As I’ve written previously in Leadership 101 and Why Most Corporations Homogenize Remarkable People, great leadership is more about trust than it is about charisma. Too often these days, leaders are chosen for their alpha tendencies and star appeal rather than their competence, vision and ability to motivate a team. Throughout my experience, I’ve observed five unspoken rules top leaders follow to earn trust—and draw great performances from their teams. In each and every case, they:
Start with a vision—Great leaders have to know where the company is heading. People trust their judgment and their ability to see through the politics and have a sense of the right course. Employees gain trust that their leader knows what the company is going to look like and they are energized by the picture he or she is painting.
Speak with actions rather than words – Quite simply, this means the best leaders practice what they preach. Employees have to believe they really know what they’re doing and that they’re capable. Leaders must be truly competent and willing to roll up their sleeves to do what needs to be done. If they do, they earn trust.
Hear the good, the bad and the ugly—Great leaders don’t shoot the messenger or encourage sugar coating—they listen to the people who’ll talk straight about a situation. They want people to be comfortable bringing bad news. At the same time, they encourage people to follow each problem with a thoughtful discussion of opportunities.
Have the “get it” factor—People must trust that a leader understands them. In other words, not only do they get “it,” but they get “them.” Leaders understand what it’s really like to work in the current environment and they have people’s interests at heart. The best leaders are not always liked by everyone, but they are respected.
Keep a backbone rather than assign blame—Leaders have to be comfortable making tough decisions. There’s a lot of weight on their shoulders, but some of it can be shared because they know how to pick an excellent team. Top leaders know how to take responsibility and do. If something goes wrong under their watch, they look in the mirror and accept the blame rather than pointing their finger at everyone else.
As far too many of us have observed, there are a lot of charismatic people in senior positions who are not great leaders. They may be good on their feet, but they lack judgment and competence. They may be decisive, but they lack vision and insight. A true leader brings out the best in people and leads by example. They’re rare and always manage to stand out from the crowd, but that’s because, first and foremost, they’re willing to stand in it.
Sometimes you simply can’t predict your life. Earlier this year, I was living in Austin and writing my second book. Now I live in Denver and have a role as Chief Marketing Officer for a company in a completely different field. It was a surprise to everyone—including myself.
But in hindsight it makes perfect sense. As I wrote in Professional Destiny, you have to follow the signs and when they all line up and point in a certain direction—it’s time to morph and change. Luckily, after years of practice, I’m beginning to get this lesson down! When my former colleague, Katherine Ott (now CEO of SlimGenics), called me months ago to discuss a “business opportunity,” I, of course, thought it had to do with books—my books to be precise. I had left my marketing and advertising career almost two years before and didn’t have any immediate plans to go back. So my initial thought of her offer to run the marketing team was “that’s really nice, but no.”
Funny how no’s can turn into yes’s!
Sooner than I expected, I noticed how I had started to miss being “in the fray.” My life as an author and consultant was very satisfying—and calm. I loved Austin, but I’d lived in Colorado before and was happy there, so that wouldn’t be too traumatic. Plus, there were several people on the marketing team that I’d worked with twelve years ago, so in a sense the band was getting back together. And the kicker was that SlimGenics is a company dedicated to helping people change their life for the better. In a real and sustainable way. And this is something that drives me.
But the greatest thing about the change, I discovered after arriving here. When you’re doing something meaningful, you can’t help but being inspired. And then you meet more inspiring people. It all starts to build upon each other—in an entirely new way than I’d experienced before. I’m sharing with you a short video of a dynamic and compelling person I met once I came on board. It’s about his personal journey in weight loss. I met Jeff my very first week while I was in counselor training class trying to soak up everything I could about the SlimGenics program. He came in to share his perspective of what it was like to lose 110 pounds and we were all… mesmerized. Watch his story and I’m sure you will be too.
Jeff told me once that helping people improve their lives by helping them lose weight was his Professional Destiny. He said, “I can’t believe I get to wake up in the morning and do work that inspires people.” Watch out—doing this kind of thing is addictive and contagious, but it’s one of those natural highs that I highly recommend.
The following is an article that I was invited to contribute to More.com about my reinvention from advertising executive into author of Professional Destiny.
