This is an article I have been meaning to complete for some time, mainly because I started thinking about it 30 years ago! I have been lucky enough to work with, and in the presence of, some amazing leaders who often make leadership easier – both for the people they influence and probably for themselves, enabling them to do more for the people they serve. 

I observed what worked and consciously decided that I would adapt some of these ways of thinking to improve my performance. 

As I started a new role in 1991, I decided that I was going to hack my current approach.

A leadership hack definition  is anything that helps you accomplish more in less time. To accomplish more, leaders need to hack their current approach with new ways of thinking and influencing that will enable them to do more with less. Individual hacks are shortcuts that leaders can use themselves to lift their performance.

How it started

Making a start on my Leadership Hacks in 1991 as a newly promoted Warrant Officer in the British Army

I hope some of these ‘hacks’  will help you save time and energy throughout your leadership journey.  So, let’s dive in:

  1. Whose Train Set is it? How much space do you have to act or change in your organisation? (what can you Control?  Influence? Or you will just have to Accept (CIA)? Don’t waste time and energy over things you have no control over.  Do ask yourself this question: ‘Whose train set is it’ at the start of each new role, then periodically assess your CIA.
  2. Recognising patterns of behaviour – predicting the future.  You may not be able to predict someone’s behaviour  but over time you will recognise patterns of behaviour, to the point you can predict what will happen next.

“What has been will be again,  what has been done will be done again;  there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

  1. Support.  Support can mean two different things to people.  It can be perceived as doing the job for them or it can be supporting your colleague to do their job better.  Do the latter, you do not have time for the former. 
  2. Leaders Lean Back.  Delegate whenever you can, but remember whilst you can delegate responsibility, the accountability stays with you.  Are you providing the space for people to act? By stretching your team members, you are giving them opportunities to shine and develop.

Related: Leaders Lean Back – Leadership in the Raw

  1. Procrastinate on purpose – slow down to hurry up.  Something doesn’t feel quite right? Don’t be rushed into making decisions if you do not have all the facts and information in front of you.  Just because it is priority for them doesn’t mean it has to be a priority for you.
  2. Be Kind – nobody remembers the spreadsheet, but they do remember your kindness. 

“There are lots of good things in the world, but I’m not sure that comradeship is not the best of them all-to know that you can do something big for another chap”

Sir Ernest Shackleton Polar Explorer

  1. Go with your gut feeling learn to trust what your gut is telling you.  99% of the time, it will be the right call.  Whenever I made mistakes e.g., recruiting the wrong person for a role, it was because I didn’t go with my gut feeling.  I regretted it and lost lots of time remedying my mistake.
  2. Surround yourself with talent – Recognise you can only be Olympic standard at one or two things – you don’t have to be the one with all the answers or do all the inspiring – be inspired by your colleagues – seek out mentors within your team for the things you need to learn.
  3. Never stop recruiting – the next person who walks through the door could change how you look at things and it could even change your life.  Always be on the lookout for the next super talent even when you have no vacancies. 
  4. Take control of recruiting don’t leave it to the recruitment team.  You know what you need so now go and find them.  I have never understood managers who see recruitment as someone else’s responsibility.
  5. Build Trust if people like you, they will listen to you. If they trust you, they will do business with you.  Building trust is something you do every day.

Related:  Being Bettina’s Dad: ‘Trust’ is a gift you must earn – Leadership in the Raw

