Leadership Tips

10 Leadership Tips from My 92-Year-Old Dad

The advice he offers reads like a no BS playbook for any aspiring leader who wants to succeed both in business and in life.

My dad is what brain researchers call a “super ager.”  At 92 he can still remember a remarkable array of facts, friends and circumstances far better than his youngest son. As it turns out, he’s always done the stuff researchers suggest could contribute to a lively longevity including getting regular exercise, maintaining strong bonds with friends and family, not smoking and learning new things.

He also kept working well into his ‘80s, the last twenty years as a sales development coach, helping small businesses network more effectively. Given his vast experience working with a wide array of companies, I thought he might make an interesting interview for my podcast. As it turns out, the advice he offers reads like a no BS playbook for any aspiring leader who wants to succeed both in business and in life. [To hear our whole interview, click here.]

  1. Hold your employees accountable

In the early 1950’s, I worked under this man named Bob Chase, Head of Manufacturing at Beckman Instruments. I was running production control, which meant that I had to keep three weeks of every part on the shelf. Bob said to me, “Now Carl, when you told me that shipment is going out on Tuesday, if it’s not gone, I want to hear on Sunday or Monday. None of this stuff on Tuesday because I’m making the commitment to the client.” That boss kept me accountable, which meant a lot down the road when I was managing my own team.

  1. You’re only as good as your team

Team is really the key thing these days. Do you have a team where one plus one plus one equals ten? Or a team where one plus one equals negative two? The latter is when people are not working together. I’ve been through some of those teams. To avoid that, a strong leader needs to have the right attitude and focus on building the best team to get them to work together successfully.

  1. Leadership starts with listening

I would always try to have continual contact with each of my team members. Listening is crucial and it’s almost a lost art. Genuinely listening can help you solve most problems together. Ultimately, you want to be on their team as much as they are on yours.

When you’re in an interview, if you are doing 90 percent of the talking, you’re going to lose. But, if you can get the other person talking about what they are passionate about, and you’ve done some homework, and you show the interest in their particular situation, then that really goes a long way with building sustainable relationships.

  1. Move past mistakes

The first thing is truly being a great member of each team you’re a part of and going that extra mile. Reaching out to the other team members in ways that work for them can generate this sort of synergism. Saying, “I am for you. You’re for me,” and rewarding good moves. If someone makes an error, forget that and go on to the next bit. You don’t want to dwell on that error at all. I think all of those basics of treating team members with respect can easily translate into working on a business team. You have to be able to adjust and lead a team through the many ‘no’s’ to eventually get to that one ‘yes’.

  1. A winning team is rarely a fluke

So many people do not realize that when they look at a big company making profits, that there were 10 other companies that just didn’t succeed in order for that one to be really successful. It’s a tough situation, but a lot of them just fall by the wayside. And that’s what happens in sports many times as well. Companies can crumble because of a lack of vision, a lack of leadership, or a lack of common goals. That’s not the kinds of things that you find on a winning team, like my L.A. Dodgers.

  1. Build and maintain your network

I really try to keep up with my network via lunches and breakfasts. Easily 85 percent of the people that I reach out to still want to stay connected, but it takes that extra bit of effort to make it happen. It’s one call, and most of them are expecting it now because we’ve had that for years. I always ask, “How can I help you?” It’s all about connecting folks with other people and bringing them together. It gives me a lot of satisfaction and is hopefully helpful for both parties. You build a reputation for yourself. To me, the five-letter word ‘trust’ is still the key thing in business.

  1. Earn trust with the right clients

Earning trust is not something that you can do by saying things. You earn it. As such, when you’re starting with a new client, if it feels wrong, usually it can only go further south, so don’t take them on. I’m finding more and more people, especially in marketing, react that way. If you want to earn trust, you want to earn trust of the right people.In my last 15 to 20 years where I had my own business, I would take on a couple of very special clients who trusted me and were working with me because of my reputation that I had earned over years in Orange County, California. I would introduce them to people that I knew who might be their client, and because I had known these people for a long time, they’d come in. It was all based on reputation and trust. And if you introduce someone to the wrong person, that’s not going to help you. After all, it’s much easier to lose trust than to obtain it.

  1. A little consideration like remembering a name goes a long way

As I call to make my dates and appointments, I usually know everyone who I talk to in that process. I’ve probably talked with the person who puts the call through. They care about helping me if I remember his or her name. It’s helpful to work those people right into your system. Remembering the details makes the difference. And if certain people do the same things for you, then you should invest time in those relationships.

  1. From adversity comes strength

Into each life, some rain must fall. What really makes the person, in my mind, is having gone through some very serious problems and come out successfully. To me, somebody who says they’ve never had a failure does not make sense. They clearly haven’t been exposed to a lot. The people that I admire the most have overcome some really tough times and come back out of it stronger. From a marketing standpoint, this is like sticking with it even after you’ve had quite a few ‘no’s.’ Even if it seems tough, you come right back, and go on to the next person until you get the ‘yes.’

  1. Curiosity is a lifelong pursuit

Every single day is a learning day. Even at my age, the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. That is a sad situation if you don’t make the most of it and see it as an opportunity to grow. It’s like if you read every book in a library, you open up the door and there’s just a whole other set to read. I’ve also been in a wonderful men’s book club for 16 years. What it really does is broadens what you read by the other people’s choices. It gets me out of my comfort zone, which is essential.

About the author: Drew Neisser is the founder & CEO of Renegade, the NYC-based strategic boutique for B2B renegades. He is also the host of the #2 podcast for CMOs, Renegade Thinkers Unite and author of The CMOs Periodic Table: A Renegade’s Guide to Marketing.