The Path to Business Leadership

If you’re a business owner or entrepreneur, you know how challenging it can be to find the path towards leadership that works for you. With all the information available to us online, leadership styles are a dime a dozen and no one has the time or resources to try every style. Getting back to the basics is important, and understanding how those basics can improve your business is even more vital. Being a leader doesn’t have to be complicated! You’ve heard of the KISS acronym, right? Keep It Simple…well, it’s not the nicest acronym, so I won’t finish. But you know where I’m going.

If you find yourself wondering how to become a leader in business, follow these four steps:

1. Focus on solutions, not problems

2. Collaborate with your team

3. Be a culture champion

4. Care about the success of others–REALLY care!

Finally, leadership is about accomplishing more than people thought possible. In your business, what are your wildest dreams? What’s your ultimate goal? Never lose that idea and constantly be working towards it.

Watch the video below to hear more about the four steps towards becoming a business leader, and leave me a comment on what YOU think makes a leader.

 

Networking and Friends

One of the strengths of a good networking group is that most of the members become friends.  And ironically, one of the weaknesses is that most of the members become friends.  It’s both a strength and a weakness.  Accountability becomes key in running a good network because friends don’t like to hold friends accountable.  But, people who truly understand networking are not going to have a problem with system and structure.

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It can be dangerously easy for a networking group that meets regularly to become a coffee talk session with little or no networking going on.  That’s exactly what happens when a group loses sight of their purpose, focus, system, and structure–or never has any of those things to begin with.

People begin to make up their own agendas and the networking loses focus.  When you lose focus, the meetings become social.  Networking should be about business.  Of course there has to be a social aspect, but it’s really about business, commitment, and accountability.  People can be like water and tend to take the path of least resistance.  Without the proper framework in which to operate, the agenda becomes the topic of the day and it ends up being whatever the person running the group thinks the meeting should be about.  That sort of inconsistency over time is a problem for a networking group.

Even if you have a good, strong leader, at some point the person’s life will change or maybe he or she will simply get burned out.  The problem starts if there is no one else to teach.  Teaching is a leaky-bucket process.  You start with a whole bucket of information.  When that information is taught to someone else, some of that information leaks out and the people being taught only get that limited version of the information.  In turn, when that person teaches someone else, the material continues to get watered down based on their understanding and ability to articulate the material.

By the time you are in the third or fourth generation of people passing along the information, you only have about half a bucket remaining.  When the bucket of information gets low, people start putting in their own stuff.  Very rarely does the material improve over time with this process.

In short, it is a beautiful thing when people in a networking group become close friends–the key to making sure it doesn’t detract from the goals of building each other’s business through networking, however, is to ensure that no matter what type of networking group you’re in the group has a strong sense of purpose, a solid structure, and that each member is committed to carrying out the systems for networking which are already in place. 

So, how does your networking group maintain its focus and its commitment to its systematic networking practices (e.g., careful selection of leadership, effective training programs, etc.)?  I’d love to hear your thoughts–please share them in the comment forum below.  Thanks so much for your participation!

 

Warren Bennis, An Icon Passes

DSC03152Last week, Warren Bennis, an icon and mentor, passed away from natural causes at the age of 89.  I studied under Dr. Bennis at USC in the late 80’s.  I hadn’t seen him for many years until 2008 where we reconnected at the story telling event held by movie executive, Peter Guber.

We were sitting at a small round table with about five other people having lunch.  Warren looked at me curiously and said, “we’ve met before haven’t we?”  I told Dr. Bennis that it had been close to 20 years, but he sat on my doctoral committee for the qualifying exams of my program.  That’s when he looked at me and said, “I wasn’t very nice to you was I?”  I was flabbergasted that he would ask me that question.  Now the truth was that he was very, very tough on me.   His critiscims were always professional and insightful, but I always remembered him as just plain tough!

What he said next completely changed my opinion of him.

He said, “I’m sorry.  I really don’t like sitting on doctoral committees because they are a little like boot camp.  You have to put people through these difficult situations to make sure they have what it takes to justify the degree we are about to confer upon them.  It’s necessary, but it’s not really the kind of person I am.”  I acknowledged that he had been tough, but I also told him he was right in his criticisms and redirection.

What I didn’t tell him, and wish I had, was how much I respected him for telling me this now.  As we sat at this event somewhat closer to peers, he could have easily continued with the professor/student relationship.  Instead, he shared with me his inner feelings about the doctoral process we went through and humanized his actions in a way that only increased my respect for him.