Many of us have achieved success but find ourselves yearning for fulfillment. For me, an uncomfortable sense that something was “missing” in my life was a turning point that led me to write a book devoted to the topic of purpose and how it relates to your working life. The following excerpt from Professional Destiny®—Discover the Career You Were Born For, explains how my own personal story of reinvention began…
“I reached a pivotal turning point during my mid-thirties. I remember a distinct moment when I was sitting on the porch at my house in Boulder, Colorado, looking across the street at the stunning Flatiron mountains thinking, “to everyone else I look like I have it all: two beautiful daughters, a good husband, friends, a great career, high income, a wonderful house and excellent health—yet deep down I am completely miserable.”
Something was missing inside.
It was at that time that I began to yearn to move from a life of success to a life of significance.”
This moment on my porch in Boulder began my search for my “professional destiny.” Although I was successful by all outward measures, I couldn’t help but feel that there was something bigger I was meant to do. I had a purpose to fulfill and needed to find it. The search became my mission. It took several years (with a few detours along the way!) for me to transition from a marketing and advertising executive to an author, speaker and coach. But that poignant moment marked the beginning of a wonderful, challenging and fulfilling journey. It was my time of rediscovery and reinvention.
This story was originally published on More.com
I became fascinated by the idea that there’s an “ideal career” for everyone, but only a small percentage of us manage to find it. I came to realize that for many, true fulfillment only comes after some period of disappointment or disenchantment—and I had mine on the porch. I started questioning people to see if I could find any common traits among those who had a real passion for their work and discovered that the most highly motivated and fulfilled were those who were making use of their natural gifts. In effect, they were working in the career they were born for. For these people, work isn’t about money or title. It’s about satisfaction, empowerment, feeling energetic about their work, making an impact, fully exercising a talent and inspiring others.
The journey is not for the faint of heart. It may mean leaving a familiar sense of security and stability. It may mean leaving behind an impressive title or professional identity. Almost always, it means venturing into the unknown. But if your days become routine and you find yourself in a position that saps your spirit, the move to energizing, fulfilling work is well worth it. There is a difference. A job is something we do to earn a living, our “professional destiny” is a mighty undertaking that challenges us, taps into our creative energy and reawakens our spirit. Our passion and creativity are ignited. If we’re not feeling it today, perhaps it’s a call for reinvention!
“What you are doing right now has within it the seeds of your life’s work. As you may have discovered, each time you get a new job you use many of the skills you have already developed. It is as if every job prepares you in some way for the next one. Every skill you acquire that you love using will be important as you follow your higher path. You may not understand why you took a job or developed a particular talent or ability, but the skills you have learned will be of value to you. Trust that what you are doing right now is helping you gain skills that will be used in your greater life’s work.”
—Sanaya Roman in Creating Money
When I read this quote, I immediately thought of Steve Job’s commencement speech at Stanford University—an oldie but goodie. Jobs discussed his college years when he dropped out of school to informally drop in on only the subjects that interested him. It may have seemed irresponsible at the time, but it seems like legend now. Here is an excerpt from his speech:
“I dropped out of Reed College after the first six months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out? I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents’ savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out okay. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn’t interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn’t all romantic. I didn’t have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends’ rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the seven miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something —your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
(More discussion of this subject and speech is also covered in the chapter aboutFearless Faithin Professional Destiny).
“What the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” —Napolean Hill
JK Rowling is one of my all-time favorites. I find her to be very down-to-earth and inspirational, and have written about her before in Failing Your Way to Success. Just recently, I was watching her interview with Oprah and was struck by a comment she made about when she was writing the first Harry Potter book. The conversation went like this:
Rowling: [After writing The Sorcerer's Stone] I had this moment where I suddenly thought – It was like another voice speaking to me and the voice said “the difficult thing is going to get published. If it gets published it will be huge.”
Rowling: And that is exactly what it was.
Winfrey: So there was some hint that – the voice had said to you –
Rowling: Well, the thing is you’ve got to believe, haven’t you?
Rowling: You know – I was not the world’s most secure person. I wasn’t someone with an enormous amount of – in fact, I’d say I was someone with not much self-belief at all and yet in this one thing in my life I believed. That was the one thing in my life. I felt ‘I can tell a story’.
In Professional Destiny, I’ve written about the importance of having a vision and about having “fearless faith.” Another way of saying this is that in order to achieve you must have 1) a burning desire, and 2) 100% belief that you can do, or have, what you desire. Belief is where many of us fall short. Usually it’s why things don’t happen, even when we want them. We have to believe that it will happen even if we don’t see the evidence right in front of us. At any given point, we only see a fraction of the possibilities, but there can be something great looming just off our radar screen. In fact, most great things come as surprises. As I wrote in my book, “you don’t get to know how it gets done. You don’t get to know what is going to happen either. ‘How’ or ‘what’ are not the questions—you just need to know that you are going to do it.”
