43 Rules for Better Leadership

The first major management job that I had started with two crises on the day it was offered to me. I went straight into firefighting mode before I had even officially started the position. The last big management job that I started was almost the exact opposite – I walked into the office on the first day, sat down, looked at the empty desk and thought to myself “what am I supposed to do now?”

In both cases, I could have used the advice contained in 42 Rules for Your New Leadership Role by Pam Fox-Rollin. It’s a very practical book that would be useful for anyone in a leadership role.

There are a couple of things that I like about this book. One is that it breaks down management into a number of key themes – including setting up a strategy, figuring out what’s going in your new role, making a positive impact quickly, developing a management system, learning, and encouraging growth within your team.

The last point is the other thing that I like about the book – Fox-Rollin talks about the importance of providing support when you’re in a leadership role. I believe that managing is more about removing obstacles for your team than it is about directing people, and the book seems to be reasonably well aligned with this belief (Fox-Rollin expands on the importance of getting everyone on your team to lead in this interview with Nilofer Merchant).

Here is what she says about learning from mistakes – a critical skill in innovation:

Remember your team will be looking to you, especially the first couple of times things go wrong. If you stay focused on serving your customer and improving the system, you’re teaching your team what to do. If you hide problems, shade truth, and lay blame, expect more of the same.

When a problem arises, reach out right away – to your team members, customers. Express your commitment to making things right, then fire up your curiosity and interview people as if for a case study. Save any non-urgent fixes until you and your team have developed a solid picture of the factors that contributed to the problem; consider faulty processes, limited frames of thinking, poor information, overly-simplistic metrics and incentives, even your lack of experience in picking up early signs of trouble.
Repair the short-term damage, share the learnings across the team, and improve your processes. You leave the screw-up with processes and team stronger than before. Onward!

In addition to Fox-Rollins 42 rules, I would add one more:

Plan Your Change Agenda and Figure Out How Much Scope for Action You Have.

In other words, figure out how much you can get away with.

Every new manager has some mandate for change – it can be big or small. And every one has some ability to implement ideas in order to test out what does work and what doesn’t. Figure out how to take advantage of these two things.

Your best chance to innovate in a new position is at the start of it. Don’t get too flustered by crises, or too intimidated by the big empty desk – these will both distract you from making that early impact.

All managers need to innovate – it’s how we get things to change. So develop an innovation plan for your new leadership role as well.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

7 thoughts on “43 Rules for Better Leadership

  1. Good insights, Tim. I appreciate you sharing them. It’s important to remain focused on resolving the immediate crisis – not on placing blame. And reaching out to the customer(s) being negatively impacted by the situation can build long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships. (Ecosystems, natch!)

    This all reminds me of Umair Haque’s “Builder’s Manifesto,” specificaly, “The Boss assigns the task. The Leader sets the pace. The Builder sees the outcome.” Powerful stuff. (Hanging in the cube next to your divergent/emergent/convergent ideation funnel, by the way.)

    The real kicker to this post, however, is the reminder to look into just how much we can get away with. How are we supposed to “think outside the box,” if we don’t even know the limits of the box?


  2. It does link pretty well with Umair’s manifesto Brian – I hadn’t thought of that – thanks!

    The “how much can you get away with?” idea is an important one, I think, which is why I keep pushing it! :-)

  3. Tim,
    Really appreciate your post. You’re right “best time to innovate in a new position is at the start of it” – such a challenge to grasp what’s going on with your new group without becoming buried under it!

    Absolutely, you can come out of a customer-facing screwup with a stronger relationship. As one of my mentors used to say, you get two chances to delight your customers – before you screw up and after you screw up.

  4. Thanks for stopping by Pam. I’m glad my addition doesn’t seem too wacky.

    Good luck with the book – it really turned out well, I think.

  5. Okay, I have to point this out, because it’s killing me…

    Didn’t you write a post awhile back about lists? (Also, if there is a list, best to keep it under 5, or up to 10 at the most)

    I know that this is a book riff and not strictly a list post, but it had to be said:-)

    – Greg

  6. That was the joke in the title Greg! I was wondering if anyone would get it. I almost wrote about that in the post, but figured I’d just let people work it out for themselves. 😀

  7. Now I feel special:-)

    The thing is, list posts usually outperform (also “How to” and “Myth” posts).

    One of the funny things about user experience is how well conventions work:-)

    – Greg

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