Leadership is hard. Vision, strategy, financing, legal, IT, HR, operations, management, sales, marketing… and staying strong through it all. Tough.
If you don’t absolutely love what you do, if you don’t believe in the positive difference you are making in the world around you, you can fatigue very quickly.
If Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz didn’t absolutely love Starbucks, he couldn’t have had the courage and tenacity to shut down his stores for two weeks so that his employees could perform community service to get reacquainted with their communities.
If Jack Welch didn’t believe in the greatness of GE, he couldn’t trim the bottom 10% of his workforce every year and still sleep at night.
Extraordinary leadership is not for the faint of heart.
In my 16 years of experience of building a multi-million dollar business, and consulting with some of the greatest leaders in both government (spanning 17 agencies), and hundreds of associations, nonprofits, and industry leaders, I’ve discovered three things that leaders can do consistently for themselves to remain at the top of their game.
- Be attuned to market shifts… and respond accordingly.
When Information Experts started in 1995, we were focused on the telecom and internet industries. In 1999 and 2000, they imploded. We had to shift quickly to other verticals to stay alive. When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened in 2001, the commercial business market in DC came to a halt. Again, we had to shift from commercial to government business to stay alive.When John Chambers, the CEO of Cisco, announced around the same time that “e-learning was going to be the killer application of the internet,” we had to shift our business model overnight from a classroom-based training focus to a web-based training focus, or we would be obsolete. (Eventually the industry pendulum swung back to center, and blended learning became the solution). About 18 months ago, mobile learning (m-learning) made its debut, so we shifted our education practice again. Business viaiblity adheres to a Darwinian philosophy: Survival of the fittest. Those that are able to turn on a dime, are nimble, and can shift with the market can survive. Those that can’t will die.
- Continuously re-evaluate your web of influence and re-align.
We are the average of the 10 people closest to us. Who surrounds you? Are you flanked by people who are right where you are today – or worse, are you flanked by people that are where you used to be? The people that are on your “A Team” should represent your future version of yourself – your greatest self. Examining your web of influence and making the changes you need to move forward takes introspection, self-awareness, self-honesty, and courage. Insulate yourself from the naysayers. Never apologize for limiting contact with those that bring you down or threaten your ability to fulfill your dreams. This is your life, and your A Team, you get to decide who is in it.
- Remain connected to those that believe in you and have helped you.
One of my favorite authors is Marshall Goldsmith, author of “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There.” (http://www.leadership-tools.com/what-got-you-here.html). Goldsmith has been named as “Perhaps the greatest teacher of leadership on the planet” by Fortune 500 CEOs.One of the elements he addresses in his book is how important it is for leaders to remain connected and engaged with those throughout your organization. This can be quite challenging when the leader is intently focused on growing the organization.It takes consistent effort to see yourself and the organization through the eyes of everyone that works for you. Their perspective is completely different than yours. They see you much differently than you see yourself. Only when you can see what they see – which requires the highest level of empathy and emotional intelligence – are you able to be truly connected to those that support you.
Ultimately, extraordinary leadership is about service to others. It’s never about pushing our own agenda forward to satisfy our self-interests. Mastering these three interpersonal strategies will help you to become the leader that your organization and clients need – and deserve.
What strategies have you witnessed in extraordinary leaders? What examples do you have of leaders falling short on these three strategies? We look forward to hearing about your experiences.