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Why Personal Leadership Matters Most……

By Steve Leslie

During a recent discussion with a business friend of mine, we were discussing what makes a leader. We debated if it was confidence, ability to organize and mobilize, or thinking strategically?

After 25 years of working with executive and leadership development, I knew that those qualities were important, but I believe that there might be one that rises to the top: personal leadership. 

Life can sometimes be like the movies, with an angel on one shoulder and the devil trying to sway you on the other shoulder. When you are a child, the voice of the angel or the devil guides you through right and wrong and helps you form your morals and character. As you grow up, those voices seem to begin to fade, but your principles continue to have a lasting impact. Those traits affect your ability to lead.

In a world that seems filled with questionable ethics and behaviors, following a higher moral code has a big impact. According to a 2015 study from HBR, CEOs who got a high character mark had a significantly average return on assets as compared to CEOs who ranked lower.

Business people who put more focus on human progress and improving their community or world tend to be more willing to speak on what is right and wrong.  Moral leaders end up being highly effective and trusted, and they will enjoy a greater sense of personal well-being.

Employees aren’t as likely to follow passionate leaders who have a questionable character. The business system often fails if the leaders lack a strong ethical character. 83% of employees believe that the company would make better decisions if they follow that “Golden Rule,” meaning they treat others, the way they would want to be treated.

The leader’s core values and principles are always visible, in every action. As a leader, what guides your decisions and dictates whom you associate within the industry? When you’re a child, your character might have been tested when you were faced with pressure, but as you grow older, the decisions become tougher. You might have to face difficult ethical questions like what to do if your values don’t align with the organizational values.

Leading yourself can be incredibly challenging, especially when no one is watching or questioning all your decisions. It’s similar to how we create a different persona when we are online. The controversial things many people tweet or post on Facebook are a prime example of what we might do when no one we know in real life is watching. Having a higher moral code helps us online, and as leaders, we should hold ourselves to higher standards and continue to behave as if the world was watching.

We all need a strong personal compass

Personal leadership tends to present itself in the following ways: high standard of ethics, transparency, and compassion. Take Princess Diana for example, who was one of the most influential women and leaders before her untimely death. In the 1980s, AIDS, a terrible disease, was misunderstood by doctors and the general public alike, including how it could be transmitted. People who were affected by AIDS were often shunned by society for fear of catching the disease through casual contact. However, Princess Diana made headlines when she shook the hand of an AIDs patient. This simple display of compassion and personal leadership helped to change the misperception of this disease.

Constant evolution

The question of where a leader is born or made has no easy answer because it is a bit of both. Some people are natural leaders have the confidence to make those difficult decisions, whereas other leaders are nurtured and continued to learn. No matter what type of leader you are, to be an effective one you must continuously learn and evolve. Being able to model personal growth is one of the core competencies of leadership.

In current times leaders have to be prepared for a turbulent and unforeseeable business climate, through their ability to adapt and evolve. Taking the time to move forward, reinvent yourself is more important today than ever before. What drove success in the past, often will not always drive it in the future.

Bring energy to everything.

Throughout my career as an executive coach in leadership sessions, I have come to recognize the importance of energy. Some people bring energy regardless of the situation. In workshops, meetings or helping a colleague. This display of personal energy and leadership, even when the stakes were not high, has a significant impact. It can help to uplift the performance of everyone around them, and encourage and motivate others to do better. Energy, passion, engagement makes everyone around you better, people notice, and they follow, no matter what position you hold.   

While being a leader has many essential components, what it comes down to is character, integrity, learning, and passion. All are the foundation of taking that big step forward. So, if your looking for a strong leader, start by looking at yourself, remember when no one is watching, everything else will fall into place.

Win or Lose a Team Experience Teaches Valuable Life Lessons in Leadership

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By Steve Leslie

Whether winning or losing, being part of a great team can transform all who journey through a season, project or career together.

