10 Traits of Great Leaders

What Great Leaders Do

By Joel Garfinkle
Chair, Executive Coaching, N2Growth

What does a leader look like? Think of two leaders, famous or not, whom you admire and respect. What do they do that is so different? What traits do they have that help them excel at a high level? Leadership is not a great mystery. Great leaders have specific traits in common. These traits can be learned and developed—by you!

As a leader, you need to understand the specific traits that will help you achieve a high level of leadership success. Here are ten tips to help you identify what you as a leader must do.

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On Being an Authentic Leader

By Grant Wattie
President, N2growth Australia

Wolfgang Beltracchi is the most successful art forger in history. His fake paintings have sold for $46 million to museums, and private collections all over the world.  He says the experts hate him because he managed to fool them for decades – he eventually wound up in jail. Some say what he did was a crime against the art culture and others think it was acceptable because he didn’t hurt anyone.

This story paints a strong allegory to leadership. It might sound a far fetch, yet how often have we tried to pass off our own behaviour as fake to maintain a façade?  In the following article I’ll share some observations, insights and research on how we can be more authentic and learn to spot our own in-authenticities.

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Shirley Temple Black: A Life Lesson In Optimism

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

“I don’t like to do negatives. There are always pluses to things.”

That quote is attributed to Shirley Temple Black and is cited the The Economist’s obituary of the former child star. Indeed as Shirley Temple she was the most bankable star in the Hollywood firmament being its highest grossing performer in the mid-Thirties.

The secret to her success was her cheerful optimism backed by her relentless work ethic and winning personality. Cute of course but Shirley Temple was a triple-threat performer who could dance, sing and act. She was a favorite of the high and mighty who loved to have her in their company and even making room for her on their laps. During the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt noted her “infectious optimism,” adding that “as long as our country has Shirley Temple we will be alright.”

 

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Jay Leno: How To Say Goodbye

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2Growth

All of us want to be wanted by others, and when we are in a leadership position sometimes that feeling of being wanted morphs into a cloying sense of clinging, hanging on just to hang on. We are unwilling to let go even when common sense would tell us that the people we have groomed to lead are fully ready.

 

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Governor Christie: Leadership Begins With A Look In The Mirror

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?

Legend – as well as Shakespeare — has it that Henry II said something to this effect in fit of pique directed toward his one-time good friend and loyal civil servant Thomas a Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. The King was vexed over Becket’s refusal to subjugate church authority to the state and Henry sought to limit Becket’s influence. In time, Henry’s henchmen travel to Canterbury thinking they are doing the King a favor and slay Becket in the cathedral.

I cite Henry’s behavior frequently in my coaching with senior executives as a means of cautioning them to watch their words. Its theme resonates today in the unfolding drama of Governor Chris Christie and traffic jams near the Fort Lee entrance to the George Washington Bridge. At the moment it appears as if loyal aides conjured up the traffic jam as a means of getting back at the mayor of Fort Lee who was not a supporter of the governor in his re-election bid last fall. One of whom, Bridget Anne Kelly, his deputy, has been axed.

 

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Tough Conversation: What To Do When Your Star Hits The Wall

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

I don’t want any outside help.

That comment summarizes the attitude that Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford has about seeking the help of a “quarterback guru.” As Stafford said, “It’s not something that I feel would be my style or beneficial to me.”

Stafford’s indifference to seeking help puts him in the mainstream of many successful people. One of the characteristics that achievers demonstrate is an ability to go their own way and figure things out for themselves. But, as my friend Marshall Goldsmith reminds us in his book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, too often high achievers fail at the highest level, not because of their intellect, but because of their ego.  It is simply too big to allow anyone – or anything – else inside.

 

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Three Questions To Ask Before You Exit

By John Baldoni
Chair, Leadership Development, N2growth

Are you ready to hang it up?

That may not be a question that most people ask themselves often enough, but maybe it is one more of us need to ask ourselves. This thought is prompted by a 2012 column by best-selling author Bob Greene column on St. Louis Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa’s decision to retire after winning the World Series, the first time that any manager has ever done so.