We stayed in touch from time to time over the last six years.  He gave me advice when I was on the selection committee for a new President at the University of La Verne, and we met for dinner a couple years ago when he was speaking at the university.   Each time he shared nuggets with me that I will remember throughout my life.

He wrote many books on leadership.  He will always be known for his expertise in that field; however, some of us know him as a truly fine man who made a difference in many people’s lives.

9 Questions to Help You Start Gaining Visibility through Volunteering

One of the first steps toward networking your business is to become more visible in the community. Remember that people need to know you, like you and trust you in order to refer you. Volunteering can position you to meet key people in your community. It connects you with people who share your passion. It gives you opportunities to demonstrate your talents, skills and integrity, as well as your ability to follow up and do what you say you are going to do. It instantly expands the depth and breadth of your network.

 

People who volunteer demonstrate their commitment to a cause without concern for personal gain. Thus, you should be volunteering with organizations or causes for which you hold genuine interest and concern. If administrators or other volunteers perceive that you are in it primarily for your own gain, your visibility will work against you, and you will undermine your own goals.

Volunteering is not a recreational activity; it’s a serious commitment to help fulfill a need. To find an organization or cause that aligns with your interests, you need to approach volunteerism with a healthy level of thought and strategy.

Start by asking yourself the nine questions below.

1. What do you enjoy doing for yourself in your spare time?

2. What hobbies do you enjoy?

3. What sports do you know well enough to teach?

4. What brings you joy and satisfaction?

5. What social, political or health issue are you passionate about because it relates to you, your family or your friends?

6. Based on the answers to the first five questions, what are three organizations that you can identify that appeal to you? (Examples: youth leagues, libraries, clubs, activist groups, church groups, homeless shelters) Choose the one that most appeals to you, and research the group online and in the community.

7. Now that you’ve researched this group, will it give you an opportunity to meet one of your professional or personal goals? If so, visit the group to “try it on.”

8. Now that you’ve visited this group, do you still want to make a final commitment of your time?

9. Are other group members satisfied with the organization? (To learn this, identify three members of the group to interview in order to assess their satisfaction with the organization. Consider choosing a new member, a two- to three-year member, and a seasoned five- to six-year member to interview.)

Once you’ve done the research required to satisfactorily answer these nine questions, join a group and begin to volunteer for visibility’s sake. Look for leadership roles that will demonstrate your strengths, talents and skills. In other words, volunteer and become visible. It’s a great way to build your personal network.

Are you already an active volunteer?  If so, what organization do you volunteer for and how has it helped you gain visibility within your community?  I’d love to hear about your experiences so please share your thoughts in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

What Dog Sled Teams Can Teach Us About Leadership

My wife Beth and I had the opportunity to experience a dog-sled excursion while visiting the Ice Hotel in Sweden last year. While waiting to get onto the sleds and take off across the frozen river, we observed a very interesting behavior being exhibited by the lead dogs in each dog team.

Virtually all of the dogs in the pack were leaping and straining against their harnesses, barking, yipping, howling and generally making quite a ruckus. However, Beth and I noticed that the lead pair in front of each of the sled teams was quietly sitting very still, keeping a close eye on the mushers. There may have been the occasional woof from one of the lead dogs, but they were mainly on full alert, silent, and attentive, waiting for the signal that it was time to move.

Non-Lead Pack Dogs

Non-Lead Pack Dogs

I sat there for many minutes watching and marveling at this dynamic (click on the video above to view it for yourself). It struck me that this was a great metaphor for leadership in general. The lead dogs were observing and mostly silent despite the fact that all around them the rest of the pack was constantly barking, pulling, and straining on the lines.  The lead pair in each team had a single-minded focus: wait for the signal so that they could lead the pack out onto the trail.

Lead Dogs

Lead Dogs

 

 

Great leaders often do something similar. In business sometimes people get excited about something or other and begin to strain and pull, noisily expressing their desire to move in a certain direction or take a specific action, NOW. Sometimes they do it very aggressively.  However, a good leader remains alert and attentive, not overreacting to the chaos all around them. They wait for the right time and the right cue to move forward.  They are ready to lead the team in the right direction for optimum success.  Good leaders respect the process and provide trustworthy leadership in the work environment. They know the right time to move ahead and the right time to sit tight. They know the difference, because they, or someone they trust, have been over these trails many times before. The team may get excited, anxious or even demanding, and still these strong leaders remain steady and calm.

