Accueil > Leadership > Stop Complaining and Roll Up Your Sleeves (and Other Little-Known Leadership Lessons)

Stop Complaining and Roll Up Your Sleeves (and Other Little-Known Leadership Lessons)

There’s no instruction manual for leadership, and even if there were one, you don’t need it. Experience is the very best teacher you can have.

College and even business school are important foundations, but the lessons that stay with you throughout your career are different.

During my four decades in leadership roles at Deloitte, I’ve learned a great number of lessons about what it takes to lead a team, or an office, or a company. Here are three of the most important (and yet, least talked about in management books):

1. Look for answers, not just problems.

As the 1960s slogan put it: “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.”

Given half a chance, people will criticize just about anything. When pressed, however, most people don’t have practical answers about how to fix the problem. In many cases, they simply don’t want the responsibility.

When considering the facts at hand, a leader must separate constructive criticism that can improve performance from unhelpful whining. You can’t please everyone with every decision you make, nor should you try. What’s important is to listen carefully, hear all sides, and then act, making the best decision for the organization.

My point is straightforward: when you raise a tough problem, the hardest and most worthwhile course is to offer a workable solution – or at least a piece of one. In doing so, you become part of the solution that can help make your organization better.

I too have been guilty of complaining about problems without making an effort to find a solution. I made partner in Deloitte, Haskin & Sells in 1985. In 1989 my firm merged with Touche Ross to become Deloitte & Touche. When the newly-created Deloitte & Touche began the process of assessing who would be promoted to partner the next year, I complained to anyone who would listen that the new process (adopted from Touche Ross) was ineffective and simply “a beauty pageant” compared to the process I’d gone through a few years earlier. The leader responsible for partner admissions that year gave me a challenge, to join the effort and be part of the process. He already knew what I didn’t – that simply complaining helps no one, and gets you nowhere. If you want to change something, be ready to roll your sleeves up.

2. Make the world smaller.

Many big companies have discovered there’s a direct correlation between morale and office size: the smaller the size, the greater the commitment and the higher the morale. It’s that small business feeling that a smaller office creates.

Obviously, you can’t reduce the size of every office or every team, but you can make your world seem smaller – through the power of paying attention.

Successful leaders narrow the gap by making time for people. True leaders show an interest; they listen to ideas and concerns. By being closely engaged, they cue into the obvious and not-so-obvious issues that may arise within a project, an office, or a team. Big companies start to feel like small ones, where everyone knows everyone, and cares about their success.

Working to make your world smaller is an effective tool for any leader. When I started my current role as Global CEO of Deloitte, I set up a global advisory council, where partners from every Deloitte member firm around the world would be represented. Each council serves a one year term, and meets regularly to give me input on global strategy and initiatives. These partners are my sounding board, my advisors, and help strengthen my connection with the rest of their colleagues.

3. Bust the myths.

Winston Churchill said that “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth gets its pants on.” Rumors and conjecture always make better headlines.

Myths, rumors, and misperceptions are a drag on the process of any organization. But if you don’t set the record straight, who will? Please understand: no one is expecting you to play cheerleader or Pollyanna. But as a leader, you must strive to be candid and credible in telling the real story.

I was CEO of Deloitte U.S. when the global financial crisis first unfolded. I don’t have to tell readers of this blog how frightening this time was for many people. With headlines delivering more bad news every day, people at Deloitte were worried too. It was my responsibility as a leader to be transparent with our people. So I held a series of town hall events right across the country, where people could ask me any question, could raise any concern, and I promised to be straight with them. Sometimes the answers were difficult. Sometimes we just didn’t know yet what would happen. But I made sure we kept talking.

You don’t need to wait for a time of crisis to start straight-talking. Take the time to understand what your business stands for, what its core purpose is, how it makes a difference in the world, and what makes it special. And then talk about it with your teams, with your customers, with your stakeholders.

What lessons have you learned about leadership through your own experience? How did these make you a more effective or more inspiring leader? Please add your voice to the conversation in the comments section below.

Barry Salzberg is the Global CEO of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited ( Click the ‘Follow’ link below to stay up to date with Barry’s exclusive LinkedIn Influencer content.

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