  1.  Invest in yourself – it may mean extra hours sometimes at the weekend, but I guarantee you will see a return on your investment!  A saying in my first career holds true: ‘put the time in to get the time off’
  2. Show Gratitude in everything you do.  Remember to thank your colleagues for a job well done.  They will appreciate it.  I know I do when I am thanked, and I want to do more for someone. 
  3. Maintain your humour particularly in adverse conditions.  Your colleagues will appreciate it.  Self-depreciating humour from a leader can take the tension away in difficult situations.  It will enable those around you to focus on the job in hand. 
  4. Consistency matters.  behave consistently in your attitude towards people.  I have always judged people on their attitude (positive) and results (do they deliver on what they say they will do), nothing else.  Avoid mood swings.  This stops your colleagues wondering what kind of manager they will meet today.  If you are consistent people are not frightened about approaching you to get the job done.
  5.  Eat the Frog What is the most challenging but potentially rewarding task that you can do today? Don’t put off doing it until the end of the day – you’ll waste time doing less important things and worrying about how you still have to “eat the frog”.  Write it down.  Make it your first task of the day and then relax.
  6. No blame culture – take the blame for your team.  In my experience where there is blame there is fear.  You want confident, innovative, creative personalities who will take your team forward. They will, but they need to know you have their back.   It is not enough to say you have a ‘no blame culture’ – you need to evidence it.  Regularly tell your colleagues about your no blame culture.  It builds trust.
  7. Seek out ideas and listen very carefully.  A lesson I learned from the Army: a team member might only have one life changing idea, be sure to be standing next to the person when they raise it.
  8. Patience – knowing that you won’t always get a ‘yes’ the first time of asking.  Sometimes you need to revisit the proposal in six months’ time.  It might just need refining or re-branding.  In my experience there have even been occasions where the person who initially turned down an idea couldn’t remember rejecting it the first time.
  9. Build your network (and call on their talents) both within and outside of your organisation – start with the principle of “what can I do for you” rather than “what can you do for me”.  The “Boss” I have now is the same one I had 30 years ago when I was in the army, albeit in a completely different career – a part of my network I have retained.

Related:    Networking: it really is all about who you know – Leadership in the Raw

  1. Have plenty of stories to tell.  Everybody remembers ‘David and Goliath’s story’ nobody remembers the super spreadsheet you provided.  I have personally found that stories from leaders capture my imagination.  They often paint a picture of what can be. 
  2. What are your performance indicators?  How do you measure yourself? Score yourself out of 10.  There are times when I have done some work or attended meetings where I feel I have scored a lower mark than desired, so I reflect on my score and look to improve on the result.  There may be a good explanation for a low score, so how can I improve my performance in a similar environment next time?
  3. What would someone you have previously worked for/respect do in a similar situation? Imagine you are them.  I have often done this as an athlete.  Coming of the final bend in a race, what would Steve Ovett (1980 Gold Medallist) do next?
  4. Discipline sets you free – Know your routines, structure, frameworks and stick with them.  Yes, refine and improve your personal systems and processes but trust them.  Discipline becomes very important when you are in the middle of a crisis.
  5. Relentless focus on pieces of work – set a time to accomplish a paper and see if you can complete within the time allotted.   
  6. Sweat the small stuff – your gut feeling is telling you this is wrong.  You recognise the pattern of ‘behaviour’ from previous experiences.  Tackle it now while it is small before you have to deal with it when it is big.  Often as Chair for a Disciplinary Hearing I could see that had the behaviour been tackled when it started, I would not be hearing it now.
  7. What do you want to be known for?  What is your added value?  When your name is mentioned, what do you want them to think?  They expect you to do a good job as it is what you are paid to do, but what is that little extra you bring to the table that makes you different?  It could be a leadership attribute or a particular skill or interest.
  8. Get Creative – …. Time out.  Step outside and go for a walk or a run.  If you can find time for lunch or a social conversation with a colleague, then you can find time to do this.  I guarantee you will receive a return on your investment.  With no distractions you will be able to tackle that insurmountable problem you couldn’t solve sitting in front of a laptop.
  9. Celebrate success We can all be in rush to face the next challenge without taking some time to recognise a success or a job well done.  Make it the first item on your next team meeting, but don’t rest on your laurels as successes tend to have a short shelf life, then get cracking on with your next endeavour.
  10.  Know your: (and tell people)
  • Values (and write them down) Values in Action – Leadership in the Raw
  • Vision (where you want to get to)  do your colleagues know it? Capture people’s imagination by painting a picture of what can be (be creative).  Get buy in and people will start helping you achieve it. 
  • Purpose – create a buzz your reason why something is being done or created or for which something exists (for me this is the company I work for . Can people feel your determination and resolve?

How it is going

Still learning still writing down the hacks.  There will never be a time when I can put my feet up and think “that’s it, I am a success now”.  Remember you are only as good as your last race.

Take responsibility for your own energy; where you left it, how you share it

and where you get it from”  Elysia Skye