Leadership is often the things you don’t do

Many years ago, I was involved in a car accident. As a novice driver who had just received his license, I was unable to control my speed, subsequently crashing into a roadside pylon. Apart from some minor cuts and a bruised ego, I’d miraculously emerged unscathed, which is more than I could say for my dad’s beloved vintage car. It was ruined.

Several hours later, I sheepishly awaited my fate at the police station. I was feeling anxious ahead of the expected confrontation with my dad, who was en route to collect his reckless offspring. I remember him walking straight past me with a steely reserve. Completing the necessary paperwork and formalities, he finally acknowledged my existence with an impatient jerk of the head, motioning for me to follow him outside. I braced myself for the telling-off of a lifetime.

So you can imagine my surprise at being handed the keys to his car. “You drive” were the only words spoken. Already a nervous wreck from having ruined one car, I was too shaken to even entertain the prospect of getting behind the wheel again so soon. I vehemently pleaded otherwise, but my protests were futile. The matter wasn’t up for discussion, and ‘you drive’ would be the only words exchanged between us that day. At the time, in what seemed like an interminable drive home, the poignancy of the moment was completely lost upon me.

Many years on however, I’ve come to fully appreciate what was imparted to me that day. I owe my parents gratitude for a great many things, but perhaps the most valuable life lesson they equipped me with is to approach every endeavor with complete fearlessness. Rather than opting to drive, this was my dad’s way of forcing me to face my demons head-on. There was no place for fear, or the hampering emotions that accompany it. Explaining why would not have gone amiss to my young and impressionable self, but I wonder would it have created the same lasting impact?

Making the transition from being an individual contributor to managing people, you inevitably start to develop your own style of leadership, which is often shaped by ones own influences. When I look at the values central to my leadership philosophy, I proudly recognize many of the behaviors core to how my parents nurtured our household: giving encouragement, offering support and guidance when needed, but always allowing the space to get on with finding one’s own truths.

I must particularly emphasize encouragement, because as humans, we all get stuck and sometimes need that extra little push. In true homage to my dad’s behavior, I’ll never be inclined to deliver all the answers on a plate. But one of the things I feel strongly about when it comes to mentoring my team, is to push them towards becoming the very best version of themselves they can be as a Marketer. The notion of asking for ‘ones best’ is so very important, because it fosters a high-performance culture where there’s rarely any room for regrets or ‘what ifs?’. And if you’ve genuinely put your best foot forward – even if what you attempt to accomplish fails, you know it wasn’t from a lack of trying.

Hubspot managed to sum it all up in their Culture Code; ‘People want direction on where they’re going, not directions for how to get there’. Besides being an inspiring read for even the most hardened cynic, it’s indicative of the kind of cultural leadership we see becoming more and more prevalent in organizations that have an enlightened approach to management. We don’t need to micromanage or mollycoddle employees, we need to engage and inspire them to mobilise around the things that are important.

Which of course brings me back to this idea of complete fearlessness when tackling whatever life throws at you. We live in an era of infinite possibility, and as someone who’s started his own business only to see it fold within two short years, I know a thing or two about how to bounce back. Life is too short to be crippled by anxiety, or debilitated by the fear of the unknown. As a leader, you must give people the room to establish their own sense of self, which sometimes can result in failure. But that’s OK. Some of the most motivational people out there have often spoken about the character-building experience of failing professionally. Within reason, allowing for it to happen is one of the most magnanimous leadership traits you can demonstrate as an individual.

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