the best books written about implementation." In the business world, action and execution are everything. At the same time, if the execution isn't backed by consistency, it will fall short. This book outlines how to establish a leadership pipeline that will not only expand people's capabilities but will result in actions that are consistent with the strategy.
Adams encourages anyone interested in leadership to not only read about it but to associate with people whose leadership skills you admire. Coaches, mentors, and co-workers can give valuable insights and answers to many of life's questions. He says, "Going back to The Natural, it's not enough to have a gift. You need to develop it."
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