We noticed another thing on that sled ride. When the lead dogs stood up and prepared to respond to the musher’s cue to run, the rest of the pack got quiet and settled down. They knew it was time to get to business. They were ready to pull in the same direction.  When a team is pulling in the same direction, following a strong and calm leader who is observing the cues from others or following cues from his/her own experience, the path of the team will be true and sound. 

I had the realization that this metaphor really is perfect for business. Although any leader may “bark” from time to time, it is the strong, calm, and confident leader that is best at getting a team to follow.   The quality of the leader often determines the performance of the team.

Are there other characteristics and traits that you feel make a great leader or that you have witnessed in a highly effective leader?  I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so please share your feedback in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

Lead from “Among” Not from “Above”

Stewart Emery (Success Built to Last) was over my house a few months ago.  At breakfast one morning he told me about an interview he did with a well-known billionaire in the computer industry.  The billionaire shared an intriguing story with Stewart about an experience he’d had when the senior executives of a company interested in purchasing his company visited his office to discuss the possible purchase.

Stewart Emery

 

At lunch, the billionaire told the senior executives of the company he was negotiating with that he was going to take them to the Executive Dining Room.  They followed him to the dining room which was very nice but not extravagant.  But that wasn’t the big surprise.  The surprise was that the dining room had a buffet line.  Moreover, the billionaire walked up to the buffet line, picked up a tray, and stood in line behind everyone else.  The executives looked around the room as it filled up and they realized that this room was not an “executive dining room” but was the company dining room.  The boss stood there in line with all the employees.  He spoke to everyone.   No one was afraid to talk to him.  In my opinion, he didn’t lead by being above them; he led by being among them.  Stewart told me that the billionaire said the management team was surprised by the fact that he and all the executives ate with all the employees.  One of them commented that this would have to change.  For the boss, it was a test.  This was not the kind of company that he wanted to sell his business to.  The negotiation ended that day.

Companies have a choice.  They can move toward exclusivity in their organizational culture or they can strive, commit, honor, and embrace inclusivity in their organizational culture.

Sometimes when people meet me, they say that they are surprised that I am approachable.   I find that interesting.  I think they feel this way because sometimes we, as leaders, act in a way that people perceive as unapproachable.  We act “better than” to other people.  I believe people should be surprised when a leader is unapproachable, not when they are approachable.  The problem is that we live in a world where success sometimes creates a sense of separation (with both the organizational leaders and others).  One of the key things to embrace in a successful company is the sense that the boss, the owner, the senior executive(s) are, in fact, approachable.

What are your thoughts on this matter?  Please feel free to share any relevant stories and experiences you may have.

Being a True Leader

One of the subjects I get asked about often in interviews is leadership.  I’ve learned quite a bit about leadership through my role as founder and chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business referral organization. But I’ve also been extremely privileged to be able to build relationships with and gain insight into the subject from some of the world’s top leaders in several fields and industries.

One of the first people who comes to mind when I think about what it means to be a true leader is my friend and colleague, Brian Tracy. Brian is the epitome of a leader–he is dedicated to succeeding by helping others succeed, and he uses his depth of experience to teach others how to become leaders themselves.

Brian has classified the key qualities of leadership as integrity, discipline, responsibility, courage and long-time perspective, and he lives his life according to those qualities.  Brian was recently diagnosed with throat cancer and, true to the form of a leader who genuinely walks the walk, his positive attitude, courage and hopeful outlook for the future continue to remain rock solid.

Brian says, “When you think about it, having cancer can be a metaphor for any big problem or unexpected setback in life . . . I choose to see this as a ‘learning experience.’  Maybe I’ll develop a speech or seminar to share what I’ve learned, and the parallels with the ups and downs of normal life.”

Leadership is about using your experience and wisdom to move others in a positive direction; it’s about empowering others by serving as an example. Brian doesn’t just give presentations about leadership and advise others on how to be good leaders–he exemplifies everything a true leader should be, especially during times when it’s not easy to be in such a position.

Click here to see how Brian is continuing to inspire and motivate others through his experiences.  We can all learn more than a thing or two about being a true leader from Brian Tracy.

If Brian has inspired you to accomplish your goals and lead yourself and others to success, tell us about it by leaving a comment below.  You can also copy and paste your comment for Brian to read on his blog.

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