4 Keys to Successful Leadership

Throughout my career, I’ve been lucky to have terrific mentors show me different ways to develop and coach leadership skills. Here are a few of my favorite shared nuggets of wisdom, shared by various people throughout my life.

“Leaders are readers”

Two boy kid lay down on floor and reading tale book  in preschool library,Kindergarten school education concept
“So that’s how we create a supportive pre-school environment.”

My former publisher would tell us it’s important to pick up an actual book, on a topic we’re not already familiar, and read it from cover to cover. Watching a video, webinar or movie is an entirely different experience because we aren’t allowed to use our imaginations to visualize concepts, people and places. The fun part about this leadership advice is we get to pick what topics are most interesting or helpful. It doesn’t matter if we read “From Good to Great” or “5 Dysfunctions of a Team.” It only matters that we read something to uplift and inspire us.

I’ll admit I’ve cheated a bit on this one recently. I have an Audible subscription and listen to books while driving. It’s still a new book every month, just no longer using my Barnes and Noble card. If you’re interested: My favorites are, for business: “7 Habits of Highly Successful People” and for pleasure, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

“Managers tell, leaders show”

ShowingThis English professor, whose name escapes me, (I can still see her face -Jenkins? Johnson?), lead our group of college writing tutors. Our job was to assist students who wanted help to write better college-level papers. The team’s biggest challenge was students who needed to paint a mental picture in non-fiction writing classes. She used this phrase when she asked us to model everything we expected from our students. We spoke like we would write, similar to the old Seinfeld TV show “J. Peterman” catalog descriptions (google it). Every day, instead of: “Let’s sit at this table.” It was “Let’s have a seat at the white table with roses by the window. We’ll have natural light and a quiet place to brainstorm.”

Her leadership message has stayed with me. I think of it as: “Never ask someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself.” People watch everything leaders do. All eyes are on them, all the time. Great leaders exhibit the attitudes and behavior they expect from people around them. When leaders smile, the team doesn’t just smile back, they smile forward.

When leaders smile, the team doesn’t just smile back, they smile forward.

“Leaders look for ways to help others shine”

My A former sales director said leaders look for and encourage people to be their best selves. I like this one because of its humanity. This mentor would say how important it was for her to find out what we did well, and then find a way for us to do that while at work. Interestingly, many people don’t know what they do well or what they have an aptitude to do well. She was great at figuring that out.
For example: “Mary, your desk is so well laid out and organized. Would you be willing to share your thoughts on how we could lay out our employee recognition board? I’d love to hear them.” Or, “Wow. Joan. This PowerPoint is incredible. Do you enjoy graphic design? I ask because we always have flyers, job aids and things like that to do around here. If you could do design for 4 hours a week, would you like that?”

“Leaders corral blame and share praise”

Successful project leader in coworking space
“I can smile because I’ve got this under control.”

A former Naval instructor colleague shared this with me. This one can be difficult to internalize. The general idea is leaders have high levels of accountability. So when mistakes happen, and they always do, a leader looks inward to what they can do to solve and overcome. Teams will still have tough conversations about what happened. Lee felt that leaders are the outward “face” of whatever happens. I always understood it as the saying “The buck stops here.”

At the same time, leaders generously share team successes. Most people appreciate a compliment. When the team does well, phrases like “We did it!” or “Our team did amazing work on this. They came through big time!”

Over the years I’ve heard various versions of these quotes attributed to other people. Since I heard from these folks first, I’m giving them the shout out. I use them to anchor my behavior and guide my actions. All of us are leaders, in our own way. I hope these quotes spark action and help you see the leader in you.


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