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12 Powerful Lessons I learned from the book ‘Open, Honest, and Direct’ written by Aaron Levy

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Just last week, I completed reading the book ‘Open, Honest, and Direct’ written by Aaron Levy the Founder & CEO of Raise The Bar, a leadership training company based out of Chicago.

Building a business involves more than just a good product and great employees; it also demands you examine how you present yourself as a leader. Levy’s book is about identifying the changes you can make to transform the way you and your managers lead.

In this book, I liked how Aaron explained each leadership skill through the use of examples and stories popping out from his own life which makes this book very practical and approachable. It has something for everyone, be it an individual contributor, an entrepreneur, or a team leader.

In today's blog, I am going to share the top 12 takeaways from the book Open, Honest, and Direct:

1. Nothing happens until you see action.

If you want to alter the behavior of your team members, you would want them to take action; it requires more than telling them what to do and how to do it. It's not that people don’t know what to do and how to do it. The real problem lies with acting.

2. Find ways to retain your talent.

With the unemployment levels going down, the war for talent is on the rise. It’s getting harder for companies to hire and retain top talent. When attracting top talent, companies look at the short-term approach, i.e. throwing money into the market. When people leave, companies continue to hire more people, instead of working on finding ways to retain people. For this purpose, one of the suggestions from the author is to set up a stay interview with each employee. This is the opposite of an exit interview and gives incredible clarity on what will make the employee stay with the company.

3. People leave the managers, not their jobs.

It is rightly said that people don’t leave their jobs, they leave managers. According to data from DDI’s Frontline Leader’s Project, 57% of people have left a job to get away from a bad manager. In fact, Gallup found that 70% of the variance in employee engagement depends on the manager. People leave when they see their bosses not caring about their growth.

4. Not all top performers are good leaders.

The major problem with managers is that “most of them are promoted because they’re good at what they do, not because they’re good at leading people.” When, in an organization, a management role pops up, companies look at the top performers. They are taken out of their contributor roles and put as team leaders.

The mistake that companies make is the assumption that if an employee is a top performer, he/she will also be good at leading people. Leading and performing both require skills that are vastly different from each other. Companies look at their key performance indicators, not their people management, listening, and delivering feedback skills. This sets them up for failure both ways, they remove the individual contributor from their high-performance role and also hire the wrong person for a management role. Instead of one thing that they were doing well, they are now poorly doing many things.

5. Choose the right person as a team leader.

When you would like to see if a person would be better as an individual contributor or as a team leader, ask them what excites them about leading a team. When replying if they talk about the overall team aspect, they are a better fit to lead.

For example, I am about to hire someone. The first question I should ask the candidate is does the person want to lead others? Do they get excited about leading and working with others?

6. Team success matters.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”_African Proverb.

A great leader understands that the path to success cannot be walked alone. Without the help and contribution of others, he/she cannot attain their goals. Teamwork is important and essential in order to accomplish the overall objectives and goals of an organization.

7. Reflect.

Reflection, which is often overlooked, must be an important part of a leader’s growth trajectory. When something backfires or doesn’t work, reflection allows for learning, to look back to see what worked and what didn’t. This art of reflection creates neural pathways and moves him/her toward this incredible habit of reflection.

8. Practice listening.

Listening can transform your impact as a leader. We think over 1000-3000 words per minute, but we listen to 125-250. This clearly shows that listening is hard. We spend years of our education practicing reading and writing but none of those years goes into developing our listening skills. This results in most of us being poor at this very important leadership skill. The input for inspiring your people is actually listening, hearing with intention and attention, and this has a huge impact on how your people show up and how they feel motivated and inspired. Listening to others with intention shows them that you truly care about them.

9. Accept your inner voice.

Most times it is our inner dialogue that comes in between our ability to truly listen to others. Accepting and noticing that inner voice is the first step towards becoming a better listener.

10. Always ask questions.

An important leadership trait is a habit of asking powerful questions. I am someone who wants to move fast, make quick decisions and mistakes, slow down, and ask questions. If you are listening attentively, you don’t need to worry about asking powerful questions, Trust your instincts and ask. It’s the key to becoming a strategic leader. When asking questions, embrace a beginner’s mind and explore the unknown.

11. Feedback sharing - make it a habit.

When offering feedback, whether positive or negative, be specific and give as many details as you possibly can. This will make the feedback more impactful. Lack of impact is one of the key reasons people leave their companies. One another similar aspect is to give feedback, as close to the occurrence of the event. The more you don’t share feedback, the more you prevent them from growing.

12. Managing your own well-being is also important.

According to research, today's leaders are suffering from poor well-being and mental health issues more than ever before. This is because they prioritize the requirements of the company or their team over their own. Leaders must follow a similar approach to airline pre-flight instructions - "put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others," by controlling their own well-being first. This check-in is important to reflect on the past and to look forward to the next. You can become a role model for your employees and strengthen team relationships, which will result in better health and productivity outcomes.

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