During graduation season, I enjoy tuning in to C-SPAN to watch this year’s crop of commencement speeches. They’re inspiring and often funny, and my learning style leans more toward listening than reading.
Some such speeches gain greater traction than others. Admiral Willam McRaven’s “Make Your Bed,” currently #1 on the New York Times advice and self-help bestseller list, is based on his 2014 commencement speech at the University of Texas.
Making your bed is a metaphor for doing the little things right. McRaven also touts the value of completing a task first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day. I recommend the book.
In 2005, Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic leader, gave a renowned commencement speech at Stanford University. It was notable for what he said, and because he made few such appearances before his death in 2011, the fact that he said it.
You might remember Jobs for his drive, determination, stubbornness, laser focus, and innovative thinking. He could envision what others could not, and was fanatical about turning his
dreams into consumer products.
If there’s any truth in the three movies made about him to date, he also was a self-centered jerk. His disrespect for others was legendary.
Colleagues’ descriptions of Jobs don’t jibe with words that typically define a successful leader: accountable, team player, genuine, honest, strong, and real.
Steve Jobs was in a successful partnership that created extraordinary products. He then almost killed his own company, and was booted from Apple. He came back, led the company to financial greatness and died as an icon.
Through it all, Jobs didn’t seem to feel the need to change personally, though he was certainly interested in having others change. That’s not unique to him.
Many business owners find it tough to work to close the gap between the skills needed at the startup stage and those needed once the business grows and adds clients, overhead, products and employees.
In “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Marshall Goldsmith identifies twenty bad habits that effective leaders must break to take themselves, their people and companies to a better place.
Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review backs Goldsmith up in finding that the lack of what are called “soft skills,” not technical skills, is what destroys careers and potentially companies.
These are the abilities needed to succeed as a supervisor, manager, director, vice president and leader of an organization. They require learning how to manage people and processes to achieve results without disengaging employees, business partners or clients along the way.
My observation is that it is a very rare business owner, CEO or entrepreneur who is actively working on developing such skills themselves.
The issue is that owners often believe that the sun rises and sets on what is happening inside the four walls of their company, or sometimes simply what’s going on between their ears. Such leaders fall into the trap of becoming Legends in Their Own Minds.
Using Goldsmith’s book as the scorecard, here are ten of the bad habits these legendary business owners exhibit with subordinates:
• Speaking when angry and using emotional volatility as a management tool.
• Adding too much value, due to an overwhelming desire to add two cents to every topic, regardless of whether anyone wants or needs the input.
• Passing judgment, to scratch an itch to publically rate others and impose one’s own standards on others.
• Making destructive comments with needless sarcasm and cutting remarks, in a misguided attempt to sound sharp and witty.
• Failing to express gratitude, thus exhibiting the most basic form of bad manners.
• Telling the world how smart they are, thanks to a need to remind people the owner is smarter than employees think.
• Sharing negative thoughts even when not asked for input.
• Failing to give recognition, due to an inability to offer praise and rewards.
• Punishing the messenger, which reflects a misguided need to attack those who are usually only trying to help the owner.
• Mistaking faults for virtues, by displaying bad behavior, then excusing it as acceptable, but only for the owner, not for others.
Incidentally, Steve Jobs exhibited all of these behaviors while leading Apple. Jobs will be remembered for his Stanford commencement speech, but I’m willing to bet he’ll also be remembered for being a jerk at work.
Each of us will be remembered for our actions and for how we treat each other every day.
Regardless of your age or station in life, what will your life’s legacy look like?
Ken Keller is an executive coach who works with small and midsize B2B company owners, CEOs and entrepreneurs. He facilitates formal top executive peer groups for business expansion, including revenue growth, improved internal efficiencies, and greater profitability. Please contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.