‘Credibility is foremost;’ communication, flexibility, loyalty, directness also key“I am easily satisfied with the very best.”    -- Winston Churchill

A number of my clients and colleagues have recently ascended to greater positions of leadership at the top ranks of their companies. There's suddenly even more to do, but have they paused long enough to consider how they should start ... or even if they need to do anything differently?

Here are seven key attributes of successful new leaders you can embrace to give yourself a running start. (Existing leaders will also benefit from reading along and making course corrections where necessary.)

1. Credibility is foremost. Without it, you'll look over your shoulder and find no one there. You need to do it by being committed to learning, being humble about what you don't know and proving to your team that you're building a transparent and collaborative organization -- and that they are a critical part of it. Roll up your sleeves and learn before barking out orders.

2. Communication is leadership. There's no substitute, you can't ignore it and you can't do too much of it. Uncertainty and ambiguity are genuine obstacles for your teammates. Most of us fill the void of uncertainly with monsters and hobgoblins, fearful that the worst is upon us since we don't know otherwise. Give me the real news, even if it's bad. Don't make me guess. I'm terrible at it and only think the worst ... and probably do my worst. If I can trust you to tell me the unvarnished truth, I'm with you all the way.

3. Don't kill the messenger. As a corollary to Rule #2, you'll need to create a penalty-free environment by encouraging forthright but respectful conversation. Tell everyone to be direct. Say it, good or bad. Don't keep secrets. You'll be better off if you tell the truth, however painful, than burying secrets in the back yard.

4. Dedication trumps inexperience. Your colleagues want to see that you're dedicated -- like the pig providing bacon rather than the chicken donating eggs. A sense of entitlement is a noxious odor that will scuttle your plans, and trust me on this, even a whiff of this scent can be fatal. See rule #1, above.

Some of you may be already riding this bus. If so, get off at this stop, but recognize you're at the bottom of a difficult hill and you'll need to slog your way back up. There won't be many hands to help you up this hill so be prepared for some heavy sledding.

For emerging leaders, don't be tempted to get on this bus. If you're smart, you'll sneak into the motor pool one night and hook this bus up to some explosives. (On a related note, I share my conviction that a sense of entitlement among young family scions is at the heart of why few family businesses make it to the third generation.)

5. Be loyal to your people. Not blind, not stupid, but loyal to their passions and commitment. Give them room to fall -- to fail even. Encourage them to experiment ... and let them know you'll help them get back up if they've learned from the experience and redouble their efforts the next time.

6. Flexibility is underrated. I’ve frequently touted flexibility as a critical leadership skill (see The Four Pillars of Long-Term Success). But it's a magic elixir for new or emerging leaders. It doesn't mean you should be a doormat or a windsock. It does mean you should avoid commitments, particularly long and expensive ones, that don't have an escape hatch. Listen. Learn. Tread lightly until you've mastered the recipe ... and take this attribute with you everywhere you go. (Examples: Make sure outsourcing won't work before replacing that option with a large capital expenditure. Consider temp-to-hire for key positions, if possible, before making a hiring decision you may regret.)

7. Get some early wins. Even if you have to pick some low-hanging fruit, show your team that they can win with you, that you'll live and die for them and that if everyone gets on the right seat on the bus, good things will happen.

To summarize: Build an interminable pile of credibility. Communicate. Listen carefully. Dedicate yourself fully to the success of your business. Be loyal, flexible and victorious. Do it while having fun and celebrating your family and community ... and you'll never work another day in your life.



Lary Kirchenbauer is the president of Exkalibur Advisors Inc., providing practical business strategies for family and other privately owned businesses in the middle market. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy, and uses the Business Ferret framework to help companies use strategic finance to drive improved business performance. Lary also hosts the Exkalibur Leadership Forum for leaders of middle market companies in the North Bay. Please visit www.exkalibur.com for a library of valuable resources, articles and insights or join the Exkalibur fan page on Facebook.