Any of us who have been fortunate enough to have had a mentor know how valuable it is to have someone around you who has been there and done that – a person to bounce thoughts off of in challenging situations; someone who has seemingly done everything and always seems to calmly know the way through the challenging, political, and sometimes just strange journey down the leadership road. I have been fortunate to have had a great mentor throughout the duration of my corporate career – ironically a man affectionately nicknamed by those close to him as “Max the Axe.” I have to admit that this certainly is not the nickname of a person I would have ever expected to be writing about as my best and most thoughtful mentor. With a nickname like that, I might have conjured up visions of some sort of militant Mad Max character wreaking havoc in the corporate world hurling executives out of windows and blowing up conference rooms if we missed our systems implementation deadline. Who knows, maybe Max the Axe did that earlier in his career, but the mentor I’ve had for years is an experienced leader who was infamous for always saying what was on his mind – for better or for worse – has admittedly crashed and burned in his career just as much as he has had great successes, and who has always willingly and magnanimously packaged all of that wisdom up for anyone in the next generation who expressed interest in hearing about how to replicate what he did right and learn how to avoid what he did wrong.
One of Max the Axe’s easiest and most practical lessons he taught me was how to develop leadership credibility as a new leader. We all know the problem of being a new leader: we are confronted with the challenge of needing to move things forward but also with the added burden of not having built trust or history of successes with anyone. And as such, getting momentum on initiatives is made that much harder. So how do you build that leadership credibility? Max the Axe had an interesting approach he called “Max’s 10 Decision Rule.”
“If you can successfully make 10 good decisions right up front that people see as right and valuable, you will have crossed an invisible line that no one tells you about. On one side of the line, you need to prove yourself and establish your credibility before people will trust the decisions you want to make. On the other side of the line, you will have credibility going into a decision. In other words, people will just assume that you are right and will trust you. So here is the most important point: The key to this rule is to make your first 10 decisions easy ones.”
The last point is what always hooked me. I remember as a new and upcoming leader, I wanted to address the biggest and hardest challenges to show my value. I wanted to get into the gnarly stuff so that I could really prove my worth by taking on those really complex issues. But those kinds of challenges are often wrought with politics, lots of different and often conflicting perspectives that make them so hard. Certainly, these are the kinds of challenges we as leaders are paid to lead companies through. But as we all know, timing is everything. And as Max the Axe would simply say:
“Why would you do that really hard one first? Start with the easy things. The little things. Then when you actually get to the hard and highly complex things, you are coming in as someone who is already being positioned to be successful because you’ve crossed the invisible line.”
Early in my career, I started applying Max’s 10 Decision Rule and was surprised by how effective it actually was. Who knew it would be so easy?