“Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and you help them become what they are capable of being.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
I studied the best leaders and leaders-of-leaders over 25 years at Microsoft. I learned a lot about what great leadership looks like and what terrible leadership looks like. Here are the 7 habits I observed among the best of the best:
- The best leaders bring out your best. The best leaders get you. They see who you are and what you’re capable of, even when you don’t see it in yourself. They challenge you to become the greatest version of yourself.
- The best leaders empower. Some leaders seek power, while other seek to empower. The best leaders push decisions to the edge where the action is and empower people to do what they do best.
- The best leaders focus on strengths. The worst focus on weaknesses. Whenever there is an energy, motivation, or productivity challenge on a team, people are spending too much time in their weaknesses and not enough time in their strengths.
- The best leaders focus on learning and growth. The worst leaders are Know-It-Alls. The best leaders are Learn-It-Alls. And the best-of-the best truly embrace diversity, no matter how different from them, they are.
- The best leaders balance directing and supporting. The worst leaders micro-manage. The best leaders know when someone needs more direction versus when someone needs more encouragement.
- The best leaders build vulnerability-based trust. Vulnerability-based trust is when someone has your back. When someone has your back, you go out on a limb, not worried someone will chop off the limb. The worst leaders create triangulation on the team. The best leaders create true trust. (Aside–This is the hallmark of high-performance teams & leaders).
- The best leaders inspire through vision, mission, and values. The worst leaders assign work. The best leaders start with WHY. They inspire the team to great work and meaningful missions. They generate energy by empowering every individual to give their best, where they have their best to give.
These are all very learnable behaviors. But they all start from the idea that you care about the people you are leading.
What did 25 years of leadership at Microsoft teach me? Ultimately, what matters and what works. If I were to boil it all down to one line, I would say: Leadership is the empowerment of others in the direction of their dreams.