Rowling said that story telling was the one thing she absolutely believed she could do and look what happened… she became the first self-made billionaire author with over 450 million copies of her books sold. It’s a great reminder that the combination of conceiving and believing truly leads to achieving.
To watch the full 40 minute JK Rowling interview with Oprah, click here.
Professional Destiny is about finding purpose and meaning in our profession. It’s about realizing a deeper level of satisfaction in what we do. It’s about not accepting status quo, or allowing ourselves to become complacent.
In other words, we don’t get to numb out.
Just recently I saw this TEDx talk by Brene Brown about the importance of vulnerability and its link to connection, purpose and meaning. I found it fascinating. And although we come at it from different angles, I saw the similarities between the quest to become whole-hearted as she discusses, and the quest to discover purpose and meaning in what we do.
In my book Professional Destiny, I wrote: ”Many people confide in me that at some point in their careers, they feel as if they’ve come to a fork in the road. They have reached a level of success and confidence and now they need to make a choice between pursuing an unknown road toward fulfillment, or choosing the familiar path that feels secure. One client so aptly put it, ‘I know I can go work for company XYZ and make six figures if I want a mind-numbing job, but I don’t. Now what do I do?’ It’s a challenging choice. On the one hand, if you decide to bite the bullet and pursue a deep yearning that you have, you are often venturing into the unknown—especially if it’s very different from the career you’ve known. You are venturing into unfamiliar territory and you can expect to feel significant anxiety over this. If, on the other hand, you settle and choose not to take that next step forward, you can expect to feel a deep-seated sense of disappointment followed by a sense of lethargy and possibly a low-level or high-level depression. Many people try to mask these feelings by keeping themselves ‘numbed’ through alcohol, prescription drugs or anything that takes their focus away from the fact that they are ignoring a message from their soul. Others simply try to keep frantically busy and convince themselves that they are so important, that they don’t have time to notice the uneasiness from within.”
Brene adds another twist from her research and perspective on those who live whole-heartedly. She says in this excerpt from her talk: “We live in a vulnerable world. And one of the ways we deal with it is we numb vulnerability. I think there’s evidence—and it’s not the only reason this evidence exists, but I think it’s a huge cause—we are the most in-debt, obese, addicted and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history. The problem is—and I learned this from the research—that you cannot selectively numb emotion. You can’t say, here’s the bad stuff. Here’s vulnerability, here’s grief, here’s shame, here’s fear, here’s disappointment, I don’t want to feel these. I’m going to have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. I don’t want to feel these… you can’t numb those hard feelings without numbing the affects, our emotions. You cannot selectively numb. So when we numb those, we numb joy, we numb gratitude, we numb happiness. And then we are miserable, and we are looking for purpose and meaning, and then we feel vulnerable, so then we have a couple of beers and a banana nut muffin. And it becomes this dangerous cycle.”
So you can’t choose to numb the hard stuff—the uncertainty, the fear, the risks, the vulnerability—and expect to find a deep level of satisfaction and true creative expression in your life. In other words you’re not living your Professional Destiny and you’re not living wholeheartedly. Thanks Brene Brown for adding this perspective.
One of the great things about social networking is that it spurs interesting dialog. My last blog post, Do You Know How to Grant Greatness generated a lively and fascinating discussion in the Sales and Marketing group on LinkedIn. The question posed by group member Daniel Surman inspired the title of this post: What makes an exceptional manager in today’s business world? Read on… and see if you’ve experienced leadership that rises above the fray.
Here is a segment of the dialog between two members, Daniel Surman and Dave Eisley (posted here with their permission). I’d be hard pressed to describe it better…
Dave Eisley: “From my own personal experience, great managers surround themselves with talented people and give them the space to do what they do best. That’s not to say they don’t train and problem solve, but most of all they provide business strategy and organization. They were great coaches. The BEST managers I have worked for taught me about “macro” business views, to help me better understand the business environment and all the factors that came into play–then they trained me how to get better. However, MOST of the people I have worked for have engaged in power struggles, offered vague, inconsistent direction and spent most of their time “protecting” their place in the hierarchy. None of those particular businesses ever grew.
