4 Things Leaders Must Learn to Do

Over the past twenty years, we’ve helped thousands of CEOs and presidents tackle their biggest challenges in our Course for Presidents at Aileron. We’ve talked about their pain, what’s holding them back, and what they wish they could do if they could just get unstuck. And from all of our conversations about growth and opportunity, we hit on a common theme: many leaders struggle to figure out what is the right thing to work on right now. Here are some of the takeaways we’ve discovered that should help you prioritize, focus and get the results you’re striving to achieve.

1. Just say no.

Today’s market offers no shortage of options. We’re buried with “good options” week in and week out — bombarded with the next great piece of technology, strategy or buzzword.

If we’re not careful, we get stuck in the constant waterfall of opportunity. As presidents, it’s easy to run first and ask questions second. We feel the urgency of a fast-paced world showing no signs of slowing down. But if we’re always saying “yes,” we’re never really showing up. We’re not doing the hard job of saying “no.” For every new opportunity, put it through the lens of your strategic plan, your vision for what you want to be different in the future. Have your team conduct a small test where you can study the outcome. And then, if it’s meeting your objectives, run with it, continue to learn and repeat the experiment. There is a time for idea generation and then there is also a time for focusing — your people need you to do both. 

2. Be a little selfish with your time.

As presidents, our weekly schedules are often full before we grab our Monday cup of coffee. We’re in meetings all day and taking calls during our commute. Some of this is simply the nature of our position advising multiple teams; we’re all busy and pressed for time.

But we’re only great in those meetings, calls and workshops when we spend time developing ourselves. We lead best when we know ourselves — our limits, values and flaws. If we don’t take the time to continue to evolve our leadership style, approach and skills, we’ll soon face barriers we can’t cross. Our team will be capped and our business will start to slip.

3. Give people room to grow.

As presidents, we’re in the people business. We play coach, advisor, consultant and delegator. When we walk into a room at our organization, people need us to do more than say the right thing at the right time. Our employees and partners don’t just crave direction, they need opportunities to develop and grow.

This type of work is easy to minimize or forget. But if we neglect our people, we neglect the most powerful part of this job. Invite honest and timely feedback, and ask your employees questions about their role. Be curious about their day, barriers to their work and ideas for growth. Seek to create environments that help people learn new skills, competencies and increase their personal value year after year. While courageous conversations don’t show up on a balance sheet, they have a strong rate of return.

4. Delegate today’s work and focus on tomorrow.

The economy is thriving. Jobs are plentiful and businesses are growing. But the economic experts are reminding us that this won’t always be the case. A recession will come and profits will slow. Revenue will dip and opportunities will dry up.

This tension is one of the hardest aspects of leading an organization in 2018; balancing the now with the next is difficult. Many of us have cash that can be spent and teams that can grow. But we also read the news and remember 2008. This conflict of plenty and pending scarcity often freezes us in our planning. It’s understandable that we rush between the two, uncertain and a little confused. But as presidents, we need to stay focused on the horizon. If we can responsibly delegate the tasks of today, we can free ourselves to plan a sustainable future that serves our customers.

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