The 6 Fundamental Axioms of Leadership

Mike Harden | | Building Relationships, Resolving Employee Problems, Solving Problems, Thinking Strategically

Leadership Ahead

An axiom is a statement or proposition that can be accepted as true without the need for proof. I have six axioms that I believe in and have witnessed over the years, and they no longer require any proof to me. They are:

  • You deserve the employees you hire (and keep)
  • If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist
  • Accountability is a cultural thing
  • Every day is “showtime”
  • You aren’t one of the guys
  • The Samurai knew what they were doing

As a leader, and specifically as a CEO, these six axioms are fundamental to your ability to lead and inspire your organization. Although I cannot guarantee anyone’s success in such a complex and demanding role as CEO, I do believe that following these six axioms will immensely increase your odds of success. Let’s examine each one here:

You deserve the employees you hire (and keep) – Since the most important decision you will ever make is who you hire, this axiom is probably the most important. If you are willing to hire and accept mediocre (B and C) players, then you deserve whatever results they give you. Following-up on their performance, correcting their mistakes, and watching them miss critical deadlines is a sample of the punishment you get for keeping them around. On the other hand, if you take the time to recruit A players, nurture them, and sustain them within your organization, you will reap the rewards. I have been told over and over again that one A player is worth three B players.

If it can’t be measured, it doesn’t exist – Researchers know this axiom, but it’s just as valid in business. I know there are people who will tell me that there are things that can’t be measured; concepts and emotions like love, hate, and fear.  I could take exception and say this isn’t true. We do measure conceptual things. We measure intelligence (IQ) and emotions (EQ), and I’ll bet I can measure love and hate on a scale of 1 to 10. But even if they are correct in their criticism, let’s just agree right now that I am speaking of business. Everything in business can and should be measured. That’s the only way to know if you are achieving goals, making quota, delivering on time, keeping customers happy, managing staff turnover, and so forth. The more you can measure your key performance indicators, the better you can manage your business and guide it in the right direction (and make corrections when something is going off course).

Accountability is a cultural thing – We all talk about accountability, but it won’t matter if you haven’t established a culture of accountability. Your organization and employees must live and breathe accountability. Your culture needs everyone from the top down to accept responsibility and to be held accountable when things don’t go as planned. If your culture doesn’t foster accountability, you will have a very tough time trying to keep your people on track and responsible for their employees’ behavior, and more importantly, their results.

Every day is “showtime” – As a CEO or leader, you are always on stage. If you are having a bad day, your face, posture, and behavior will signal that something is wrong. Have an argument with your spouse in the morning, and then turn up at work with a scowl, and your employees will think the worst…something is wrong with the business. Are we having layoffs? Is cashflow OK? They don’t know anything about your home situation, just that you look as though trouble is brewing on the horizon and they will be impacted by it. This means that you must always put on your game face before you walk into the office. No matter how bad things are (maybe you are having trouble making payroll or the IRS is doing an audit that makes a colonoscopy feel like a walk in the park), you need to show confidence and that you are in control. You must be the consummate actor, always playing the role of self-assured CEO.

You aren’t one of the guys – Too often a CEO or manager within an organization begins to identify with their employees. Surely you have seen or heard of the department head that defends his employees and takes their side against the company. These people over-identify with their employees. This leads them to make decisions based on what’s good for their staff, not what’s good for the company. Leaders need to understand that they are not one of the guys. Employees really expect you to be different, even if you don’t think so yourself. You see yourself as nothing special, but to your employees, you are. They know that you can hire and fire them, give bonuses, take time off, buy a nice car, pay yourself big money, play golf at the local country club, and make decisions every day that affect their livelihood and morale. Don’t try to be one of them. They need you to be you. They need you to play the role of boss. Once you try to be one of them, you will find yourself digging a hole from which you will have difficulty climbing out. Once you bring yourself to their level, becoming the boss again will be a monumental effort. And it’s tough making decisions that go against your employees’ interests, which many business decisions do, if you identify too easily with them. Bottom line is that the company comes first, because without it, the employees won’t have a place to work.

The Samurai knew what they were doing – The ancient Samurai had an advantage in mortal combat…they had no fear of death. And by not fearing death, they could take risks and make decisions without apprehension, never second guessing themselves. This allowed them to overwhelm their enemies and strike fear in their hearts. Similarly, in the military, soldiers accept the fact that they may die in battle, and that frees them to do what needs to be done to accomplish their mission. If they constantly dwelt on the fact that they could be killed at any moment in combat, they would freeze and never succeed in battle. On a much less deadly note, CEOs also need to be fearless. They need to stop fearing the things that will freeze them in place and keep them from succeeding. Being sued, losing a key employee, failing to win a major deal, missing a bonus, or making a bad investment are just a few examples of the types of “death” that leaders face daily. If your decisions are based on avoiding these issues, you will not have the freedom or the ability to do what’s needed to take your company to another level. Constant fear of a bad outcome can paralyze a CEO into a risk-adverse cocoon, stifling growth and innovation.

I can assure you, from my own experience and my observations of the CEOs that I coach, that following these six axioms will strengthen your leadership and help you to become a better CEO. Make these six axioms part of your management style and corporate culture.

Mike Harden

Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor, and coach. Today, as one of DC’s premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Find Mike on Google+

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