Rodger Price formed Leading by Design LLC in Holland in January 2014 to develop business leaders with a sense that West Michigan was “already this hotbed of great leaders.” He believes that by cultivating that culture, the region can become a leader in leadership development, similar to what Silicon Valley is to technology.
What must all leaders do during a crisis?
You need to have your best thinking. We know from brain research that when you get anxious, your executive function starts to shut down. The first thing is you need to somehow gain some calm. One of the things we know we can do to help leaders get clearer thinking is to just listen to them. Let them process. We can actually ‘listen’ them into clarity.
Then you have to think about: What are some of the options? You can have that attitude of ‘amazing things can happen,’ but we have to be able to look for them. We’re right in the middle of that ourselves right now. You have to stay calm so that you can think clearly, and then you have to look for where the opportunities are in this, and then you have to look at what’s true. You have to face the realities and not just bury your head in the sand.
How do you define leadership?
The vital few things that make a leader a great leader are those three things of being someone worth following — and we never tell someone what those attributes are, but we explore it with them. Certainly, integrity, transparency, authenticity, competence and all kinds of things go into being someone worth following. Then secondly, building an amazing team and, thirdly, making sure you create clarity around ‘who are we, where are we going, and how do we behave as we’re doing all of that.’ Those three things make up 80 percent of what it means to be a great leader.
How do you know when somebody is ready for a leadership position?
I don’t think you do. I think it’s trial and error. Remember the Peter Principle from the ’60s (the tendency to promote people to the highest level of their incompetence). When I promote somebody, I don’t know if they can do it or not. We’ll find out. The problem with the Peter Principle is once they were promoted higher and higher, maybe five levels up and they finally hit their level of incompetence, the issue then is you can’t keep them there. But if you are afraid of promoting someone into their level of incompetence, you might not ever promote anybody. You see some things that you can predict that they’ll be able to do really well, but you don’t know until they have that big job and that’s when it becomes real. Now there are things we can do to help them, but ultimately we have to try it and see, and then if it doesn’t work we have to help them with that, too.
Given the crisis that we’re in, what’s the one mistake a business leader must avoid doing?
Leadership is often this paradox of two very different things, almost opposites. One is you have to face the reality that is creating that fear, but you must not give in to fear. You must have confidence that there is something out there that is going to work, so you have to kind of wrestle with both of those opposites. If all you do is go Pollyanna-like, you can crash and burn. If all you do is let fear drive you, you might survive, but your competitors are going to fly by you, those who are saying, ‘We see opportunity here.’
Can anybody become a leader?
Anybody can become a better leader than they are, but people do, in my opinion, have ceilings. There are basically six things that we explore inside a person that define their design, and it’s out of this where you go, ‘Wow, you’re a natural leader,’ or ‘You’re going to have to work really, really hard at this if you want to be a great organizational leader.’
In business, what’s the difference between a manager and a leader?
We like to talk about managers as incredibly important and they focus on doing things right, and a leader is more interested in ‘are we doing the right things.’ One of my favorite quotes is: ‘The only thing worse than doing something poorly is to do something with excellence that should not be done.’ So, management is going to be about, ‘Let’s make sure we do things with excellence.’ Leaders are going to be about, ‘Let’s make sure we’re working on things we should be working on.’ Management is more about, ‘What’s in front of me today and this week and this month?’ Leadership is more about looking out there, looking next year. Especially in our response to the pandemic, you don’t have to look out to be a leader (and ask), ‘What are you going to do?’