4 Tips for Being a Better Leader

Disclaimer: My background is in the military so I am unable to fully translate leadership tips to the financial world. That being said, I think that being a good leader incorporates key traits that can be applied to all fields.

These points are strictly my opinion and are based on my own personal experiences.

1. Maximize output by setting the example.

When I began my first leadership assignment I found that some of the most important attributes for being a good leader were not very difficult to discover and yet seem to be under utilized by leaders.

The best way to maximize output from subordinates is to set the example. Many of the ways to do this are well known by people and yet tend to be neglected. For instance, showing up well prepared and at the proper times before meetings are small ways to gain subordinates trust.

Leadership is a two way street in which trust must be built both ways.

When gaining positions of seniority, it can be easy to take advantage of the perks the lifestyle may offer. The best leaders are the ones that don't take advantage of their position and hold themselves to the same standards that their subordinates are held to.

2. Strive to be an expert in fields relative to your position.

In the military there are many ways a leader could gain the respect of their troops that are different from other industries. For instance by striving to be the best at running, lifting, combatives and tactics one can establish a very strong reputation.

While these specific areas are different from working as a leader in the financial industry, the same concept stands. It is important to at least strive to be an expert in the fields relative to your job as a leader.

I have found that it is far more important to simply show a continuous desire to improve rather then simply be the best at everything. In showing this determination, it can cause a contagious effect throughout your organization encouraging it to build as well.

3. Communication is key - both upwards and downwards.

In terms of running a organization, communication can be continually referenced as a key reason for it being a success or failure. Communication downward tends to be the most understood quality to be improved by leaders, but communication upward is just as important.

Working to improve communication flow with the person managing you can allow your organization access to many resources. When conflict emerges it is easy to simply shut out your manager and focus your attention downward. However, there are many resources that you may be shutting your organization off from in doing so. For instance, your manager may be able to coordinate with other divisions that you don't have access to.

Many relationships that are detrimental to an organization can be solved simply through the establishment and improvement of communication.

4. Show an interest in your subordinates career progression.

Showing an interest in subordinates career progression can be one of the most important things you do that helps them develop during their time under you. While it may seem straight forward to support your subordinates advancement, conflict of interests have the potential to emerge along the way.

When a subordinate begins to pursue a different job instead of remaining on the glide path you would like, what do you do as a leader? The true answer is that you should support what is in the best interest of your subordinate. While the subordinate leaving your firm may be negative, it may be all but inevitable. However, maintaining a good working relationship on the way out may pay dividends in the long run.

What do you believe makes a good leader? What are the common pit falls that cause leaders with good intentions to fail?

Comments (65)

Dec 4, 2016

Lol. There are very very few good or even decent leaders in the military. Mostly capricious, tyrannical and otherwise flawed personalities.

Dec 4, 2016

I appreciate the input and while I have seen leaders like you describe, in my MOS I don't think that is the majority. I would rather discuss what parts of my own analysis that you disagree with rather than discrediting everything I say based off your general views of leaders from the military.

The leaders that I found were much like the ones you described were that way partially due to lack of feedback. Therefore any insight you could provide on leadership would be highly beneficial for myself and others looking to improve. Thank you!

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Best Response
Dec 8, 2016

As a veteran, I can draw on my own experiences and know exactly what you're talking about but let's think about a few of your ideas and decide what that means about the "leadership" in the military:

"For instance, showing up well prepared and at the proper times before meetings are small ways to gain subordinates trust."

Showing up on time and prepared to a meeting YOU called for? That would be called basic competence and decency, not good leadership.

Point #2 -- Why would you make someone a leader who wasn't already good at the work their subordinates do? Additionally, wanting to improve and grow are good traits and qualities....but what's the alternative? Stagnate into mediocrity?

If I understand your point #3, talking to subordinates merely from a position of authority (where they aren't allowed to respond), is detrimental.... Doing the opposite isn't being a good leader, it's how to not be a shitty human being.

Point #4, no one signs on people for 4-6 years at a time. It's not really applicable. Fostering your employees development is good leadership.

Dec 9, 2016

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Dec 11, 2016

If you're going to insult him, at least get his alma mater right. He went to UPenn not Penn State

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Dec 11, 2016

Your posts make me not want to get an MBA.

