Whether you’ve experienced an outstanding childhood or one that left you yearning for more, I am sure that at one point or another you promised yourself that you would do certain things differently when you became a parent. Many people cringe at the thought of rearing a child just like their parents, then shortly thereafter they hear themselves repeating some antiquated parental statement while disciplining their own children. The same thing exists when we become leaders in the workplace. If you aren’t intentional about breaking a cycle, that cycle will continue for generations at home, and produce mediocre results in the workplace. Now, let’s think about some of your best bosses. I would be willing to bet that the best leaders you have worked with and for aren’t those who always produced hockey stick growth year over year. I would guess that what made that person great has everything to do with the level of emotional intelligence that they brought to the workplace every day. It is likely that this person motivated, encouraged, and supported you to be better than you ever thought you could be. This person never marginalized you or made you feel less than for anything that you did. They always had the unique ability to make you feel like the work was secondary to your development. What this leader knew was that if you were engaged and felt supported that the work that you produced would help the business be successful and sustainable. The most important trait that this leader had is that she didn’t suffer from insecurity or imposter syndrome and if she did, you never knew it.
Let’s also think about the time when we worked with or for someone who lacked emotional intelligence, exuded insecurity, and had an ego that turned off anyone he encountered. After just a few days of working with this person, we may have had the thought “when I am the boss, I am going to do things differently!” Guess what, either you have the chance right now to live up to those thoughts and if it hasn’t happened yet, keep working, it is likely on its way. It is up to you to be intentional about being a different parent…or leader. I have worked with a list of leaders that have been great motivators and mentors. Truly exceptional at relating to the team, pushing that team to achieve far beyond what they thought was possible by building trust as the foundation of how they relate to the teams they lead. And, as you can imagine, I have had the opposite experience with leaders who never find their voice as a leader.
What I have learned is that if you are going to be a great leader, you must be willing to listen just as much as you are willing to make the hard decision. You must be accountable to the people that look to you for guidance while making them feel empowered to challenge you with a better path than what you have laid out for the team. To know that you only want to get the job done, and that ego is something that can be parked at the front door if we want to make a lasting difference in how we operate. This starts with the team knowing, in no uncertain terms, what kind of leader you are. I keep a leadership philosophy that I share with the people that I work with, and they have full access to it just in case I need to be audited on what I say vs. what I do. It is how I govern myself and is at the foundation of how I lead.
Below, I will walk you through my leadership philosophy and some key tenets that I try to live by as a leader. I will also share with you my 13 Rules for Leadership, I hope you enjoy it!
To kick it off let’s start by thinking about that time in your career when you had an encounter with a person in a position of power and they had the opportunity to do the right thing and they didn’t. To step up and put themselves on the line for the betterment of the team and their teammates for what’s right. At this very moment, a person and a specific time just entered your mind. Think about how that moment made you feel and the amount of respect that you lost for that person. You may have also thought about what you’d do when you were in that position of power and how you promised yourself to be better. I strive to never have my teammates have that feeling about me.
To be clear, I fail, I get it wrong sometimes and I do make mistakes, however, my missteps will never be because I made the self-serving decision to sacrifice my team because of a fear that my position might be in jeopardy. My version of a great leader is someone who leads with empathy, vision, precision, vulnerability, perspective, and love.
Let’s look at what each of these 6 foundational elements looks like in practice:
To lead with empathy does not mean you’ve had a shared experience with another person or group of people. Empathy is simply about having the ability to recognize, understand and share the thoughts and feelings of another person. Another key aspect of empathy is having the ability to experience another person’s point of view and not just your own. Leading without empathy can have the short-term consequence of losing the trust and respect of your team by not seeing or anticipating a different point of view. The long-term consequence of not being an empathetic leader could result in long-term disaster for your business if you aren’t able to empathize with your customers and the changing sentiment around how business is done. I may not always get it right, but it will not be for lack of effort. I am open to feedback with zero risk to the person giving it. I must see other points of view even when it is not visible to me at first. As a matter of fact, I encourage my teams to push me to be better and push back when there is a strong business case for us to examine another view, strategy, or tactic. This is how respect is earned.
Sacrificing a long-term advantage for a short-term gain will never be how I lead teams. Thinking long term is built into how I lead and govern myself. Having the vision to anticipate, see around corners and diversify your business will always help protect against adverse market conditions. As such, I will always push my teams to think about what they are not seeing or anticipating. As an example of vision, let’s think about Uber and its ability to diversify its business. As the taxi industry was being upended by Uber, they were flying high with an incredible pre -IPO valuation and were the clear market leaders for the category. With all this momentum, what did they do? They launched UberEats and while one might have encouraged the brand to stay the course and stick with what was working, they knew that they needed to diversify. In March 2020 when the global pandemic hit, they were ready. Uber Eats helped the company stay alive while people were sheltered in place with little need for their core business. Uber eats revenue tripled YOY during 2Q’20 and the company’s market cap peaked at over $110b during the height of the global pandemic. Vision is paramount to growth. My teams will think long-term and be visionaries.
