Lessons in Leadership: How the Tough Get Going

Lessons in Leadership: How the Tough Get Going 800 600 Rock Creek Consulting Group

It’s not easy to lead an organization; it’s downright hard.  Nowadays, it can be incredibly challenging, but many leaders have stepped up admirably and are running thriving enterprises. There’s no known exact formula, but let’s examine what’s driving leaders’ success now and in the coming years.

It’s lonely at the top

Yes, it can be lonely. In any environment, being a business leader can be exhausting, lonely, and stressful. Does anyone understand what you may be going through? As hard as they may try, many leaders won’t succeed or meet the board’s expectations, shareholders, customers, or employees. And leadership is one of those roles you learn by doing: no business school can fully prepare a leader, especially since each business is different.

When successful leaders explain their success, many will give standard replies like, “be clear on goals,” “set the strategy,” or “build the right team.” Others will mention their traits like drive, resilience, and risk tolerance. These can help explain success but unraveling the mysteries of great leadership remains challenging. Still, let’s give it a try!

Leaders organize themselves first

Successful leaders tend to clear their heads of distractions so they can focus on business challenges and opportunities. They’re (or at least they appear to be) organized, calm, and reliable. Doing this enables them to have the space to think strategically on their objectives, concentrate on the job at hand, and get buy-in from their teams.

Clarity on required talent

The team’s a critical resource in any business, and the best leaders have a clear view of what talent their particular business needs. A manufacturer may require exceptional production management skills, while a consulting firm may need strong interpersonal skills to interact with clients. Requirements will change over time as the business matures, is impacted by the economy, market, and other factors. Business priorities such as the need for speed, agility, resilience, or stability will influence what team should be in place.

Building the Team 

Successful leaders help people play to their strengths. That requires a clear definition of roles and putting the right people in those roles while encouraging teamwork and accountability. Each person should know what they’re accountable for and why their work is essential.

It also means acting decisively to move lesser performers out of essential roles or out of the organization altogether. Poor performance can’t be tolerated because it will impact the entire organization.  Reviewing performance (by tracking essential metrics) and attracting new talent is an ongoing leadership responsibility that requires finesse.

Company Culture

Culture is essential, and it starts with leadership and team member engagement. A good culture can be achieved by setting ambitious goals, offering incentives, reinforcing the vision (partly through storytelling), and investing in training. Effective leaders set an example by constantly appraising their own performance and that of the management team

Asking for help 

Managers, consultants, and the board offer support to leaders. Successful leaders remain humble and reach out, knowing who to ask and how to get the most from colleagues on subjects such as finance, legal, regulatory, audit, compliance, M&A, technology, risk, reporting, strategy, culture, talent, resilience, and external communications. The best leaders are self-confident and appreciate being challenged by people on specific topics. A leader surrounded by people telling them what they want to hear or who doesn’t have the proper support won’t be effective.

Staying in touch 

Successful leaders know how work gets done in the organization, and they spend time with employees. They’re approachable, understanding, yet firm.

A long-term view

In the day-to-day work, successful leaders remain focused on (and remind people of) the ‘Why?’ – the vision and values which should influence decision-making and daily behaviors. In addition to financial success, this probably involves a social purpose. Leaders listen intently to stakeholders so they can prioritize actions.

Being prepared 

Business is unpredictable and affected by many extraneous factors out of our control. Effective leaders recognize that there will be adverse events at some point, and they consult the right people and manage this risk wisely.


Good leaders play to their strengths and understand their limitations. They limit their involvement in tasks that others can deal with and reserve time to deal with unexpected developments. This helps them to honestly appraise their performance and look for ways to improve.

Setting the Strategy

Effective leaders will also set the direction and have a plan in the face of uncertainty, which is constantly tested. Taking a long-term view while getting things done in the short term is a delicate balance that successful leaders navigate. A strong understanding of the market, competitive advantage, management team, and other factors allows leaders to act boldly in their decision-making. They won’t get everything right, but they can quickly pivot where necessary.

Sound easy?

It’s no surprise that many people won’t lead organizations, and even fewer will be successful as leaders. Interestingly, challenging conditions provide new opportunities for leaders to shine and others to step up into leadership roles. Opportunities abound in the coming years for leaders and the businesses they run. One thing is for sure; if you want to be a successful leader, you must be in tune with your business finances, use of assets, financial threats, and have a financial plan to measure your company’s success. Having a solid and knowledgeable accounting team that supports you and your business will be critical in helping you achieve your goals.