Lead, Don't Tell.

Updated: Dec 8, 2020

I just finished reading Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell written by Google royalty and filled with interviews with over 80 people about Bill’s life as a football player, then football coach, and ultimately as CEO of Silicon Valley, leading game-changing companies such as Intuit and Google, as well as chronicling some of his experiments and losses with companies that didn’t make it, like Go.

The book was recommended to me by a client, saying that he believed it would resonate with and be inspiring towards the work I do today with coaching leaders. Needless to say, I was flattered and was also definitely going to pick up the book.

What I didn’t realize was how validating these stories and anecdotes would be. The memoir talks about how Bill led and coached in a way that I have always prided myself in doing, leading, and not telling. Even when we have the answers.

How do we do this?

To lead without explicitly telling is not easy. You want to help those around you and so why wouldn’t you give them the answers when they’re struggling? It’s important to keep in mind that people learn most by watching and by learning on their own. This means that you must provide a good model to follow, in all facets of your life not just work, you never know where in their holistic lives they are struggling. And also, let them struggle a little. If you’re leading them, you must have faith in their abilities. You must have faith that they will grow.

Here are some guidelines to help you lead and not tell:

1. Ask Socratic Questions Channel your inner two-year-old and ask a lot of “why” questions. Focus on getting into the depths of an issue and guide them into understanding what needs to be done about a situation. Focus on probing questions that really get them critically thinking about the problem or situation they are trying to solve

2. LISTEN more than you speak Let them tell you about the problem. Don’t assume. Listen to what they have to say and help them identify what they need to solve.

3. Pay Attention to Body Language Often, people you lead may be reluctant to share the real problem with you for a variety of reasons. Pay attention to their body language and social cues to better understand the situation and tailor your questions and advice accordingly.

4. Don’t Give Them All the Answers As I mentioned before, let your team, employees, kids, etc. figure out solutions for themselves. Guide them and offer suggestions but don’t just tell them what to do. Allow them to grow, and hey, they may even surprise you with a solution you never would have imagined.

5. Point Out the Traps While you must let them struggle with their problems, give them the tools to succeed. Talk to them about potential pitfalls and problems they may encounter, preferably before they encounter them, so they will come up with a solution that has a better chance of working. But if something goes wrong, teach them that it’s not about the failure but the growth.

6. Whenever Possible, Lead by Example This is obviously important since I titled the whole blog about it. If you place these high expectations on your team, employees, kids, etc. but don’t hold yourself to the same or even higher standards, your advice will most likely fall on deaf ears. By living through the advice you preach, you will show people that the goals you are setting are achievable.

Be A Leader To Follow

Being a leader is more than just telling people what to do. To be a truly great leader you need to inspire people and help them grow and learn so that one day, they will be leaders. A great leader creates better ones.

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