Dec 10, 2016

Some of the best advice someone gave me when I was beginning my life in the military was "You can usually fool your superiors, sometimes your peers, but never your subordinates; for they are the ones who bear the brunt of your failings." It couldn't be more true. I've lived by that during my time in the military and felt that my men have respected and, gasp, liked me for the most part.

The harder part about civilian side is you can't tell someone to go suck start a pistol when they piss you off.

Dec 11, 2016

I really wish I had SB's to give you, another amazing post.

Have any theories on why there are so many bosses vs. leaders?

Dec 11, 2016
Toshi83:

I really wish I had SB's to give you, another amazing post.

Have any theories on why there are so many bosses vs. leaders?

Many people like being lazy and taking credit for the work that other people do. Some people are too stupid to be good leaders. It's PHB syndrome.

"It's very easy to have too many goals and be overwhelmed by them... The trick is to find the one thing you can focus on that represents every other single thing you want in life." -- @"Edmundo Braverman"

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Dec 11, 2016
Toshi83:

I really wish I had SB's to give you, another amazing post.

Have any theories on why there are so many bosses vs. leaders?

I appreciate it.

I think the answer to that is largely situational as each dipshit boss has their own unique reason for being a pile of shit.

Alexander Hamilton did a good job in generalizing it, though. Most bosses are lazy and don't care, either about their own careers, the company they work for, or the people under them. Add in people that take credit for stuff they didn't do and dole out the blame and you have yourself a recipe for disaster.

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Dec 11, 2016

Completely agree with the taking credit part.

The most baffling behavior to me is the genuine apathy the bosses I've encountered have towards their employees. Perhaps it's a symptom that plagues partnerships, specifically. There's this attitude of employees are churnable so there's no cost/benefit in investing in resources that will turnover within 2-3 years. It's almost like the chicken and egg scenario - are bosses / partners generally assholes because they assume people will churn in the short-term, or do people churn because of the negative work culture which permeates the finance industry?

It's unfortunate that my career has not led me to any leaders thus far (I definitely yearn to learn some traits from a rockstar professional rolemodel), but on the flip side, I've definitely learned many invaluable lessons on "what NOT to do" when I'm in a position of power some day.

Dec 11, 2016

Great post! I really agree with all of your points.

On a light-hearted note - the leader and boss situations in the picture have the business "block" at the same location, which means being the leader didn't push the business forward ;) haha

Dec 11, 2016

Great post. Comes at a great point in my career where I'm slowly making the transition from mentee to mentor. Oh, and learning about that little thing called "delegation".

Currently: future psychiatrist (med school =P)
Previously: investor relations (top consulting firm), M&A consulting (Big 4), M&A banking (MM)

Dec 11, 2016

Excellent post. SB for you sir.

Dec 11, 2016

Probably one of the best posts of all time on WSO.

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Dec 11, 2016
SirTradesaLot:

Probably one of the best posts of all time on WSO.

I appreciate that.

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Dec 11, 2016

Spot on man. Couldn't agree more

Dec 11, 2016

Good post.

Dec 11, 2016

You're starting to be one of my favorite posters.

"I'm going to make him an offer he can't refuse."

Dec 11, 2016
Green_Bananas:

You're starting to be one of my favorite posters.

Thanks!

Dec 11, 2016

Been thrown under the bus a few times so I definitely appreciate this.

Dec 11, 2016

This really is a good post and when time comes, I'll try my best to be a leader and not a boss or manager.

I once attended a workshop about leadership, but the slides are in German. So I can't really share. But if you are interested in the topic of leadership, I'd recommend "Start With Why" by Simon Sinek or "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh. Both books show, that motivation by inspiration is superior to motivation coming from fear. Feel free to add something to the list.

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Dec 11, 2016

I'm fortunate enough to be working in an environment where I have a leader and not a boss. Sure there are times when there are simply tasks that need to get done and its delegated to me, but more often than not, my superior takes the time to motivate our team.

The most important aspect for me is when we are working on a tight deadline. My superior dives in with us, is working hard to meet the deadline, and is always giving encouragements and constructive feedback on the work we do. It's very encouraging and makes me attack the task rather than do the minimum to get by.

