Traditional ideas of leadership invoke the image of a politician or a CEO—someone powerful, widely influential, but also removed from the lower ranks of their “followers.”
But in reality, all of us are leaders in some way—or, at least, we all have the potential to be.
Brad Lomenick has been equipping and gathering leaders for more than a decade. In his new book, H3 Leadership, Lomenick breaks down 20 leadership habits he learned during his time as president of Catalyst and before. The habits include everything from staying curious, to being willing to be vulnerable, to training successors.
We talked to Lomenick about the book, why vulnerability is a core part of strong leadership, and the difference between calling and a job.
In your book, you talk about leadership habits in three main categories: humble, hungry and hustle. What do those mean and why did you choose those categories?
Over the years of leading teams and organizations, when the interns would show up the first day, they would sit in my office and say, “Give us the elementary essence of what leadership is.” That was my answer, H3: Humble, Hungry, Hustle. In many ways, this is the three-legged stool you have to stand on in order to create a good leadership foundation. Humble meaning it’s not about me; Hungry meaning I’m never there, I never arrive; and Hustle meaning I’ve got to be working my guts out to get to the to finish line.
Leadership is hard work, so it has to be habitual work. Anything in life that’s hard—whether it’s trying to quit smoking or trying to eat healthy—if it’s difficult, it takes way more systemic practices in order to actually become good at it. Leading people is really hard. It needs to have habits that will sustain it over time.
If you’re just winging it as a leader, you can sometimes swing and hit a home-run, but most times you’re going to swing and strike out unless you put some really practical things into practice on a daily basis.
You start the book talking about identity and vulnerability. Why do you think it’s important to start there?
For leaders to be effective today, they have to be willing to be vulnerable and open and authentic. That’s been true for a long time, but it wasn’t necessarily at the top of the food chain for a leader. A lot of times, it was “Fake it till you make it,” “Don’t let people see you sweat.”
We sort of looked at leaders and thought, “Well, they’ve got it all together.” The only time we ever discovered they didn’t was if something happened and there was this crisis moment. I think today, the most effective leaders are the ones who actually lead from the places of weakness.
Because here’s the reality: If you’re leading a team, they already know the things you don’t do well. They already know the things you struggle with. They know the areas where you get angry and where you have a short temper.
People want a leader who says, “Hey guys, I’m self-aware enough to actually stand in front of you and admit that I know the things I struggle with.” You have to be appropriate with it, but I think this air of openness—this air of “We’re all on the same team, we’re going to create a culture that is all about authenticity”—that is a total gift of strength.
We can all think of industries where we would love a little bit of that. Like if there was a more openness in the political landscape, if there was just a small expression of authenticity, I think people would clamor to those kinds of candidates, especially among the younger generation. Leaders have lead from this place, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s effective.
This is true at every level of leadership. You think about businesses today that people are buying from—I’m not buying anymore from the largest organization, I’m not buying from arguably the most trusted historic brands from anymore. I’m buying from people and organizations that I trust and that are real. The ability for me to lose trust as a brand today is way faster than it’s ever been, because we’re just clamoring to it so much, we’re starving for something that feels like it’s the real thing.
Leaders are going to be way better off if they have an air of openness to them. When you start going up the ladder of success and authority, the opposite will start to pull you. So put a ring of protection around yourself—make sure you’re building these walls of protection. You’ve got to fight that at every level, especially as you go up the food chain of influence.
Along with that, what other habits do you think tend to be most difficult for leaders today?
The habit of “assignment” is really crucial in terms of calling. A lot of us get calling confused. It’s more important than ever for people to understand the difference between “calling” and “assignment.”
Calling is that 30,000-foot level where your strengths and passions intersect. It’s the “why you’re here,” it’s the thing you love to do and sort of the defining statement for your life.
Assignments are the next level down. Assignments look like a job, like a current vocation. For me, walking out of running Catalyst for 10 plus years, I had a little bit of a struggle with this whole habit of assignment. I had to go back and understand that my calling is bigger. I don’t mean more important, I mean it’s higher up than running Catalyst.
If my calling had been to run Catalyst and I stepped out of that seat, then all of a sudden, my world is collapsing and I have no life and no future. But my calling has always been to influence the influencers and to gather leaders. My assignment for many years was to run Catalyst, but that assignment is over. When that chapter of the book is complete, I move on to the next chapter.
If people will grasp that, then you won’t have as much calling confusion. It’s pretty rampant among a lot of people I know where they think their calling is their job. They all of a sudden move on from a job and their world collapses.
How do you advise people to start practicing these 20 leadership habits in their lives?
I would say start somewhere. Twenty habits is overwhelming, it’s daunting. I would say this is the roadmap, this is the game plan and the playbook. So imagine you’re brand new to a sports team and you’re given 20 plays you have to learn in order to be ready for the game two or three weeks from now. You’re not going to run all those 20 plays in the first game, but you may run them all in the course of the season.
So I want to make sure the 20 habits are put out there, and if you’re able to implement all of them, great. But this is much more of “Here they are, let’s work on them together.” I think it takes weeks, perhaps months, maybe even a year or two, maybe even more than a few years, for someone to actually take all these and start to put them into practice in a way that will actually change their leadership game. But I wanted to make sure we listed them all out.
Dargan is a former RELEVANT editor turned freelancer. Find her online at darganthompson.com or follow her extremely random train of thought on Twitter @darganthompson.