Leaders are in search of distinction as they seek to have their impact felt and their influence reverberate throughout their organizations. As all industries attempt to reinvent themselves in order to elevate the value of their brand proposition, the competitiveness of their people and their sustainable financial foothold in the marketplace, many organizations still lack leadership substance -- the well roundedness and required wisdom to stay ahead of the game. Testing new ideas and ideals as a leader is important and strongly encouraged. However, there comes a point in time to establish a solid foundation on which to build your teams, recruit and retain top talent, incorporate new best practices and establish performance standards and expectations in support of the business strategies before you.
Leaders must take more time to stop, reflect and assess their own thinking, capabilities and aptitudes. They must evaluate how their leadership brand is being perceived by others and whether or not it has grown tired and requires a tune-up. Leaders must take pause and reach out to those before them who have already lived the situations they are about to experience themselves – and embrace these perspectives as nuggets of wisdom in preparation for what lies ahead of them.
The following ten timeless leadership lessons have served me well throughout my career. It is my hope that you will find the impact and influence that you are looking for in order to accelerate the advancement of your career and to generate outcomes that are both successful and significant for the organization that you serve.
1. Opportunities Are Everywhere, But Few Have Eyes to See Them
As leaders, you must begin to look beyond the obvious and open your eyes to see the opportunities previous unseen. Leadership requires you to have circular vision and when you begin to grow complacent, you only see the obvious details before you – rather than those they lie around, beneath and beyond what you seek. In fact, your mindset becomes stagnate because you are not stretching your perspectives enough to see more than you want to.
When you fall into this trap, it’s time to reshuffle the deck, and map out the internal and external factors that are influencing your thinking. You must begin to identify areas that can be improved – such as relationships, workshop culture, networking, how you are investing in yourself (or lack thereof), etc.
It’s not experience, but rather opportunity that is the true mother of success. Be more mindful about how you manage opportunity before it begins to manage you.
2. Without Strategy, Change Is Merely Substitution, Not Evolution
Change management is the unwritten rule in every job description and a critical success factor in your workplace performance. Rather than wait for change to come your way, be proactive and begin to identify patterns of change so you are prepared to manage it head-on. Don’t wait until circumstances force your hand.
As a leader, you must always have a strategy for change. Unfortunately, those that don’t are the ones that increase the risk factor for the organization and the people they lead. Yes, a change management strategy is the ultimate form of leadership accountability, because you must think carefully about every move you make and the required talent, resources and investments it will take. A change management strategy forces you to think critically about what you need to do as a leader to minimize risk and maximize reward. How you execute this strategy may ultimately define your leadership legacy.
Don’t wait for change to creep up on you unexpectedly and in full force when it is always right around the corner to some degree. It becomes a bigger challenge when you wait for the issues to mount rather than cutting them off at the pass.
3. An Entrepreneurial Attitude is the Difference Between Reinvention and Complacency
Entrepreneurship just isn’t a business term anymore; it’s a way of life. You don’t need to be an entrepreneur to be entrepreneurial. It’s about having an entrepreneurial attitude.
An attitude that is centered on continuous renewal and reinvention of yourself as a leader and your business is what allows you to sustain success and reach for significance. Without it, companies cannot lead, grow and innovate during uncertain times. When you have been operating on cruise control and have never been forced to shift your thinking and renew the ways in which you operate – it makes it very difficult to start reinventing in a moment’s notice.
The entrepreneurial attitude is a mindset; it must be an operating standard that is embedded in the minds of everyone in the organization. Just ask Google, a perfect example of this attitude. They are market leaders that continually invest and test the ideas and ideals that surface from across the entire organization – regardless of hierarchy or rank.
Clearly it’s a challenge to reinvent within industries that have been in place for decades – but you can start to employ the entrepreneurial attitude by injecting new talent, new perspectives, new resources and new relationships. Just look at Hyundai and the automobile industry.
4. Continuously Refresh Your Thinking and Be Courageous Enough to Apply It
Execution is what matters – if you are in the business of winning. We all have great ideas, yet many of them remain dormant, only to find our competitors doing things that we thought about 5 years prior.
Great leadership is about keeping the organization on its toes and refreshing the way it thinks. This is why a culture review should be done every 3-5 years. Sounds like a lot of work, but the marketplace demands it. I am not calling for sweeping changes, but rather a revisit of existing ways and practices with the expectation of making things better. If you don’t have that discipline in place, the fiercely competitive marketplace will pass you by.
This is why leaders must keep themselves refreshed with new knowledge, skill-sets and aptitudes. Time is your most valuable asset and it’s up to you to determine how to best maximize it. Don’t rely on your staff to teach you the things that you should know.
Be courageous, refresh your thinking and implement what you learn. Great athletes and coaches are always adjusting and tweaking their approaches to their sport. They are in constant search of elevating their game. Leaders should also do the same. Watch this video about the tweak that Coach John Calipari made to his Kentucky basketball team that propelled them toward success in the 2014 NCAA tournament.