Asking ourselves when it is time to quit should not be reserved for those about to retire. It is something that everyone in a leadership position needs to consider. To be clear I am not referring to giving up in the face of adversity. Rather I am talking about the choice to leave voluntarily.

 

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Don’t Leave a Dead Bird on your Doorstep!

By Brian Layer
Chief Executive Officer, N2Growth

Recently, I approached the entrance of familiar children’s store and saw a dead bird on their doorstep. Decay indicated the time for a proper burial had passed and while disturbed, I was not surprised the employees left it lying in state. The dead bird on the doorstep is a common symptom of a big organization problem and if you run one, you might have a few dead birds of your own.  This happens when employees fail to understand their role in the context of the competitive environment.

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Great Leaders Are Interesting – Are YOU?

Great Leaders Are Interesting – Are YOU?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Let’s face it – the best leaders have always grabbed our attention and piqued our imagination. They have a way of captivating, fascinating and intriguing us. It’s the interesting people with whom we want to engage, as they’re the ones who inspire and motivate us to be better and do more. The simple truth is few of us desire to be led by those whom we don’t find interesting. So my question is this: great leaders are interesting – are you? In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts on how anyone can become more interesting.

Most people I know think of themselves as being interesting people. That’s all well and good, but the real litmus test is whether or not others find you interesting. Are others desirous of having you be part of their inner circle, or do you constantly find yourself on the outside looking in? Do people seek you out for advice and counsel, or do they ignore you and just simply tolerate your presence? The real question is, do people hunger to be led by you?

While many find themselves in a position of leadership, few understand their role as a leader, and regrettably, fewer yet actually lead. These struggling leaders attempt to control people by imposing their will on others (not interesting), as opposed to attracting those who desire to be a part of their team and then creating an environment which frees them to innovate (very interesting).

It’s a very noisy world, and with more and more people adding to the chatter each and every day, it has become quite difficult to stand above the noise and be heard — this is particularly true if you bore people. Here’s the thing — you can have all the answers, but if people don’t want to hear them what good is all your brilliance? Perhaps the main benefit of being interesting is when you interest people they’ll seek you out — you won’t have to chase them down. When you do engage, they’ll listen.

These five items will help anyone become more interesting and, at the same time, will help you become a better leader.

  1. Be externally focused. You’ve heard me say it before: “Leadership isn’t about you, but what you can do for those whom you lead. It’s not about how much you can get out of your people, but rather how much leverage you can create FOR your people.” Leaders who are purposed about making those around them better will always be interesting and relevant. If you want to be interesting to others, be interested in others.
  2. Stay ahead of the curve. If what you offer (skills, knowledge, etc.) is dated, you simply won’t be interesting or effective. Interesting people are voracious learners and unlearners. They are passionate about both personal and professional development. Interesting people are in constant pursuit of betterment in all they do. They are intellectually, philosophically and emotionally curious. They’re rarely interested in best practices, but they are like heat-seeking missiles in search of next practices. You cannot be interesting if you’re not growing. You cannot lead a growing company (at least not for long) if you’re not growing as a leader.
  3. Add value. Think about the most interesting people you know and you’ll find they’re givers not takers. They add value to those they cross paths with. Interesting people aren’t just joiners, they’re contributors. If you want to be interesting, learn to add value in your roles, relationships, and interactions.
  4. Always leave them wanting more. A little mystique goes a long way to making you more interesting. Let me be clear — I’m not talking about playing games, but simply becoming astute in your interactions. Interesting people don’t conduct monologues — they participate in dialogues. You probably don’t like to be lectured, so what makes you think others want to be lectured by you? Interesting people spend far less time talking and much more time asking questions. If you want to be more interesting always leave them wanting more.
  5. More humility and less hubris. Think of humility as an attraction magnet and think of arrogance as a relationship repellent. The reality is people love authentic humility and they detest displays of arrogance. While you don’t have to be liked to be a leader, it certainly helps. Interesting people are slow to take credit, but quick to give it. Because interesting people rarely shine the light upon themselves, others are all too happy to make sure they receive the attention they so clearly deserve. If you want to be more interesting try exercising more humility.

