In many ways, the current beliefs and thinking around leadership are amazing compared to the leadership beliefs of prior generations. No longer does it feel like leaders have to rule with an iron fist, not care about their people, or have to be afraid to show vulnerability in front of those people.
Instead, it is encouraged to be a servant leader, to be committed to the development of people, and to try and create more leaders–not more followers.
There might be no better example for modern leaders to look up to and learn from than SAP CEO Bill McDermott. Since he became the sole CEO of SAP in May 2014, he’s gotten it done in the results category (shares have risen over 30 percent)–and his commitment to people is second to none.
I interviewed him on my podcast recently, and he had a lot to say about leadership. He’s the CEO of a huge company–but his thoughts are applicable to startups and entrepreneurs, too.
Here are seven of his best leadership lessons, drawn from our conversation:
- Lead with a higher purpose
Simon Sinek’s famous “Golden Circle” of why, how, and what is a perfect place to start. McDermott communicates to his 80,000 employees – why they are there and why they matter.
As McDermott says, “Having a higher purpose has to touch both the customer and your people because you are playing for stakes beyond money.”
If you are running a company and haven’t defined your purpose for existence beyond making money, don’t do another thing. If you are thinking of starting a company determine the purpose, before you even think about developing a website.
- Surround yourself with better people
One of the biggest mistakes I see entrepreneurs make is thinking they have to be be the expert in everything.
McDermott said he learned early in his career that “every leader has to have the humility to recognize their success will be based on choosing the very best people.”
One of the best ways to surround yourself with better people is to know your strengths and then hire people around you who excel in your areas of weakness.
- Learn from others, but be authentic
“At the end of the day leaders have to be authentic,” McDermott told me. “And the only way to do that is to learn from other great leaders and make those lessons your own.”
Regardless of what the leader above you is telling you about hitting numbers, making cuts, or giving up on a person early in their journey, you have to do it your way. Make bets on people you believe will create long term growth, success, and improve your culture.
- Don’t mess up the business strategy
McDermott says, “Leaders can be forgiven for a lot of mistakes, but they will never be forgiven for a bad strategy.”
There are a lot of different kinds of strategies a leader can put into action. But if the strategy doesn’t help your customer be more successful, then it has little-to-no chance to succeed.
- Make trust as the linchpin
One of the first questions people ask themselves when they meet someone is, “Is this person trustworthy?”
The only way to earn trust is to give trust unconditionally, first. Humans have enormous instinctual power to know who is the real deal. Show your people who you are every single day through your actions not your words.
- Focus on the root cause of success
Every organization has to get results for the business to survive. It’s one thing to know the results, but it’s much more valuable to understand the root cause of the results. If you understand the root cause of what produces results then you have the power to motivate your people.
- Remember, it’s a work in progress
Business and leadership is a journey and keeping the mindset of the long game will always serve you well. In McDermott’s words: “Every day we have to be constantly reinventing what we brought from yesterday and keep dreaming about what we can be tomorrow.”
Ask yourself: How many of these lessons are you are implementing on an ongoing basis? If you identify some gaps, there is no better time to start filling them than the present.