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10 hard truths about leadership Add to ...

Tough Truths

By Deirdre Maloney

(Business Solutions Press, 104 pages, $7.95)

Effective management is not as simple as you might think. Most leaders learn some tough lessons in their early days on the job – or fail to learn, to their detriment.

In observing her own managerial skills and those of others, San Diego consultant Deirdre Maloney has collected what she calls “the 10 leadership truths we don’t talk about.”

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“I paid attention to people I consider to be great leaders and learned what to do. I paid attention to people who seem to miss the mark and learned what to avoid,” she writes in Tough Truths. Here’s what she found:

1. Politics are pervasive

Great leaders know that every single interaction involves influencing and persuading others to obtain what the leaders want. That’s politics, and they see it as inevitable – and a good thing. They act authentically, realizing that they need sturdy relationships to succeed. They invest in relationships, even when those don’t seem likely to pay off in the near future.

2. You may be unpopular

New leaders often assume they can galvanize others to follow them toward improving the collective situation. The reality is that as the leader hits his or her goals, unpopularity may follow, because some individuals don’t like the changes. “Great leaders know that when they do what they need to do to get results, they simply won’t be liked very much by some people,” she says.

3. Stay out of the spotlight

As much as a leader’s life may be fascinating and seem worth relating to others, smart leaders shift the focus off themselves and onto the people they are talking with. They are authentically interested in other people, knowing that may reveal important information.

4. Even great leaders are afraid

Effective senior executives seem confident and certain, so we believe we must be as well. But the reality is that all leaders have doubts and are afraid of failing. As Ms. Maloney says of those fearless-seeming leaders: “It’s not their lack of fear that sets them apart. What sets them apart is that they are afraid and act anyway.” They are more afraid of hiding and not getting anything done than failing and looking stupid.

5. Somebody is always watching

Effective managers are cool under pressure, never letting their guard down or allowing their emotions to run amok. They know, as Ms. Maloney puts it, “People watch. People talk. And communities are small.”

6. Conserve your energy

Top leaders know what –and who – gives them energy, and schedule more of that. They know what depletes their energy, and try to schedule less of that. “Decrease the things and people that suck the life out of you,” she says. “Increase the things and people that fill you up.”

7. Be confident, but be modest

Top leaders feel no compulsion to tell you how great they are. They know they are good at what they do and don’t have to surround themselves with lackeys who will puff them up. Sure, they won’t be liked by everyone, but they accept that. To gain similar confidence, figure out your insecurities and tackle them.

8. Never, ever talk trash

Top managers don’t get sucked into gossiping negatively about someone; they don’t even roll their eye to signify agreement when others are trash talking. They extract themselves from such situations, knowing that others will be listening and their participation will eventually rebound against them.Good leaders also know that the negative, toxic environment of such trash talking will envelop them, and reduce their energy. “As tempting as it is, don’t talk trash about anyone or anything or any place you are connected to, unless it is with your absolutely small core circle of trusted people,” Ms. Maloney advises.

9. Know what you want

Effective leaders are alert to opportunities. They are always studying their surroundings, and looking for ways to improve the situation. They move up quickly in their organizations because they are productive.

10. Communication is key

Top leaders know that every interaction is a chance to connect in an effective, professional manner. Every time they speak or write, they do it with care, sending a clear message.

Although the book’s cover promises 10 truths, the author throws in a bonus message: Great leaders have a life. That’s not only to achieve work-life balance, but also because it reminds them that their successes at work are not the central focus for many people they meet outside the workplace.

This slim, palm-sized book carries a punch, with lots of useful messages for managers about what it takes to be successful.

Postscript

AMA Business Boot Camp (Amacom, 236 pages, $27.95), edited by Edward Reilly, CEO of the American Management Association, is a guidebook on management fundamentals.

George Minakakis, who has worked as a retail executive in Canada and around the world for Luxottica eyewear group and PepsiCo Inc., looks at how to stay competitive in that field in Last Retailer Standing (Friesen Press, 165 pages, $24.99).

Guy Kawasaki, who held the title of chief evangelist at Apple Inc., has become enchanted with Google+, and tells how to make use of it effectively in What the Plus! (McGraw-Hill, 197 pages, $10.95).

Special to The Globe and Mail

Harvey Schachter is a Battersea, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online work-life column Balance. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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