Four Lessons in Leadership

by Sara Steever
May 30, 2017

I was recently asked to speak to the Sioux Falls area Young Professional Network (YPN). Writing that presentation gave me an opportunity to distill thoughts about what I’m learning from the Spark: Women In Agribusiness podcast series and an insightful book called “Extreme Ownership” by Jocko Willink and Leif Babbin.

These four ideas remind us why leadership is simple, but not easy:

1. Take the right opportunities, even if you don’t think you are quite ready.

We are taught as children to be leaders and not lurch over the cliff with the rest of our classmates, so naturally, we feel pressure to be leaders. By its very nature, leadership is a stretch from what you are doing now. Otherwise, you would already be in that position. Almost all of my Spark interviews have confirmed this fact – even if you feel like an impostor, take the opportunity!

Someone from the YPN group asked an insightful question on this topic: isn’t it dangerous to overextend yourself? Absolutely! So, the caveat is, if you have the bandwidth to commit, do it. You’ve got this!

2. Share the credit, take the blame.

In “Extreme Ownership,” the authors make this crystal clear. If you blame others (up or down the chain of command), you will never be a good leader. It’s an easy and natural trap to fall into, especially under stress, or if you think your boss asks ridiculous things from you or your co-worker drops the ball. Their advice is to ask yourself first if there is something you can do to communicate better or support your colleagues. It is just good relationship advice, period.

3. Know the business of the business.

Understand the goals and business model of the organization. Learn how they become profitable or gain and serve their membership. Then use your passion, talent and drive to do what you can to help your company reach those goals. When management sees that your efforts are toward a shared focus, doors will open for you.

4. Your most important job is to support your boss.

That’s a quote from “Extreme Ownership” and seriously, read that book to understand how devastating it is to organizations when that basic concept fails. There will be times you disagree with your boss, but once a decision is made you execute as if it were your idea.

If you are the boss, you serve the entire company, so it applies both ways and presents an even bigger challenge to those in leadership. This leads to my second favorite quote from that book: “There are no bad teams, only bad leaders.” Time to re-read #2.

My observation is that leadership is a mindset. The leaders I admire most shoulder the wheel with you, share what they know and bring all of their energy, enthusiasm and passion to everything they do. They champion the success of everyone around them and are a joy to be around. Aspirational indeed. I’d love to know about a leader you most admire – email me at sara.steever@paulsen.ag.