Want to Be a Great Leader? Here's Why You Should Walk the Talk

After 25 years of teaching at Stanford Business School, I’ve had hundreds of leaders and entrepreneurs as class guests, some of them among the world’s most accomplished and well-known. Each has had strong, and often divergent, opinions about how best to lead and manage people. It turns out that there are almost as many opinions on leadership as there are leaders. 

Despite the many differences, the one trait these effective leaders have shared is inspiration through actions. They’ve executed their way to credibility. They’ve delivered on promises. They’ve built trust one event at a time, one challenge at a time, one initiative at a time. They all seem to realize that, over time, it’s about how they act (and react) that defines them. In moments of truth, their actions shine; they become the embodiment of a shared mission.

One leader I’ve come to know and admire is Adam Silver of the National Basketball Association (NBA). Silver is an exemplar of “walking the talk.” He’s soft-spoken, more lawyer than promoter, more thought-leader than media star. But he’s emerged as perhaps the most respected commissioner in all of professional sports, deftly handling controversies such as the fallout over former Los Angeles Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling’s racist remarks in 2014.

Perhaps more importantly, he has been intentional and measured about elevating and broadening the league’s image, making it about quality of play, fun, and inclusiveness. Silver has endeared himself to players and to fans alike by promoting the stars of the game over himself, and the game over its stars, and the community over the league. His brand has emerged less by talking than by doing.

We all know so-called leaders who are all about themselves, all about image, all about talk. Not only do they promote themselves, but some of the more vocal seem to alternate between scolding and preaching. More show pony than workhorse, they often develop impressive skills for finessing problems, delaying or deflecting. Indeed, some who have developed this flavor of leadership seem to have found their way to political leadership. 

This is a shame. Despite attracting the most “show ponies,” the political arena is precisely a place that could use “workhorse” leadership. Finding political solutions is hard work – often requiring more skills of leaders who have “run things” than the legislative skills of wordsmiths. Indeed, political leadership is challenging. It is easy to feel minimized or frustrated with the process. But, even more so than in the private sector, it is critical that leaders in the political arena embrace the core value that actions trump words.

One of my mentors, the legendary real estate developer Trammell Crow, used to say, “You can’t talk your way out of problems you behaved your way into.” Any nation, any business, any school or community will get further by behaving its way out of problems than it will by assigning blame in endless analysis. 

Determined and persistent leaders know that, in the end, their intentions won’t matter nearly as much as their results In the private sector, I’ve learned that the key to effective leadership is to develop clarity around objectives, budgets, time frames, and deliverables. The leaders who master all four metrics will lead winning teams and be known for their actions, by their results — and not by their words or best intentions.

Tech

Here's Why Anyone Will Be Able to Develop a Computer Program 5 Years from Now

These days, while our grandparents struggle endearingly to send a text message or compose an email, we struggle to remember that the use of computers and smartphones wasn’t always intuitive.

Though we understand on an intellectual level that such objects are foreign to them, it’s hard to internalize; after all, most of us caught on to laptops and smartphones as soon as they became the standard.

But a few decades from now, will we be those clueless grandparents? Just as it’s become so natural and intuitive to use computer software, will our children and our children’s children think it’s equally as natural and intuitive to build it?

Back in high school and college, most of us tended to distance ourselves from the field of coding, assuming that it required too much specialized knowledge to tackle on even an elementary level. But that’s no longer the case today. Coding could easily become mainstream in the next few years, and we’ll probably all need to jump onboard regardless of our levels of experience.

Coding is more accessible than ever

Although self-taught coding isn’t new, it’s become easier and more realistic for the everyday person. Decades ago, teaching yourself coding was tedious and required an enormous amount of effort. You had to sort through physical textbooks and copy problem sets by hand, without many resources or available mentors to help you if you got stuck.

Nowadays, it’s different. First, there are more online coding courses available than anyone could count. Since each has a different approach, it’s easy to find ones that are suited for particular learning styles. The ever-popular Khan Academy offers coding courses with periodic mini-quizzes that students can use to test themselves and stay on track. Another program, Skillcrush, offers one-on-one office hours with the professor, as well as a 10-day coding bootcamp for those short on time.

Many of these courses are also specialized for individual skill levels and needs. While there are always those that cater to advanced coders, more and more are serving beginning coders, including older folks and kids.

Second, there are plenty of online resources to facilitate the coding process and supplement these courses. With the explosion of social media and the popularity of online forums, it’s easier than ever to connect with other coders and potential mentors for help. There are even sites that are intended specifically for this. HackHands, for example, makes programming experts available for live online chats 24/7.

Third, the coding process itself is also easier. No longer is it necessary to create simple units of code from scratch. Instead, existing bits of commonly used code components are accessible through open-source platforms like Bit. This means that rather than create each individual piece of code by hand, developers of all levels can put together lego-like building blocks of code, share their code with others, and use it across different projects.

These tools can serve as the infrastructure for building new applications with a simple composition of existing components. Since code is easier than ever to learn and requires less and less specialized knowledge to build, anyone will be able to create their own computer programs in the next few years.

Coding as a practical skill

The significance of all this is not just that programming will be more convenient for developers or even aspiring coding hobbyists. Even more importantly, the availability, accessibility, and increasing popularity of programming means that coding soon will become a mainstream practical skill–one that doesn’t require a university education to acquire.

This is about employability as much as it is about convenience. In the United States, university tuition is notoriously expensive. These days, the cost of private university courses, room, and board can amount to $ 60,000 per year. At the same time, American jobs are increasingly outsourced to countries with cheap labor. The result is that many Americans lack the basic practical skills so important to the American workforce. Instead, they invest in a strictly academic education which, though valuable, is notoriously expensive.

Now that it’s particularly vital for Americans to develop practical skills and now that university education is more expensive than most can afford, widespread knowledge of coding as a basic practical skill is both beneficial and feasible. The gig economy has made modern jobs more fluid and flexible than they were a few decades ago; career shifts and alternative forms of education are not only easier to pursue, but they’re also more culturally acceptable than they once were.

This isn’t to say that self-taught coding should replace traditional forms of higher education. Rather, it’s to say that it could be a viable option for people who can’t afford the high cost of a formal university education, who don’t have access to institutions of higher education at all, or who simply want to eliminate the pressure of having to pursue a degree in a technical field.

Learning to code, after all, is just as inexpensive as it is accessible, and it’s becoming increasingly standard to pursue on the side. In just a few years, building a computer program will be as normal as using one.

Tech