His Thoughts, My Tips on How to Be a Great Leader

Posted 07.17.2009

For the past several months, the New York Times has been running interviews on leadership with the CEO’s of well known organizations. They’re almost always interesting. Sometimes I agree with the points they make, sometimes I learn something new and, honestly, sometimes I find myself wondering, “How did this person become a CEO?” The latest Times interview subject is Dave Novak, CEO of Yum Brands. I think it’s the best one in the series so far.

Yum-novak To counteract the karma of my last post about how terrible leadership helped blow up AIG, I thought I’d share seven thoughts from Dave Novak on how to be a great leader along with a tip from me on how to follow through on that thought. The bold face points are direct quotes from Novak, my accompanying tip is in plain face type:

If you have someone who’s smart, talented, aggressive and wants to learn, then your job is to help them become all they can be.  When you think back on your own development as a leader, you probably grew the most through big stretch assignments that took you out of your comfort zone. Look for and create opportunities for your best people to be even better by asking them to lead new initiatives or fix important things that are broken.

The best leaders are really pattern thinkers. Build your capacity for seeing the bigger picture by doing three things. 1.Get into the habit of regularly asking yourself, “What are we really trying to do here?”  2. Question your assumptions. 3. Read outside your area of responsibility or expertise and look for insights that can be applied to your work.

If you’re the leader, you’ve got to provide the coaching. Coaching is about asking questions, not giving the answers. Accelerate the development of your best people by asking questions like, “What did you learn from this?” Help them process the lessons they can learn from experience and determine how to apply those lessons going forward.

Make sure that you’re focusing on action versus activity. Think about the outcomes you’re trying to create over the course of the year and then reverse engineer back from that to determine the actions that are most likely to lead to the results you want.  Share this approach with your team and coach them to continually assess whether their involved in actions or activities.

No one’s going to care about you unless you care about them. It’s all too easy for results oriented leaders to overlook the importance of connecting with people. Make it a habit to open a meeting or conversation with a couple of questions about the other person. Learn what’s important to them and look for ways to act on that.

You care enough to give them direct feedback. As Novak suggests in his interview and Ken Blanchard recommends in the The One Minute Manager, start your feedback with what they’re doing  that you appreciate. Tell them what the positive impact is of their action. Then connect your developmental feedback to how it will help both them and the organization be even more effective.

When you’re the leader, people want to see you. The larger the leadership role, the more demands there are on your time.  I encourage leaders to think about their communications and visibility strategies as both retail and wholesale opportunities. Retail visibility is in person and usually one on one or in small groups. Wholesale visibility makes use of large group meetings and technology (e.g. web conferencing, video and teleconferencing, blogging, Twitter, etc.) to consistently get key messages out and maintain dialogue with a broader audience.

There was a lot more wisdom in Novak’s audience than there is space in a short blog post to cover them.  Take a look at it and let me know a couple of things.  What are your taking away from the Novak interview?  What thoughts or tips would you add to the list of what great leaders do and how to do it?