I firmly believe that in a fast-paced, ever-changing business, we shouldn’t let “perfect” be the enemy of “great.” Precision does not mean perfection. In business, it is all about knowing your business and being prepared. Having a precise acumen on how to best support a customer or teammate. Being able to deliver not just the story but the details of that story to your manager, being succinct in your thoughts, and thinking about what is needed to get the job done. Being precise means knowing your business. I expect my teams to know their business and to use myself, other leaders, and the abundance of resources available to them to accomplish professional and personal growth.
The ego is the enemy of vulnerability. Do not mistake vulnerability for weakness. Use vulnerability to get the most out of yourself and your teams. We all have blind spots and areas where we need to improve. While the goal is for constant improvement, if we are honest as leaders, we also have areas that may never significantly improve over time and sometimes that’s ok. That is why it is incredibly important to surround yourself with people who are better / smarter than you in certain areas. Building a complete team does not mean hiring people with skill sets that match yours. Anyone that I have ever hired or led for the long term has a specific skill set that complements mine rather than mirror it. Be vulnerable when you are creating a safe space. Do not be led by your inhibitions because we all have fears and blind spots as humans and professionals. Never, as a leader, be afraid to share and lean into what makes you unique. You will find that people will lean in and reciprocate your vulnerability. As a leader I will push my team to be vulnerable when we are reflecting on successes and failures. To admit to something they could have done better or to a time when they could have shown greater effort. When we do this, I always go first.
What we do for a living is incredibly important. We provide a livelihood for ourselves, our families and the people who count on us for leadership to help support a business. Many of us absolutely love what we do. Many of us are very prideful about what we do. However, none of us are defined by what we do. Rather, we are defined by how we take this opportunity to make a difference. That difference, however, can only be defined by oneself. For me, doing great work and leading teams to win gives me the permission and capital to be the difference that I want to see. Simply put, giving access to people who otherwise would not have it is the thing that gives me joy and fulfillment. The work is the vehicle for me to accomplish this. To be clear, access has nothing to do with ethnicity or gender, although we do know that certain groups of people do under-index in the amount of access they have to various professions as well as higher ranks in these professions. For me, perspective allows me to remain steady during the ups and downs of business. Life has an interesting way of reminding us about what is important. I suspect we all have stories of times in our life when we’ve been grounded. I have plenty of moments in my life that have grounded me and have reminded me about what is important, and that grounding is at the core of how I lead. I encourage you to think about what grounds you with perspective.
How many times have you heard a company refer to its employees as a family? I have heard that far too many times. I prefer the term team. Netflix Co-founder, Chairman and Co-CEO, Reed Hastings, has left a lasting impression on me when he stated, “We’re a team, not a family.” The fact remains, teams change all the time. Leadership changes and direction changes. The needs of the team evolve. What may have
worked in the past may not work now and that is perfectly fine and part of running a business. When was the last time you had a family member resign to go to another family? Although we may want to trade some people in our families away, the fact remains that you can’t pick your family! As a team, we do know that things are always changing but the one thing we can all do is show love to each other. I like to lead with love in my actions. Checking in on my teammates and being in tune with the energy of the team is the only way I know how to do it. Once I asked one of my football coaches why he was pushing me so hard, and he said that I should be worried when he stops pushing me. That response spoke volumes to me. He showed me love by taking an interest in my progress and pushing me to reach my potential. As a leader, I will always endeavor to show my teammates love in a way that shows them that they are valued. It does not mean that we will always agree or work together, it just means that whether you are being pushed or praised, you will know that it comes from a place of love.
BN’s Rules for Leadership
1. Either you are getting better or getting worse, you can’t stay the same 2. Move Fast, Make Decisions, Move On
3. Work with and hire people that look different than yourself 4. Provide access to people who otherwise would not have it 5. Account for every hour of the day
6. Spend time thinking
7. Do not let fear paralyze you
8. Ask for more
9. Never be the smartest person on your team
10. Think long term
11. Listen to your co-pilots
12. Be vulnerable
13. Always say thank you
BN is a Brooklyn raised lover of writing, aviation, bourbon, and the Howard Stern Show. He enjoys asking all the questions that we all think but never vocalize. He loves to connect with people with the purpose of finding that one thing he believes connects us all. He ultimately believes that there are less than 6 degrees of separation between all of us and if you spend enough time asking the right questions, you will always find that connection.
As a media executive, mentor, art collector, investor, university guest lecturer and promoter of equitable and inclusive environments, BN loves to use his political capital and influence to help all people find their passions, particularly for those who do not have the privilege of access.
Nothing makes him happier than spending quality time with the people that he loves and having a laugh. A self-proclaimed ball breaker, he prides himself in finding the funny in almost anything and everything.