Miscellaneous ramblings on leadership

Oct 08, 2023

Parenting is a lot like leadership in a business in that your behavior affects everyone and your actions determine how harshly you will be judged.

My wife and I went out to dinner with some friends of ours last night. They are a great couple – both professionals, each owns their own business – and very successful. The husband is a particularly reflective and open guy.

He has a really good relationship with each of their children. He said he recalled thinking back when their kids were much younger that he was really a great dad. He did everything with them, and was fun and took them on a lot of trips and more. But that said, looking back, he realized he wasn’t such a perfect parent. He felt guilty about several instances where he was – at least in his mind – too hard on his kids. Now that they are older he has talked with them about it, and told them that he would have handled things differently today.

It got me thinking of my own experiences as a parent and business owner. Parenting IS a lot like leadership in a business. And it’s not because you as the leader should treat your employees as if they are children. They aren’t, and they probably wouldn’t appreciate it if you did. Yet, the similarity is there – because both as a parent and business owner/manager, your behavior affects everyone else in the organization. And your personality and actions determine how harshly you will be judged for any of your own behaviors that are or were less than ideal.

Here are my thoughts on how to be a better leader who gets results but doesn’t create a wake of unhappy and dispirited people behind you:

  1. Be willing to admit your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. Whether it was heading in a direction that didn’t work out, hiring someone who turned out to be a dud, or overreacting and losing control of your temper – there are things we do that we regret later. The sooner you can bring those events up and talk about them and admit your errors, the better. Everyone screws up, even the boss. But being able to freely admit it publicly will allow you to make mistakes – sometimes big ones – and be forgiven. That’s invaluable if you want to be an effective leader.
  2. Be forgiving of others. Sure, there are some instances where people who work for you will do things that are unforgivable. There could be situations where they do something illegal or unethical, or so egregious that they must suffer some real consequences. But there are many more instances where people make mistakes or do dumb things that ARE forgivable. Forgive! Don’t hold grudges. Be willing to correct unhealthy behaviors and then move on. The ability to truly forgive is essential for a real leader in the AEC business, or any business, for that matter.
  3. Be helpful and non-transactional. Leadership is not all about, “you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” It may just be about, “I will scratch your back if you need it.” Being known as someone who is helpful to other people when they need it will always help solidify one’s position as a leader. And it’s not good enough to just respond with help when asked. Sometimes, you, as the leader, need to offer up help BEFORE you get asked. You just do it. And don’t expect any payback when you do. That is YOUR job as the leader.
  4. Watch what you say about anyone else. As one gets closer to some of those who work for you, the temptation will arise to talk about other people who work in the organization – perhaps not in a positive way. You cannot do it. I say this as someone who has been guilty of this crime in the past. It can be really costly in terms of morale and your ability to lead. Individual allegiances may change over time, and you don’t want to be known as someone who can trash other people behind their backs when one of your people tells someone else what you (at one time) said about them.
  5. Always assume the best intentions. You can disagree with any of my earlier points if you like, but one quality I have observed in every single effective leader/manager I have ever worked with is this: They assume the other guy or gal has good intentions. If you can do that, you are going to deal with other people more appropriately every time. You cannot ascribe evil intent as your first reaction to limited exposure to any one individual. Reserve that judgement for later and try to understand why someone else has done what they did. It will make you a better leader.

Mark Zweig is Zweig Group’s chairman and founder. Contact him at mzweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.