There’s no denying it’s the interesting people we want have as friends, leaders, co-workers and associates. Smart leaders have long understood the key to relevance and influence is found in how interesting they are to others. Great leaders are not boring — are you?

Leadership and Self-Awareness

Leadership and Self-Awareness

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Leader Beware – ignorant bliss, no matter how enjoyable, is still ignorant. If you’re in a position of leadership and don’t feel you have any blind spots, you’re either very naïve or very arrogant. All leaders have blind spots – the question is what are they doing about them? The reality is most leaders invest so much time assessing the cultural and functional dynamics of their organizations they often forget the importance of critically assessing themselves – big mistake.

I’ve never understood leaders who make heavy investments in personal and professional development early in their careers, who then go on to make only minimal investments in learning once they have reached the C-suite. Learning and development are lifelong endeavors. The learning journey doesn’t come to an end just because you reach a certain station in life – or at least it shouldn’t. It has consistently been my experience that leaders who are not growing simply cannot lead growing organizations. Moreover, leaders who fail to continue developing will always be replaced by those who do. A leader who fails to understand the value of self-awareness fails to understand their own true potential as a leader.

It’s at the C-suite level an executive must be on top of his/her game as they have the broadest sphere of influence, the largest ability to impact a business, and they also now have the most at risk. It is at this place the leader should make the heaviest investment in refining their game, because increased performance will pay the biggest dividends. Let me be as clear as I can – the more responsibility a leader has, the bigger their obligation to be on the forward edge of learning, growth and development.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates had a few guiding principles that today’s leaders would do well to adopt: Socrates said, “Know Thyself” and “An unexamined life is not worth living.” Those leaders who actively pursue gaining a better understanding of themselves will not only reduce their number of blind spots, but they’ll also find developing a sense of awareness is the key to increasing emotional intelligence. The better you know yourself the more effective you’ll be, and the better you’ll relate to others.

Following are 5 things all leaders should embrace if they desire to be more self-aware:

  1. Never Stop Learning: I read an article last week in Chief Executive Magazine profiling 6 leadership lessons from Mark Zuckerberg. Lesson #1 was: “Make your own development a priority - Zuckerberg knew he needed to be a leader (and not just a tech guy) if Facebook was going to go anywhere, so he hired an executive coach to learn management and leadership skills.” If top CEOs, Billionaires, leading scholars, and others who have reached the pinnacle of their profession can continue to invest in themselves, then so should you.
  2. Context Matters: Just as life is not static, neither is the environment you work in. Leadership isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. The best leaders apply their craft contextually based upon the needs of those whom they serve. If you don’t know how to nuance your leadership skills you will simply miss opportunities others won’t.
  3. Be Kind: People go out of their way to help those whom they like. Likewise most people won’t lift a finger to help those they don’t care for. Smart leaders are purposed to build into those they lead. They understand leadership success is found by ensuring those whom they lead are better off for being led by them. Mean, arrogant, or belittling behavior may feed your ego, but it doesn’t serve your best interests as a leader.
  4. Surrender: A leader simply operates at their best when they understand their ability to influence is much more fruitful than their ability to control. Here’s the thing – the purpose of leadership is not to shine the spotlight on yourself, but to unlock the potential of others so they can in turn shine the spotlight on countless more. Control is about power – not leadership. Surrender allows a leader to get out of their own way and focus on adding value to those whom they serve. Forget span of control and think span of influence.
  5. Begin the Process of Unlearning: Just as important as learning, so is shedding the emotional and intellectual baggage trapping you in the past. Human nature causes most of us to hold onto wrong, unhealthy, or outdated ideas, concepts, thoughts, feelings or practices. The fastest way to become more self-aware is to challenge your own logic. If you’re really serious about finding the flaws in your thinking, ask others to help you identify gaps or faults, and then listen very carefully to what they share with you.

Becoming self-aware isn’t difficult, but it will be hard in the beginning. Becoming self-aware requires you to place humility above hubris, and to place a higher value on truth than you do on your ability to rationalize and justify your thinking. I’d encourage you to stay the course as few things of value come easily. Thoughts?