Dec 11, 2016

#1 is the problem that a lot of senior people in IB have. The reason is that they could use and abuse people like toilet paper, but at the end of the day the folks at the bottom would still be getting a nice fat paycheck come bonus season. With comp where it is now, senior bankers are going to have to do more developing and leading if they want to keep good people around (or attract good people in the first place....you should see how far down interest in IB is in all the elite business schools).

If they are not willing or not capable, people who are getting s$#t on are going to have to start getting paid.......

Dec 11, 2016

I really appreciate all these tips and I agree. It seems that I am one of the few who actually has a leader rather than a boss that focuses on our personal career development goals and he does reflect most of what is written here. I hope to be a really good leader, and I believe that it's not too late to start now.

I am wondering how you could be a good leader and still have healthy competition with your peers. Is there a balance between the I and the we, where you help out but also do your best individually?

Dec 11, 2016
Jonasan:

I really appreciate all these tips and I agree. It seems that I am one of the few who actually has a leader rather than a boss that focuses on our personal career development goals and he does reflect most of what is written here. I hope to be a really good leader, and I believe that it's not too late to start now.

I am wondering how you could be a good leader and still have healthy competition with your peers. Is there a balance between the I and the we, where you help out but also do your best individually?

Very few people have jobs that rely solely on their own work and accomplishments. I have seen people stuck in middle management because they are a boss, and their department puts out shit. Leaders, on the other hand, have incredible output and eventually skyrocket to senior executive levels because they know how to build teams and squeeze positive results from those teams through their leadership.

Dec 11, 2016

Excellent post, thank you very much!

Dec 11, 2016

While I find the qualities you describe to be admirable aims for us as we move forward in our professional lives, I see your overall perspective as being a bit, "Office Space" revenge of the employees-ey. The way you insult "bosses" shows that you have not had to face the pressures of management yourself. I will also posit that an asshole boss is not necessarily a bad boss. Perhaps that's how they get the job done and bring the best out of you.

Employees bullshit at work a lot. They'll spend free time studying, shopping, reading the news, or just browsing the web, rather than taking initiative at the workplace. They take as much advantage of a company as they can get away with. Sure, in PE with fresh meat earning six figures, people are willing to stay overnight (seems more like that ONE time people do that...), but people generally clock out at 5PM and don't look back, yet they expect every benefit from the company. Economically, I see the relationship of employee to company as receiving low-risk income to meet their personal needs in exchange for regular work, which is generally at odds with the actual cash-flows of the company. Also, an employees benefits from the "synergies" that all the employees working together generates. Also, you get paid less than your benefit to the company because, as with any investment, profit is needed in order for it to be worthwhile.

Sometimes, there is time for all this soft, HR, parenting bullshit. But the busier your company is, the more likely you are to face a more stressful environment where you DO get treated like shit. If you think the boss is doing this to make you feel bad, trust me, it's only because she has a thousand other things on her plate, like pressures from higher-ups and clients, and she needs that project you're working on on her desk YESTERDAY. And someday, when you're running at a higher intensity than a subordinate who's making mistakes, you'll really know what frustration is.

My advice to you all is to remember that you're part of a larger company of people, and to try to see things from your bosses perspective...start with the assumption that the boss is right. They don't always have time to explain themselves and coddle you. Finish your work ahead of time, and see what you can do to make your boss' life easier. If chatting with your boss with suggestions doesn't work, try formalizing it by requesting a meeting or writing a well-structured, one-page email. Showing initiative like this will help the "followers" reading this thread in their careers.

-No comment-

Dec 11, 2016

I find your post pretty confusing.

You like the qualities described but call it "soft, HR, parenting bullshit".

You advice people to give suggestions to their bosses to change the environment, but you don't want the boss to change without change being requested.

In your opinion, leaders cuddle, while bosses solve stressful situations. They are not to blame, but the lazy employees are.

A leader is not supposed to waste time. He is supposed to motivate his employees so they excel at work. He shows why the stupid shorttermtask they have to do now, is important in the long run. He sets achievable goals. He shows, that the team is only a little cog in the machine - but it wouldnt work without them. His team doesn't strive, because it thinks it is about to be fired if it doesn't, but because it is motivated by their leader.

I believe, that the boss described in the OP might bring the "best out of you" - but not in the long run. As an entrepreneur, you should know this the best: While working might be exhausting, you always find the power to do what you really love. If you are able to make your employees love their work, you don't have to be bossy and they will perform anyways.

