Five More Rules For Great Leadership

“Free enterprise means that the more enterprising you are, the freer you are.”

Mark Victor Hansen coined the phrase above. And it’s a good one. It goes right along with Charles Sykes’ eleven rules, found in his book, Dumbing Down Our Kids. The rules, however, apply to anyone who wants success in his or her career.

Last week I gave you the first three rules. Here’s a few more — along with my commentary.

Rule 4: “If you think your teacher is tough, wait till you get a boss.”

I’ve often told managers in my workshops to expect a lot from their people. Oh sure, the employees may gripe about the workload or the extremely high expectations of quality, but you’re doing them a favor. You’re building their self-esteem.

Think about it this way. Think about the teacher or the boss who let you slide by without really performing. Oh, you might have felt lucky or relieved — that you got away with something — but you never felt proud of yourself or your work.

By contrast, think of the teacher back in high school who made you work, work, work. Even though you might have complained about it, that was the teacher you respected. And that was the teacher who helped you realize how good you could be. And the same is true at work. You respect the boss who brought out your best — because that boss helped you respect yourself.

Rule 5: “Flipping burgers is not beneath your dignity. Your grandparents had a different word for burger-flipping. They called it ‘opportunity’.”

In essence, successful people have a dream. The have a well-defined purpose. They have definite goals. They know what they want. So it doesn’t matter to them if they have a few jobs — like flipping burgers — that aren’t that exciting. They simply use that job as a steppingstone on their way to the goals they want to achieve.

Successful people go out and do what others don’t want to do. And their strong desire brings strong results.

By contrast, the losers in life are more interested in excuses. They’re looking for explanations as to why they haven’t made it in life.

Such was the case with John. John often lived at my house when I was growing up. He was drunk a good portion of the time, but my father took it on himself to sober up John, counsel him, and find him jobs. My father tried to give John a new start in life.

In reality, John would sober up, go to work, work hard for two weeks, collect his first paycheck, and then go on a two-week drunk. He never showed up for the job again, and, of course, he was inevitably fired.

But when John was sober, as a child I enjoyed listening to him. He was the big talker, always talking about what he “was going to do.” He talked about that “big break” or “special job” that would be coming his way. Everything else was “beneath” him. And he always had a great excuse or an incredible story as to why he hadn’t made it “yet.”

Even though I liked John, I would have to put him in that loser category. He was more interested in excuses than seeing the “opportunities” in his life.

Rule 6: “If you mess up, it’s not your parents’ fault. So don’t whine about your mistakes; learn from them.”

I suspect this is a tough rule for many people to swallow. After all, our culture has shifted dramatically in the last fifty years.

It used to be that most people lived by the philosophy that said, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” In other words, “I am responsible for my life. Good or bad — I have to make the best out of the life I have.”

Now, however, a large number of people in our culture are refusing to take responsibility. They want to blame someone else for their misfortunes. So you see the craziest lawsuits — where someone blamed the maker of Hostess Twinkies for turning him into a murderer — or someone else blames a manufacturer for producing a product that makes him sick, even though he freely chooses to consume too much of the product.

I saw a sign that read, “Frustration is not having anybody to blame but yourself.”

What about you? And what about your coworkers? When things go wrong, do you see people looking for other people to blame? Or are you seeing people take on the problem as a chance to learn and improve? The first response will keep you stuck. The second response will bring you success.

Rule 7: “Before you were born, your parents weren’t as boring as they are now. They got that way from paying your bills, cleaning your clothes, and listening to you talk about how cool you thought you were. So before you save the rain forest from the parasites of your parent’s generation, try delousing the closet in your own room.”

Years ago, Benjamin Whichcote talked about this when he said, “None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.” Boy, is that ever true!

Clinical psychologist Dr. Bev Smallwood wrote about the difference between arrogance and confidence. Arrogant people see themselves as better than others. Their attitudes and actions seem to imply that they know it all, that they’re never wrong.

By contrast, confident people believe in themselves. They believe they can tackle new and difficult tasks. But they also acknowledge their need for help from others. In fact, truly confident people listen to others and even take correction from them. As William Safire said, “Nobody stands taller than those wiling to stand corrected.”

Peter Marshall, the former chaplain to the U.S. Congress, summed it up this way. He prayed “Lord, where we are wrong, make us willing to change; and where we are right, make us easy to live with.”

Rule 8: “Your school may have done away with winners and losers, but life has not. In some schools they have abolished failing grades, and they’ll give you as many times as you want to get the right answer. This doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to anything in real life.”

Such an approach, supposedly, preserves self-esteem — but I wonder. I’ve researched, spoken on, and written about self-esteem for years, and I have never found anything to support the notion that self-esteem is built in a false environment where no one ever fails.

Quite the opposite. If you look at the story of almost any highly successful person, you will find that he or she made lots of mistakes — just like everyone else. The difference between the winner and the loser came in his/her response to those mistakes. The winner admitted his mistakes, fixed them, and moved on. By contrast, the loser spent his time, money, and energy defending his mistakes.

What about you? Do you have the courage to admit your mistakes? As entrepreneur Harvey Mackay says, “One mistake will never kill you.” So don’t worry about it. Deal with it. Learn from it.

But make sure you learn. Even though one mistake won’t kill your self-esteem, Mackay goes on to say, “the same mistake over and over again will.”

Action:  Take the test on arrogance and confidence. Ask yourself these questions.

Are you arrogant or confident? Are you more interested in being right or are you more interested in being your best? Are you more defensive or are you more receptive when others challenge you? Are you more concerned with who is right or what is right?

Arrogant people answer “yes” to the first part of the question. Confident people answer “yes” to the second part of the question.