Personal Branding Done Right

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Personal Branding Done Right

So what’s the big deal about personal branding? The mere mention of this topic sparks intense emotions and frothy debate. The legions of personal branding advocates believe it’s the great brand equalizer, and the growing constituency of disgruntled adversaries see it as little more than the latest form of snake-oil. So which is it? The answer is for you to decide…I’ll frame both sides of the argument and let you draw your own conclusions.

I have written often on the subject of personal branding, and some of my practice focuses on shaping the personal brands of executives and entrepreneurs. Needless to say, I’m a huge believer in personal branding. That said, much of my writing sides with the skeptics as I’m not a fan of the type of  “instant personal branding” preached by so many these days. If this sounds a bit schizophrenic, it probably is; but stick with me as there is a lot of meat that follows.

Want to build a strong personal brand? Let your actions speak louder than your words. Be the best at what you do, be authentic, be honest, be focused on helping others, and above all else, add value in the performace of your work. If you focus on making a certainty of execution synonymous with your name, you won’t have to promote yourself as others will do it for you. Strength of personal character and reputation are your personal brand. If you’re good enough, your personal brand will precede you, and you won’t need to shout it from the roof tops.

Let me break it down as simply as I can…There are two types of personal brands: 1.) The personal brand created by your character, work, and reputation, and; 2.) The personal brand contrived to make up for a lack of the aforementioned items. The former is a personal brand that is authentic, sustainable, and valuable, while the latter is just hype and spin that will eventually get lost in the noise and be seen for what it is…form over substance.

To be clear, I have nothing against leveraging the positioning and promotion of real talent/ability, or up-and-coming talent/ability, but I have everything against blatant self-promotion by those who pretend to be something they are not. Regrettably, the fake it until you make crowd is burgeoning at a rapid pace due to personal branding efforts based upon a lack of integrity. If you have to market yourself as a thought leader, then you are NOT. A sustainable brand is far more than a contrivance for personal glorification – it is a reflection of what you do, but more importantly, who you are and what you stand for.

So what’s the big deal you ask? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to put their stamp on the world? Perhaps, but the problem with glory hounds is that they take opportunities away from those who deserve them, muddy the waters for undiscerning consumers, and serve to create unnecessary havoc in a market not in need of such distractions.

The reality is that most of us will probably never achieve the status of icons, nor do most of us really aspire to that end. However increasing your personal brand equity is good for adding value to your company’s brand, leveraging your earning power, and improving your job security and/or marketability. Personal branding is far more than an ego-play; it is smart business assuming it is done properly.

The bottom line is that personal brands can not only co-exist quite nicely with corporate brands, but they can add significant value to them. Don’t believe me? Regardless of how you feel about the following list of individuals you must agree that they have done a remarkable job of building a personal brand which has often times resulted in the creation of modern day empires. Think of Warren Buffet, Oprah Winfrey, Donald Trump, Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Sam Walton, Ted Turner, Richard Branson, the late Steve Jobs, and a whole host of others, and you’ll quickly see just how powerful a strong personal brand can be. In fact, spend some time browsing through the Forbes 400 and you’ll find that you recognize far more names than not. View a list of the Fortune 500 CEO’s and you’ll be surprised how many of their names have been converted into strong personal brands. Look at the Inc. 500 or Entrepreneur Hot 100 lists and you’ll see a number of strong personal brands in the making.

Unlike the surface level hype put forth by many, if you want to create a strong and authentic personal brand, the following five tips will start you in the right direction:

1. Make those around you successful. While some personal brands are built at the expense of others, or on the backs of others, the most highly regarded personal brands are built on the success they have created for others. Think “selfless” as opposed to “selfish.”

2. Be Trustworthy. Whether intuitively, instinctually, intrinsically, objectively, or subjectively, most people have an initial gut feel as to whether or not an individual is trustworthy. Over time, those initial impressions will either be validated or invalidated based upon actual experience. We all know the difference both in chemistry, and in productivity when working with those whom we trust and respect, as opposed to what occurs when working with those whom we don’t.

