Based in Sydney, Australia, Foundry is a blog by Rebecca Thao. Her posts explore modern architecture through photos and quotes by influential architects, engineers, and artists.

5 Things I've Learned by Leading

I've been leading people in some capacity for a while, and of course I've been progressively increasing that capacity and responsibility over the years. Three years ago I began leading a staff of full time, paid, employees in addition to a large team of unpaid, but incredibly skilled and dedicated, volunteers. In that time I've learned a lot. I've learned a lot from reading some great books like "Winning", by Jack Welch, or "Leading at a Higher Level", by Ken Blanchard. I've also learned a lot in the past few years as I completed my Masters Degree in Organizational Performance. Despite these great resources though, I've learned the most "in the trenches" so to speak. That is, I've learned the most from actually leading people (novel concept, I know). So here are five things I've learned by just leading:

1. There is NO Substitute for Quality People... None.
Leadership requires a lot of things to get great results, and ultimately the leader is responsible. We can develop people, develop systems, develop process, and a host of other things. We can teach and coach, or exhort and drive. In the end, in my experience, there is absolutely nothing you can do as leader that will ever exceed the results that come from talented, quality, devoted people. I've learned that time spent finding, recruiting, and keeping, quality people is the best possible investment I can make. It may seem a bit obvious as you read it here, but let me tell you it really isn't in the moment. Quality, talented, people require little management which leaves more time for true leadership. It's my number one learning thus far and it amazes me how many leaders I see ignore this important concept. Go get the best people available and keep them.

2. Learn What "Fun" Is
My sense of "fun" is often different that other people I've found. For me, hard work is fun. I really enjoy digging into a project and putting hard work in until I achieve high quality results. It's not that I don't enjoy a good joke or something, but I definitely wouldn't thrive in one of those work environments where they play "the foosball" all day. When it comes to the people I hire, I attempt to hire people that have a similar ideal. This seems to work best. When it comes to volunteer teams, you don't have that luxury. There are all kinds of great people willing to serve and we need every one of them. The challenge as a leader is to learn what these people appreciate as "fun" and incorporate that into the work. This is really fresh for me, so I'm still getting comfortable with this concept. It's hard for me to appreciate other people's sense of "fun", but I've got to get much better. Work needs to be fun for it to be sustainable.

3. You Don't "Form" Teams
I love professional sports. Basketball, football, baseball, golf, I really enjoy them all. One thing I never do though is watch All Star games. I hate those things. It's a thrown together group of incredibly talented people that are obviously making zero effort to be a real team. They are just all out there to goof of and put on a good show. One of the things I quickly learned is that you can't just put together a team. You form a group, but you don't just form teams. Teams have to be made, crafted, designed, and structured. Teams are an incredible dynamic, and when they are clicking on all cylinders they can accomplish significantly more than any collection of individuals. Teams really are greater the sum of their parts, but they must be carefully crafted and coached. They can't just be formed on an org chart somewhere.

4.  Being Out in Front Takes Amazing Energy
One of the greatest responsibilities of leadership is anticipating. It's important to try and get a step or two ahead, looking down the road, and steering things in the right direction. There is that constant dance between being in the "now" and being two steps down the road. Back and forth, here and there, always looking, always anticipating, always adjusting. It takes an amazing amount of energy to accomplish. Even today I'm still learning how to effectively manage my energy more than my time. Energy, like time, is a finite resource. You've got to give it to the right things, and I'm still trying to figure that out.

5.  Simple Sticks
I wrote a lot more about this earlier on my blog in a post titled, "5 Compelling Reasons to Simplify" . Our world is incredibly complex, filled with a ton of stimuli. Research says that 65% of Americans would say they are bombarded by way too many adds. People are constantly being fed messages thousands of times every day, and to make it even worse many of these messages are conflicting. Because of this I learned very early that simplicity sticks. People don't have time for long and drawn out concepts, courses, and content. There is an art in simplicity that I'm still trying to master in which you can simplify without removing the important stuff. It's the art of compacting the complex to simple substance.


I'm still learning, working hard every day to become a more effective leader. For me, these are five of the more intriguing things I've learned along the way. What's the greatest leadership lessons you've learned thus far? I'd love to get your feedback and input in the comments bellow.

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