Five-Point Leadership

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 7 min read

Since the United States is about to undergo a massive shift in leadership, I was feeling inspired to write a post about leadership. I wanted to write one that was short and sweet.

So, here it goes…

You can develop incredible leadership habits simply by understanding the various situations that you, as a leader, will be placed in each and every day. Deciding what you will do in these 5 situations, will define who you are as a leader.

  1. How you show up
  2. How you set the tone, and highlight the goal.
  3. How you communicate
  4. How you run meetings/gatherings
  5. How you manage conflict

I’ll briefly touch on each of these.

How you show up

orange and black heavy equipment on brown sand

By how you “show up” I mean how do you literally enter a space, logistically and metaphorically?

If you show up late, you need to understand that you are signaling to your team that punctuality is not an issue. If you show up dressed casually, you’re showing them that formality is unimportant.

If you show up and don’t get started until an hour or two after you’ve had your first cup of coffee, how can you be mad if others don’t start right on time?

If you walk into every meeting and take over and bulldoze everyone in your path, then don’t be surprised when people run for cover, don’t speak up, or emulate your behavior and run over others.

You also need to think about how you enter new situations. When people don’t know you, how do you behave? Are you deferential? Are you curious? Are you assertive? Are you gregarious and outgoing, or are you reserved and observant?

Your leadership style will be judged by the average of how you show up. You’re not stuck with your first impression, though it’s tough to shake. You’re not sunk because of a single mistake. How you show up is a habit, a repeatable behavior that people can look at and interpret.

Think carefully about how you enter every situation. All of these examples, and more, are signals. Whatever you do, is an implicit endorsement of that behavior, and in the case where it’s not, it’s just hypocritical. You need to be thoughtful about how your behavior impacts your trust and relationships on the team and you need to behave in such a way that you would be ok with your team modeling your behavior.

How you set the tone, and highlight the goal.

concrete tunnel scenery

Leaders have to set and clarify goals for the team, set a tone, and get the team moving in the same direction.

When there is an objective before you, how do you handle it? How do you energize and motivate the team?

Do you challenge people? Do you inspire them? Do you yell and scream? Do you speak softly and infrequently? Do you lead the same way in all circumstances or do you alter based on the individual?

When you point out the goal, are you realistic about it, optimistic, pessimistic, or a little naive?

How you talk about the goal, and your team relative to that goal, is one of the most important moments in any leaders’ role. Carefully consider how you want to handle it.

How you communicate

woman wearing gray jacket

Communication is the single most important tool that a leader has at their disposal.

  • The words you use matter
  • The tone you use matters
  • Your pacing matters
  • How you frame conversations matters
  • Your ability to control attention matters

Communication, matters. In every single instance, you must have a unifying theory about the intent and purpose of your communication.

  • How do you want people to feel?
  • What do you want people to take away from the interaction?

From my forthcoming book, the Lovable Leader, I recommend you focus on three things in all communication:

  1. Make sure they understand that you care (about them, the team, and the mission).
  2. Build trust, never harm trust. Trust is essential for great leadership. So validate people, be interested in their goals and perspectives, and be there to help them grow.
  3. Ensure that they see your commitment to safety on the way to the goals. It is not enough to accomplish the goal if what is sacrificed is an safe environment for people to be free, unburdened and fully expressed. As a leader, you must protect every member of your team, and they in turn must protect each other.

If you focus on those three things in all communication, you will have a team that trusts one another, cares for one another and protects one another on the way to accomplishing great things.

How you run meetings/gatherings

woman placing sticky notes on wall

As a leader, you’re going to be running some meetings. But, are you always the one running the meeting? Are you always the leader or do you ever pass the reigns?

When you are leading, do you give others the chance to speak or do you just talk over everyone? If you do encourage participation, are you being truly fair and equitable about that? Do you use a round-robin system or is it just Brad who gets to speak every time?

Does everyone take notes, or is always the youngest female in the room?

Are you checking yourself for biases that make the team feel less inclusive? If so, don’t just rely on your own self-assessment, get outside feedback to catch your blindspots.

Think about how you participate in every meeting. Pay special close attention to how you behave in emotionally charged moments, and high stakes situations.

How you manage conflict

photo of fighting bison

The final piece of a leaders job is to manage problems. How a leader manages internal conflict or when something goes wrong on a project can say more about them than anything else.

Are you punitive or do you focus on rewards? Do you play nice or do you scold? Are you there to step in and support or are you there to lead and hold them to a higher standard for themselves?

There are many different styles, but again, if I can make a recommendation…

People don’t want to be wrong. They don’t want to mess up. When they do, they often know it. Maybe they get defensive, maybe they emotionally check out. In any of those cases, I’ve found the single most useful and effective method is to “sit on the same side of the table.” ←that’s a Jeff Gibbard original, if you use it, cite me.

Sitting on the same side of the table is simply taking a metaphorical seat next to the person you’re speaking with. You’re on their side, you are close to them and you are looking in the same direction. Think as though you were completely on the same team, almost like a three legged race. There is no point in a three legged race dragging the other person along. It’s about coordination. Successful conflict resolution is no different. You’re not talking at them, you’re talking with them and looking for a resolution for both of you.

Practicing 5-Point Leadership

These 5 aspects of leadership comprise the lion’s share of meaningful leadership interactions you will have with your team. By remembering these 5 points, you have a quick and easy assessment for figuring out where you need to improve as a leader.

blue star illustration with white background

Talk to your team about these areas.

  • Find out what you’re signaling to your team by how you show up.
  • Look at your results, and look at your team’s energy…do you need to improve how you set goals and set the tone? Are you getting what you want?
  • Try to continually improve your communication skills.
  • See if you need to change how you run meetings.
  • After giving someone feedback, invite them to give you feedback on how it went.

Leadership is a practice. It’s not a talent you’re born with, it’s something you learn. Study how you lead, commit to constant improvement.

It will all pay off when you’re able to move mountains.

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