I am not a big basketball fan. However, this season, I couldn’t help but watch as the Duke men’s basketball team played their way to the Elite 8, of the NCAA tournament. Their final few games this season, despite a devastating lose, were a lesson in focus, a common objective, and execution.

Love them or hate them – the Duke program and the men’s basketball team will go down as one of the best in history. Led by head coach Mike Krzyzewski and freshmen Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett, their success as a team can teach us lessons beyond the basketball court.

Being a part of a great team is a transformational experience. Think of a time that you are on a team that seemed to “click.” What was it like? What did you accomplish? How did it make you feel?

Reflecting on what worked and what didn’t work is a workshop we conduct with clients. This is a powerful exercise that tends to draw out common themes that connect everyone in their agreement of what makes a cohesive team. Surprisingly, many of those elements that our clients point out were used by the Duke basketball team this season.

Strong Leaders
A stable team who consistently performs well will nearly always have a great leader that is engaging, helpful with an innate ability to coach individuals and take them to a higher level.
Take Duke’s head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, or Coach K. He hasn’t won more basketballs games than any other coach in NCAA history because he gets the top recruits or has the best support staff. Coach K has won that many games because he knows how to motivate every one of his players.

And he doesn’t just spend his time focusing on his top performers – he also focuses on and cultivates the skills of the “B” players. Because a team isn’t made up of just one superstar. It also needs a support staff to succeed. Coach K hones on the strengths of every member of his team. He communicates what he wants from them and then helps them achieve amazing things.

A Collective Vision
Having a strong vision or purpose is what sets a great team apart from the others. On a cohesive unit, every member understands the goal and is actively engaged in achieving it. Through active communication between the team leaders and their teammates, the team can withstand difficult times because that end goal serves as a beacon of inspiration.

Collective vision is nothing more than a long-term goal that everyone sets together. All the starters and the players on the Duke’s bench were well aware of what the end goal was, and everyone served to hold each other accountable. Having this well-crafted vision helped to keep the team moving forward in a positive and unified direction.

Resilience runs deep and wide across the members because the “cause” is greater than the desires of the individuals. Everyone holds everyone else highly accountable with directness, transparency, and clarity that can only come from a high trust and high purpose environment.

We can apply this to cohesive teams in the workplace as well. A team at work that builds a collective vision is inspired and excited to achieve that goal. This vision becomes greater than everyone combined, and it becomes the source of inspiration in the toughest of times.
Know Your Role, Be Willing To Take On More, With Passion
A strong leader can clearly convey what everyone’s role is and their expectations for them. For a team to do their job effectively, every member needs to know what their role is, and stay in their “lane”, to achieve that ultimate goal.

There should be no ambiguity; simply a clear focus and an unrelenting passion for continuing to contribute to the success of the team. That is leverage, that is the power of doing what you do well and doing it better than anyone else.

However, it’s not enough not just to perform your role exceptionally. A valuable team member takes it a step further. A great teammate means being flexible in every sense of the word, maybe leading at times and also being prepared to follow, or take on a supportive role. Sometimes being on the bench, or in a substitute role, is what is best for the team

Or, it could be a more dramatic change like stepping up when freshman Zion Willamson hurt himself near the end of the regular season. It all depends on what the team needs. The Duke team embraced change, and that is why they were able to dominate on the court to the final 8.

The Long Term
A strong leader should always be thinking ahead. Coach K isn’t afraid to make unpopular choices like benching a top-performer who is having an off-game, in favor of younger talent who will benefit the team in the long-term. His ability to think about the potential, rather than just the present, is why he can make those hard decisions and always choose to do what is best for the team, in the long term. His body of work and leadership, speaks for itself and will have a lasting impact on this year’s players, regardless of their future path as leaders.

Although Duke was ultimately unsuccessful in its bid for its sixth national championship, it was a transformational experience for all involved. You can always draw inspiration and learning, regardless of what your team is or the level of success they ultimately achieve. The learning you take with you, is what really matters in the long run.