The Reasons Why Successful Leaders Pay It Forward

Early in my career, I was blessed to work with many successful leaders who made habit of paying it forward. Their focus on paying it forward taught me lessons that help me every day. They help me to be more productive and to have more fun—another key trait of successful leaders. I want to honor a few of them by paying it forward to you.

You Can’t Stop Rumors and Hallway Banter

When I was promoted to Director at Microsoft, Jeff Raikes (SVP Microsoft) gave a few of us sage advice on being successful leaders. It came in three parts:

More people are listening – Jeff said, “When I shave in the morning, I see the same Nebraska farm boy I’ve known all my life. It took time to understand that others didn’t see me that way.” The higher your level, the more mindful you must be with your comments. What you consider to be a passing comment can be received as direction or criticism. He told us of when he pondered an idea in the hallway, and weeks later he was presented plans and budgets. The problem: he didn’t recall the idea. More people are listening—being more mindful of what you say is crucial for successful leaders.

More rumors – As successful leaders rise in organizations, rumors mount about you. True and untrue. Flattering and demeaning. Rumors that build you up—rumors meant to tear you down. Jeff said, “If you spend one second trying to change the negative rumors, you’re wasting your time. Focus on the facts and execute to your best ability.”

More people disagree – The more successful you get, the more people effected by your decisions. The greater your effect, the greater the disagreement. A handful of dissenters will be in-your-face—many more will buzz behind your back. The in-your-face opposers are the ones you can count on—they make you better. The noise behind your back is from those who feel that their way up is in bringing you down. The former will rise and become successful leaders, and very valuable peers for you. The latter lose respect from their teammates. Genuinely try to help the latter, because that’s what successful leaders do. It’s up to them whether they improve or not.

Everyone Has Great Ideas

Kevin Johnson (KJ, now CEO at Starbucks) was already a successful leader as a General Manager of Microsoft Consulting Services (MCS) when we first met. I was Director of Field Strategy, new to the organization, and 2.5 years into my Microsoft career. I was on yet another new learning curve and it showed. I was expert of nothing.

Even so, when preparing for business reviews, KJ would roam the halls after 6pm, to see if anyone was willing to give him feedback on his presentations. He was particularly interested in the thoughts of people outside his group—people who weren’t steeped in his day-to-day. I was surprised the first time he asked me for input. He noted my surprise and said, “Everyone has great ideas. My issues and ideas must be clear to everyone and this is a good way to test that. Also, smart people help me improve and I learn new ways to think about old problems.” And, not only did he get new ideas, but he gave credit to those who helped him. Great leadership traits of successful leaders.

Repeatable Frameworks

Irene Bjorklund (GM Pacific Northwest Area when I was at HP) taught me that ideas are best communicated and consumed when in simple, easily remembered, frameworks or methodologies. It’s a form of the ‘less-is-more’ adage. Simple frameworks, with three to five key points, give your team a foundation that is more quickly adopted. They’re heavy on structure but light on proscription, allowing team members to be creative.

Repeatable frameworks create a common vocabulary from which the team can more easily discuss challenges. It allows teammates to be more helpful to one another resulting in stronger teamwork and better group problem solving. This solidifies the role of successful leaders as the engine that drives the team. Irene’s teachings are the foundation from which came The Five Abilities®.

Thank You!!!

I’ve been blessed to be where I could learn from these and many other generous, successful leaders and I’m not unique. Great coaches are at high levels in all organizations because a key trait of successful leaders is that they make habit of helping others. They enjoy opportunities to share the lessons that others shared with them. Paying it forward is a natural trait in successful leaders I’ve been blessed to work with and, again, I’m not unique.

Look for leaders who make habit of paying it forward to you, so that you can enjoy paying it forward to others.

©2019 Rick Wong, The Five Abilities® LLC


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