Momentum Podcast: 99
Leadership Is Repetition Not Dictation
by Alex Charfen
One of the biggest complaints entrepreneurs have when building a team is that they have to repeat themselves. They feel like their team doesn't listen to them and has a hard time understanding what they want. The issue is one of perspective.
For you things are clear, you can anticipate the future and see where the company is going. For your team is the opposite, they're taking a step off a cliff each day and hoping that it fills in. they will have to have things repeated to them often, especially those that are new. Each time you have to repeat yourself or reinforce something with your team, you should think to yourself that this is the time you're spending so that you don't have to do-it-yourself.
This perspective will help you not only lead a team, the growth of people on your team, and exponentially grow your company.
Full Audio Transcript
I'm Alex Charfen, and this is the Momentum podcast, made for empire builders, game changers, trailblazers, shot takers, record breakers, world makers, and creators of all kinds. Those among us who can't turn it off, and don't know why anyone would want to. We challenge complacency, destroy apathy, and we are obsessed with creating momentum, so we can roll over bureaucracy and make our greatest contribution. Sure we pay attention to their rules, but only so that we can bend them, break them, and rewrite them around our own will.
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One of the hardest concepts for most entrepreneurs to grasp, in fact I know it was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp is that leadership is repetition, not dictation. Here's what I mean by that. As leaders, when we tell someone something, when we share something with our team, we expect it to be absorbed, assimilated, and reacted to, and done. Early in all of our leadership or management careers, we find this place where we are telling people things, and they're not doing what we want. In fact one of the most common complaints from entrepreneurs is, "I already told my team everything that they have to do, and they're not doing it."
Well, when I'm in a conversation with an entrepreneur who says something like that, I'll ask like, "How many times have you told them?" And they'll say, "Well six months ago I sat down with my team and made all of this clear." I always think, "Well there's your problem. See, as entrepreneurs, as leaders, we expect that if we say something one time, it should just stick." The difference between that and reality is massive because your team has a lot going on as well. They have their own lives, they have their responsibilities. They're trying to adjust everything that's going on in your company. They're trying to make sure they succeed, they win. They have families, and boyfriends, girlfriends, kids, all of those things. They do not singularly only pay attention to what they have to do at work. For a team, it's not as easy as it seems for the entrepreneur to just pick everything up and make it happen. That's why I often show with entrepreneurs, that leadership is repetition, not dictation.
Here's the difference, repetition is where you're telling your team repeatedly. Like, "Hey, here's how we want it done, and this is how we do things. And this is who we are. And this is what our culture is." Your sharing with them over and over again, reinforcing who your company is. Dictation is when you tell everybody do something once, and expect them all to get it. If you dictate to people, you are literally a dictator, and your team won't like working for you.
One of the things that we have to accept, and not just accept, but come to terms with and believe in, is that leadership is repetition, not dictation. The more often you say something, the more your team hears it from you, the more it becomes part of your culture and the discussion in the company, the more likely it is to be accepted and actually acted on by your team. The more likely they'll actually use what you're telling them. Because here's the difference between you and every one of your team members, you can see the future. When you share with them what they should do, or what's going on, or what's going to happen, you can see what's going to happen next. You understand what you anticipate next. You know where you're taking the company, and unfortunately for a team it's the absolute opposite. In fact, in most entrepreneurial organizations, there is no forward looking planning structure of any kind, so the team really doesn't know where the company's going.
On a daily basis, what we're asking every team member to do, is take a step off of a cliff, and trust that there will be ground there when they step off. Trust that the next step will fill in. Trust that the path will be clarified. And if I asked any entrepreneur to do that, they would flatly refuse, it's just too precarious, it's too unknown, it's too difficult to deal with not knowing based on somebody else's instruction, or based on somebody else's direction.
For all of us, we need to look at having a team in a different way. When we share with them where things are going, when we repeat for them who our company is, or what we're trying to achieve, and who we're helping. When they hear the same things repeatedly, they start to trust that those are the true foundational basis of your company. When you find yourself having to say something more than once to your team, it's an opportunity to slow down, explain yourself clearly, get in to some repetition, which is what leadership is all about, and you will see everything in your company change.
When we think of great leaders in the world, like when I think of John F. Kennedy, I think of, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." That's been repeated thousands, millions, you know, tens of millions of times because it was such a poignant statement. That repetition over and over again of that simple phrase changed our entire country, and had people thinking differently about where the United States was, and what their contribution should be.
It's the same way in businesses, pay attention to what you say to your team. Pay attention to what you share with them. Pay attention to what are the things that you say over and over again. If you're consistently telling your team how proud you are of them, how excited you are to work with them, how excited you are about the achievements, and you're telling them that consistently, they're hearing it from you over and over again, everything in your business will go faster.
Because here's the other side, in most entrepreneurial organizations, the only feedback people get, is when something is broken or wrong. In fact, most entrepreneurs don't really talk to their teams until there is something that needs to be corrected. Imagine what it's like to be on the other side of that scenario in any type of work environment. You work every day, you put in as much effort as you can, you're trying to achieve, you're trying to do the right thing. Human beings for the most part want to do the right thing. Human beings for the most part want to achieve, they want to impress you, they want to win, they want to accomplish.
