This blog post is part of a series of leadership lessons that I have learned from 40 years in tech. Previous posts focused on building a great company. This is the first post on lessons learned in becoming a great leader.
“With great power comes great responsibility.” Most readers of my blog posts know this, of course, from the original Spider-Man movie. According to Wikipedia, it first appeared in a 1962 Amazing Fantasy comic. What profound words to come from a comic book! Just like superheroes, leaders have both power and responsibility. Their words carry outsized weight. If used thoughtfully, a leader’s words can inspire individuals or entire organizations to accomplish amazing things (see what I did there?). On the other hand, if used carelessly, they can be just as harmful or destructive.
One of the most valuable leadership lessons I learned in my career, one that I still use nearly every day, is that everything you say or write, should have a purpose. Whenever you write an email or speak up in a meeting, you should ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish? What is the goal? What outcome do I want?” The more emotional the situation, the more important it is to stop and ask yourself this question. Be especially mindful of the answer that says, “because it will make me feel better.” In those cases, 99.9% of the time, it is best to just swallow it. Or at least wait until you have time for the emotions to settle. Who among us hasn’t sent an email late in the day that you later regretted? One of my favorite tricks is to write that emotional email, save it, sleep on it, and send an edited version (usually very much softened), or not at all, the next day.
Steven Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, teaches you to “Begin with the end in mind.” This is excellent advice for everything leaders say and write.