Leadership - infectious enthusiasm coupled with ruthless pragmatism

I was once asked in an interview how I defined leadership and I said: infectious enthusiasm coupled with ruthless pragmatism. 

I should apologise to the real Ted Turner ( founder of CNN) and the fictional Frank Underwood ( House of Cards) - both of whom I stole parts of this from but I’ve yet to come across a better definition. ( As an aside I’d also like to stress that there’s plenty that the fictional Frank Underwood does that I absolutely don’t agree with :)

I am a firm believer however, that one of the most important jobs as a leader has to be to create enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm has to be infectious.  Your team must be as passionate and determined as you, or you’re going to feel very lonely pretty quickly and as your organisation grows, that infectious enthusiasm has to spread throughout. There’s nothing more disheartening than a passionate leader with a lukewarm team – it just doesn’t work.  At the same time, the leader has to stay grounded in reality.  It’s no good creating this incredibly positive team that refuses to be defied by the odds, if you’re not also able to recognise when you need to pivot or change tack. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, that’s an easy and obvious decision, but more often than not, it isn’t. When you and your team have poured all your energy and passion and creativity into finding a solution and it just isn’t working, it’s your job as the leader to call it and also re-energise everyone again.  Often this can be met with a cry of “but we’re so close” or “we’re almost there”.  Subjectivity, or being too closely involved in a project, can create cognitive dissonance i.e. a refusal to accept or see the obvious truth. It can be difficult, but it’s your job to remain objective and it’s essential that you know when to call it which is where the ‘ruthless’ pragmatism comes in. 

It’s also your job to notice when a team member isn’t cutting it or gelling with the rest of the team. In this instance it’s imperative you move as quickly as possible.  As I said in an earlier post, the ripple effect of the wrong person in a small organsiation can quickly build into a tsunami. As a leader you can’t shy away from the difficult calls… but if you’re worried then just think - what will be worse?  If it’s down to having a difficult conversation with someone, versus watching your entire business go up in smoke, because you didn’t act? Have the difficult conversation. Put like that it’s a no brainer and even the most difficult conversation becomes relatively straightforward.

Something we do at RFi Group before anyone is hired, is a final ‘cultural interview’, which consists of a general chat with three or four junior and senior people from across the business, to see if we all think this new person is a ‘good cultural fit’.  There’s no agenda or way of preparing – it’s just a simple chat to see if they fit. When the answer is “no” then whatever our thoughts originally were, we have to go with it, even though failing a cultural interview is often the most confronting and upsetting for the proposed candidate.  

So who is in charge of creating this company culture? Well put simply, as a leader, you are! You are in charge of both the company culture and the momentum of the business (both crucial topics I’ll come on to). Your actions will set the culture. People don’t just follow leaders, they emulate them.  Your team will naturally copy your manner and behavior, so make sure, above anything else, you behave in the way you want your team to behave and you treat them as you would want to be treated.

If you like this blog, find it useful, or think it’s interesting, please share it and if you have any questions at all please feel free to comment – I am always open to a conversation.

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