My Twitter update the other day read, “I really am the professor with so much to learn about my students.” My students happen to be in the classes I teach at Regis University, those that report me in businesses I work for, and those that I advise about their business start-ups. My students are from various demographic backgrounds. Of my students it’s the new entrepreneurs that are the most fascinating to me.
Over the past 15 plus years, I’ve been advisor to some of the best talent in the digital industry. The enthusiasm my students bring is at times inspirational and exhausting. The exhausting part is trying to teach these talented people about management and ethics.
This new breed of entrepreneurs bring the hope of exciting new businesses, products and in some cases industries. But most are inexperienced in management and lacking in formal business acumen. Some even dropped out of college and never even held a corporate job. Lately some of the questions I get asked from this new breed of entrepreneurs leads me to believe there needs to be a handbook on leadership for them.
Businesses are not just about the products produced and services supplied; business is about the employees (resources) that help you attain your objectives and promise of profitability. The relationships you cultivate with your employees can best be seen by the work environment you as a leader create. A good relationship with your employees can help in achieving optimum business results.
The question always posed, “are leaders born or made?” My answer some leaders are born but great leaders are made and trained. Leadership should be an important course that undergrads and graduate students should be required to take when studying business. Some higher educational institutions offer such courses. This is a great if you are attending school but what if you opt out? How do you achieve business success without understanding the basics of employee management?
Here is some very helpful advice on shaping yourself as leader – it’s about being the best leader for your business, employees, partners and investors.
In undergrad I took, “Modern Political Theory”, taught by Philip Zampini, PhD, at Albertus Magnus College. Before doing my MBA at Regis University this course was the closest course on leadership I took. Political philosophy may not be the best way to understand business management but it certainly taught me some important lessons about the human condition and leadership.
For instance Machiavelli wrote in Book III, Chapter XXIX, “Let not princes complain of the faults committed by the people subjected to their authority, for they result entirely from their own negligence or bad example”. The lesson for leaders is simple take responsibility for your actions there can be unintended consequences otherwise. The rule of “do as I say and not as do” is unacceptable and an outdated form of management. Employees learn by example, and as a leader you are setting that example. If you want the best leader for your employees set the right example for you employees to follow. Follow the “Golden Rule”. If don’t know what this is you can get a quick education from Harry J. Gensler, S.J.
I also learned a few things from reading Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. Sun Tze may not apply to modern business but some theories have valid application in today’s business world if thought through clearly. Such as, “Keep your friends/family close but your enemies closer”, I interpret this as watch your competition then buy them and consolidate.
But, it was Max DuPree, CEO of Herman Miller, offered me a thoughtful and empathic look at leadership in his “Leadership is an Art”.
Simple guiding principles:
- Always take responsibility for your actions – pointing the finger at your employees only means you have no control.
- Being honest creates less stress and doubt in the minds of your employees.
- Be confident but not overly exuberant. Facts can always be traced.
- The good for one employee, is not necessarily the good for all.
- Divide and conquer never works in business.
- Management by chaos only creates confusion and slows productivity.
- Transparency is important especially in a start-up.
- Be as strategic with hiring your resources as you are with your business strategy.
- Employees work for you – they are not maids, servants, friends, relatives, lovers
- Practicality and logic have its place in leadership so does empathy.
- Leadership isn’t showmanship – leadership provides business story, definitions, clarity, creates the team environment, but it’s not a three ring circus.
- Find a mentor/advisor that’s a good business person someone you trust and admire and has a successful track record in running businesses, managing employees, and failing.
- Teach your employees to manage you.
- Management by objective, as Peter Drucker advises keeps your employees focused on the strategic objectives.
- Dr. Smith, a character from Lost in Space would say, “Yours is not to question why yours to do as I say or die” not a good way to go! Employees who ask question are the most valuable employees of all.
Over the past several years there has been so much unethical behavior in business that it would be refreshing to see the new breed entrepreneurs adopt ethical practices to reflect a new breed of business leaders.
I believe ethics are an important part of a successful business. When you take a course of action that serves your employees, shareholders and customers from an ethical perspective you have a greater chance of succeeding for long term. Most of my ethical training was received from Regis University’s MBA program. Each business course had ethical considerations applied to it.