Dec 11, 2016

Maybe you should think of hiring better employees (which is also a big part of being a good boss/leader). Actually, this article is most relevant to people exactly like you. If your employees are only doing the right thing when you're standing over their shoulder, then you are doing it wrong.

Dec 11, 2016

For a Monday post, this is gold man. You must've hustled hard this weekend. Thanks!

Dec 11, 2016

Thanks for sharing the network template.

Dec 11, 2016

@Nefarious- Great post . Thanks for sharing again.

@donkeymoney- Your comments bring to mind this quote from Robert Louis Stephenson:

"Keep your fears to yourself, but share your courage with others."

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."

Dec 11, 2016

This was a good post. To be brutally honest, I'm not sure Nefarious has worked as a professional manager, but he makes some really good points about the kind of leader we would like to have, and the kind of discount employees will take for a good leader.

Unfortunately, that is not how life really works.

In some sense, the boss is the customer. He is paying you out of his own pocket, his own equity, or some political capital he has. He does get to sit on the slab of stone and be a slavedriver, because he writes your paycheck in the same way that the person paying the cab fare gets to sit in the cab while the taxi driver hauls the luggage out of the trunk.

I think it's easier to work for a manager who works harder than you do. He makes you forget that and that makes you respect him more.

I think the biggest problem many younger and inexperienced managers have is that they are too critical. I say that as someone who just helped lead a team this weekend. An undergrad made a human mistake because the leaders made a judgment mistake. We were competing in a Hackathon and decided, somehow, that it would be a good idea to let people make changes to our code 30 minutes before the judging deadline. An undergrad on our team committed code that broke the project and we couldn't get it fixed in time. My knee-jerk reaction was to facepalm this and say out loud "what the hell???" rather than say that I (and the other leader) had completely screwed this up, and we bore about 75% of the responsibility. We should have known better.

The poor sophomore was on the verge of tears after that. I was 28, and I was expecting her to act like my ideal of a 26 year old developer. Not a human 26-year-old developer, let alone a human 19-year-old CS sophomore.

So the one thing that I learned from the hackathon is that when you work with human beings, they make mistakes. Somehow, you have to resist the urge to facepalm, and you have to stay calm. Because when people screw up, they become their own worst critics and then they assume the very worst about whatever body language you give.

If there are folks out there with a lot of IBD/S&T/ professional management experience who've been in this situation, I'd really appreciate a PM or post explaining how you guys got over this and what someone who needs to lead development projects can do to avoid showing their whole *facepalm* I never would have done that body language.

Dec 11, 2016

Honestly, it's hard to compare that competition to real life management (at least to me). The reason is because that competition had a deadline and then it's over, where in business there is always the next thing and you can continue to build or destroy morale over time.

One thing I've found to be true is that younger people are looking to learn. As long as they are learning something significant from you and you aren't just making changes that make no impact to the final work product, you will usually earn their respect. It helps if you publicly recognize their efforts and fight for them. If you can throw them a little money, that helps too.

Publicly praise and privately critique would be my advice. If that sounds like an 'eat less' piece of advice to a fat person, it probably is similar, in that it's easy to say and hard to do. What to do isn't often a mystery, doing it is usually more difficult.

Dec 11, 2016

That would be greaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat

Dec 11, 2016

I think I speak for several of us here when I say that I would love to work for Nefarious.

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Dec 11, 2016

SB

Dec 11, 2016

thanks for sharing!

Dec 11, 2016

Wow you guys are speaking as if you were in service when it actually meant something bunchof losers jeez if my father was posting on a msg board like u then he wouldnt of served

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Dec 11, 2016

What's embarrassing is your ability to post a coherent thought.

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Dec 11, 2016

.

Dec 11, 2016

Knows his limits. Visionary leadership in the manner of Steve Jobs is currently in fashion, but he was both lucky and talented. Many more CEOs have derailed their companies by believing in their own infallibility.

Hank Greenberg was certainly a talented CEO. Yet crisis could likely have been averted if he had delegated some of his own responsibilities to those with specific expertise (such as in CDSs).

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Dec 11, 2016

Lead by example

Dec 11, 2016

Focuses on the big picture, listens, is a true believer in the cause, and is humble (I.e. -- does not pretend to know everything and can admit mistakes).

Dec 11, 2016
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Dec 11, 2016
Dec 11, 2016