5. The Wiseman Forfeits His Fortune When He Does Not Trust Himself
Trusting yourself is the ability to know your strengths well enough that they allow you to navigate your workplace successfully and influence outcomes. It’s the ability to trust your gut and know that when preparation meets the opportunities that are in front of you, your natural talents, capabilities, and skill-sets will get you through any situation.
How many times does your gut tell you to take action but you don’t? Instead, you wait for those around you to take the calculated risks that you are hesitant to take yourself.
Effective leadership is about timing and when you don’t trust yourself, oftentimes you miss the opportunities to create impact and influence – and potentially disrupt momentum along the way. When you don’t trust yourself enough, you are irresponsibly leading the people and the organization that you serve.
6. Manage Your Leadership Brand or Someone Else Will
Leadership branding is the new normal for organizations seeking to operate at optimal efficiency and profitability. When an organization’s leaders can’t define their leadership brand identity for their executive team, senior leadership team or management teams (with their respective interconnection points), silos begin to form and the organization begins to lose its competitive edge (speed in execution, ability to be proactive, manage crisis and change, innovate, etc.).
When you don’t develop and manage your leadership brand – someone else will. When this happens, you become vulnerable to what others expect from you because you have not set forth any precedence for those expectations. As a result, the balance of power and influence sways away from you; your own identity crisis makes it easy for others to question your capabilities, intentions and decisions.
Leadership branding is a critical success factor and you must take personal stock of yourself to develop your leadership brand in order to maximize your influence.
7. Adversity May Make or Break You – But It Primarily Reveals You
Leaders are faced with adversity almost every day. How you confront it and lead through it are defining moments in your career. Adversity management primarily reveals you.
In many ways, adversity is subjective. What others might see as a big problem – you might see as a situation that is easily manageable. For example, when you encounter an adverse circumstance, up close it can appear insurmountable. However, when you step back and view it with wide-angle vision, you will begin to see the adverse circumstance with greater clarity and understanding. When you see adversity through a lens of opportunity, it gives you a leg-up and a powerful competitive advantage.
How you manage adversity will shape the way others see the real leader that you are. This is when your leadership brand and most authentic self are put into the spotlight. Ask National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver, who was faced with an adverse circumstance last week that became a defining moment when he made the ruling against Los Angeles Clippers Basketball team owner Donald Sterling. Accused of making racist comments, Mr. Sterling was banned for life from the NBA – an action that revealed Commissioner Silver’s leadership style and approach. After assuming the role of commissioner only three months ago, he set forth a precedence for leadership during times of adversity to protect the NBA brand.
8. A Leader’s Success Is Never Won or Lost in One Instant. It Is Always a Culmination.
Leadership is a journey and you can never go at it alone. The significance of your leadership tenure is defined by your complete body of work. As such, it is the culmination of the work you do -- how it all ties together and how you handle the rough patches along the way -- that forms your legacy.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver set the tone for his leadership. Now it’s what he does throughout the rest of his tenure (and whether or not he can sustain the expectations that people have for his leadership) that will define the ultimate success and significance of his leadership.
Consistency is the name of the game and if you cannot sustain it, you begin to lose value for your leadership brand and the platform you are trying to create to influence outcomes.
9. Give to Others in Faith, Not in Expectation.
Leadership is about having the best interests of others at all times. It’s about sharing the harvest of the momentum that you are building with others. Leaders must recognize that it is their responsibility to inspire and unite – and in doing so they expand their influence through others.
Amongst many things, leadership is about making those around you better – by being a great teacher, investing in relationships, making sound decisions and avoiding procrastination and complacency. It’s ultimately about serving the needs of people and the organization at large. While this may sound warm and fuzzy, serving others is an investment in people. One day they may give back to you and the organization more than you ever expected – but don’t go into it expecting others to reciprocate; this is when you become more self-serving and blinded to what your role as a leader really is.
10. Tell Me Who You Associate Yourself With And I Will Tell You How You Lead
This final leadership lesson allows you to reap the rewards of the previous 9 lessons. The people you decide to associate yourself with greatly influence your intentions, the decisions you make, and what will ultimately shape your leadership brand.
Every six months you should reevaluate your network, friends and relationships. Ask yourself the value that each person represents towards making you a better person and more effective leader. Further evaluate how they influence and shape the ways you think, act and innovate. Are they helping you elevate your strengths or merely accentuating your weaknesses?
Find ways to refresh and strengthen your network and become more critical about allowing others to enter into your domain. You cannot afford to deal with people that constantly create disruption. Time is your most valuable asset. Manage it as such.
I developed these 10 leadership lessons from years of personal experience and business accomplishments, as well as the struggles I endured and overcame along the way. They are timeless maxims for expanding your influence, advancing your career; guiding your organization to greater success – and helping those you lead to do the same. I share these lessons because – as I often say – it’s no longer just about what you know, but what you do with what you know.