3. Focus on Performance. If you want to stand apart from the masses, develop a reputation for delivering a certainty of execution. Immediately cease and desist from majoring in minors, learn to harness your passion, leverage your resources, be disciplined in your approach, and always focus on performance. Think of any successful leader and you’ll find they consistently get the job done. They accomplish the mission; they find a way to win; they execute. Sadly, all it really takes to stand out in today’s business world is to follow through on your commitments. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, what your title is, or any number of other considerations…if you want to succeed, learn to honor your commitments and execute. It is just not that hard to follow through.

4. Invest in continuing education: Okay, so you already make a great income, run your own (or someone else’s) business, and you’re busy. The sad fact is it’s far easier to reach the C-suite than to remain there. You will only stay in the corner office if you continue to refine and advance your skill sets and competencies. Never sacrifice or forgo learning because you think you don’t have time, or worse, because you think you already know it all.

5. Publicly give of your time. Get outside of yourself and lead by example. Get in the flow of relevant discussions, worthy causes, and public communities. Don’t be afraid of social networking, philanthropic endeavors, pro-bono work, and other intrinsically valuable investments of your time.

Authentic personal brand, or carefully crafted facade…the choice is yours. I’m very interested on your thoughts on this subject. Please share your observations in the comments below…

Brand Exposure

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Do you understand the difference between presence, visibility and overexposure? Have you figured out how to apply the laws of scarcity to brand management? If not, then this post is for you. While a brand without exposure is not much of a brand, I consistently find that brand exposure is an aspect of brand management that is all too often overlooked as a success metric. Whether you’re assessing the strength of a personal or corporate brand, finding the appropriate level of brand exposure is key to sustainable growth in brand equity. 

As I stated above, having an underexposed brand, or what I like to refer to as having a brand in stealth mode, means that you really don’t have much of a brand. Conversely, having a brand that is mismanaged through overexposure can cause a brand to go into decline by diluting hard earned brand equity. The reality is that premium brands are viewed as such because they jealously manage their brand exposure. They pay attention to the both the frequency and reach of their exposure. While they are careful to insure that their brands are visible to the right constituencies, they simply won’t allow overexposure. When a brand’s pedigree has an element of mystique, scarcity, intrigue, or sophistication, said brand will be in high demand. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating brand snobbery, just astute brand management based on time tested success principles.   

Intelligent brands create at least some level of focused planning surrounding the issue of access to prevent overexposure. Once a brand is overexposed it becomes commoditized, diluted, and ultimately. will go into decline. While you might not detect brand taints associated with overexposure in the short-term, this principle holds true across most genres over time. Think about any overexposed brand that comes to mind and you’ll see that it quickly begins to lose its luster. Once a brand’s appeal begins to erode, it will require significant time and expense to recover. It is simply a more intelligent approach to consistently manage brand exposure than it is to let your brand run wild and then attempt to triage overexposure.  

Let me offer just a few examples to help connect the dots: Recording artists that release too many CDs over too short of a time period hurt their own appeal. The same holds true with authors that release books with too high a frequency, or actors that churn out too many movies. You may also notice that politicians who confuse their real job with that of a media celebrity will lose the respect of their constituency and taint their effectiveness.

Please keep in mind that the personal brands of business people are not immune to the phenomenon mentioned above. The goal of a sound brand exposure strategy should be to increase your demand, which in turn allows you to pick and choose your opportunities, which in turn further increases your demand…the goal is not to seek every opportunity in the marketplace, but to have the right opportunities seeking you. 

I’ll close today’s post with a prime example of personal branding overexposure that while a pet-peeve of mine, will certainly draw the ire of many. I’m a huge believer in the use social media and social networking to further brand exposure. That said, I have little use for social networking junkies who collect friends/followers/contacts just for the sake of watching the numbers go up, while adding little or no value to their network. I would suggest that if your brand is based solely upon the quantity of contacts in your LinkedIn network, or the number of followers you’ve amassed on Twitter, and not the qualitative relevancy of said contacts, then you are more likely stroking your ego than you are acting as an astute personal brand manager. If no real interaction, no real value add, or no real engagement takes place, then while you migh have a lot of contacts you likely have very few relationships – there is a difference. 

Thoughts?

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