In an average entrepreneurial company, they are doing all of those things and then the only communication they get is, "Hey, you missed this. Or this wasn't right. Or can we do this better. Or this isn't how I really wanted this done." The challenge with that is, is if they're not hearing positive from you, if they're not hearing what was good, if they're not hearing where the accomplishments were and what you wanted them to do, the only communication they get, or the majority of the communication they get about what they're doing is negative, it's corrective, it's not even heard.
As a leader, somebody who wants to grow a business, and grow an outcome, and make a bigger impact in the world, one of the things that you should just give into is the fact that you're going to repeat yourself often and you're going to say the same things over and over again, because that's what great leaders do. When you look at any presidential candidate, it doesn't matter what party, they typically have a stump speech. It's a speech about all their policies, and directives, and what they feel is most important for someone to hear. In the campaigning process, they may give that stump speech hundreds, if not sometimes, thousands of times. The same exact speech. Because every person who sits down in that audience, to hear it for the first time is new. It's brand new for them. So they say the same thing over and over and over again, to get into what is considered one of the ultimate leadership positions, the presidency of the United States. I think it's one of the most terrible jobs you could ever have in the world, but whatever, that's my opinion, and it kind of throws off the example. But in order to get into that type of a position, you repeat yourself over and over and over again.
When you look at any great business, Lee Iacocca, or Jack Welch, or Elon Musk, they say the same things over and over again. They share the same objectives, over and over again. They tell people where the company is going, over and over again. To the point where, if your team starts to poke fun of you a little bit, because you say the same things over and over again, then you know you're winning. You know it's sinking in. You know that they're actually getting it. Because the converse to that is being in an organization where people don't really know where things are going, they don't have any foundational understanding of what the business is, or what you're really doing, and they don't hear that consistent communication from the leader.
This is a relatively easy change to make, but it's a difficult change to stick with over time. I actually for years, had a sign right next to my desk that said, "Leadership is repetition, not dictation," so that every time I found myself saying something for the second, or third, or fourth, or tenth time to one of my team members, I could remember this is just how it is. This is my job, this is what I do. I give people the foundational basis to put their time, effort, energy, and focus into the business we are running together, and growing together, in the highest level of confidence with the highest level of effectiveness, and with the highest level of energy that they possibly can. If I need to repeat myself a few times in order for that to happen, today, I'm happy to do that.
When I was younger, I was the opposite. If somebody asked me something twice, I would get irritated with them, or upset with them. If I had to repeat something the second time I said it, it wasn't as kind as the first time I said it. If somebody asked me the same question in front of a group, I might even give them a hard time about it and say, "Hey, weren't you listening before?" It took me a long time to realize that all of those behaviors damaged trust in my company, they damaged my relationships with the people I was working with, and they damaged my ability to be seen as a leader, and not a frightening dictator. Not somebody who was out to get you. Not somebody who was frustrated with you. I didn't want to be seen as any of those things, and it took me forever to realize this.
When you apply this in your business, start recognizing what you say often. Start recognizing where your team has the same questions over and over again. That's an opportunity to fix something with a process, to go fill in, to understand how to make things clearer for your team. And then recognize something, if you have team members that are asking you to repeat yourself, if you have team members that are asking for a high level of clarity, if you have team members that want you to share with them exactly how they can win, and they ask more than once, I would look at this way, it's very likely you have conscientious team members who are excited about helping you and who want to make sure they do the right thing. When somebody asks you a question you've already heard before, and you've already said before, think to yourself, "This is a person just double checking and making sure that we can win together."
What I found over time, and this was one of the hardest lessons to learn, is that the best team members are the ones who are willing to ask you the question the second time. Are the ones who are willing to say I wasn't clear the first time. Are the ones who are willing to say, "Hey I need some more explanation here." Now, when I have the call where I get asked something again, I actually look at it and think about it positively. I actually welcome that call. I look at it as an opportunity to spend a very small amount of my energy and time in explaining something to someone, so that they can go out and do it, and I don't have to.
Because at the end of the day, and here's the trade off, when we're willing to repeat ourselves, when we're willing to make things very clear for people, when we're willing to say the same things over and over again so that it almost becomes a mantra in our company, we get to the point where we have massive leverage. And we are no longer responsible for all of the momentum, and all of the outcomes in the business. We have a team that is supporting the momentum and the outcomes of the business. For every entrepreneur out there, we learn very little standing still and almost nothing alone. So get into momentum, and either build a team, or a join a team, and go forward. If you have the opportunity to lead, either a company, or a team, or a group, or even just one person, and you want to do more, and you're willing to grow, and you want to see how far you can take your career, internalize the phrase, "Leadership is repetition, not dictation." And remind yourself, you do not want to be a dictator.
We are helping entrepreneurs just like you build teams and grow businesses, and lets be honest, change the world. There's no question that some of our clients are resetting the bar in the industries they're in. Everything from fitness, to medicine, to property management, to it's crazy the range, to alcohol addiction. It's crazy the range of people we're working with, and the amazing things that our clients are doing. If you're building a world changing company, and you've achieved about a million dollars in revenue, or you're getting close, and you want help building that cohesive team around you that's going to take your organization to the next level, reach out to us. I'd love to help you and we'd love to talk.
Thanks for spending this time with me today, and I look forward to being with you again tomorrow.