This is the best outline of a leadership role I have ever seen:
Provide an inspiring vision and strategic alignment, launch a crusade
Help people connect their personal goals to business goals
Make relentless innovation a religion
Encourage entrepreneurial creativity and experimentation
Involve everyone, empower and trust employees
Coach and train your people to greatness
Build teams and promote teamwork, leverage diversity
Motivate, inspire and energize people, recognize achievements
Encourage risk taking
Make business fun
…I have been in the workforce for over 15 years in sales, management, and training roles and have experienced exactly ONE senior executive or manager that even came close to this ideal. Do you think this is unrealistic?”
Daniel Surman: “In my 15+ years of backend marketing and now sales I have only had no more than two managers that possessed these traits.”
Wow. Sadly these are not great odds.
As I have mentioned before, a truly great leader is rare and, by example, begins to stand out from the crowd. It’s not how polished or “alpha” you are, it’s how you lead and inspire your team. So, an interesting question to follow up with is…
A great leader grants greatness. He or she recognizes the natural ability of others and allows them to practice their gift. Too often, leaders are chosen by their pedigree and/or ability to perform well on their feet. In reality, this only covers a small part of the leadership criteria. The more important part is whether the leader can get his/her entire organization to thrive and can effectively inspire them to do their best. The activity of leadership is not about looking good behind a podium. It’s about fine-tuning an organization so that individuals uniquely master their trade, while fully contributing their gifts to the larger whole. Think of an orchestra—it’s not how the conductor looks on the stand that matters. It’s how the conductor inspireseach musician to play his/her individual best to create a harmonious, splendid and orchestrated sound.
I once knew of a leader in an organization who had multiple Ivy League degrees, dressed and looked like the one in charge, was good in front of a crowd, and was certainly smart—but made uninspired and unimaginative business decisions time and time again. He selected an elite few on the executive team who had his ear and couldn’t rally the rest of the team together. Needless to say, it wasn’t too long before capable people shut down and the organization began to fall apart. The chosen model of the future became “efficiency,” which called for massive centralization of all critical functions—even the thinking! In this model, all “thought leaders” would be at the headquarters location (heaven help the organization if a local disaster hit!) and the rest of the offices around the world would execute “the-thinking-that-was-thought-of-elsewhere.” No big ideas required outside of those glass walls! Well that might seem like a way to drive efficiency and lower costs—but what about the concept that a good idea can come from anywhere? And what about inspiring people to be inventive and do their best? What happens to the motivation of a capable leader of another location when he/she finds out that the “good-idea patent” is owned solely by headquarters? You can just feel the inspiration and enthusiasm melt through the floor. The best people don’t need to be managed or thought for—and you want the best people in as many places as you can possibly find them.
True, there is a balance between centralization and anarchy. I would argue that leadership at the most profound level is the kind that empowers greatness, leads by example and then lets capable people shine. It is this type of leader that is hardest to find. One who listens for passion and commitment, takes responsibility if a team is not flourishing and makes a decision that goes against the grain.
The moment you need to manage someone tightly, or limit their ability to think independently, is the moment you’ve either made a hiring mistake or have clamped down on innovation. Hire well, grant greatness to your team—and then watch the orchestration of something truly remarkable unfold.
The following is an article I recently wrote for More.com. It’s about our insatiable desire beyond stability for “things”—and how this can stifle our quest to reinvent ourselves.
“There are two kinds of hunger—the hunger for food and the hunger for more. I’ve been taught to look past what I have to what I don’t have. I have a car, but I’m always noticing the car I’d rather have. I have 12 shirts, but I’m always noticing the 13th shirt that I want to buy. We’re suffering from a profound lack of relationship with enough—we are about what we don’t have.” —Dan Karslake, Documentary filmmaker of Every Three Seconds, an upcoming film about ending world hunger
No doubt about it, there’s great beauty in having enough. It gives us the freedom to reinvent ourselves. If we’re living at a survival level and spending most of our time worrying about paying our bills and meeting basic needs, it’s quite hard to focus on finding our purpose and pursuing our life’s work. As Abraham Maslow pointed out in his famous Hierarchy of Needs pyramid, we must first satisfy our needs for survival and safety before we can address the higher level of self actualization.
Yet how many of us actually know what “enough” is? If there were mile posts on our journey, that marked “survival,” “basic comfort” and “excess,” would we even know when we past each point? Probably not. As this excerpt from my book, Professional Destiny, discusses the cost of “more” can be quite high.
“A trap that we are all susceptible to, especially in the Western world, is that we overlook the concept of having enough. We come to never fully enjoy what we have because we are always thinking about what we don’t yet have (a nicer home or car, more possessions, a bigger company, more money, finer art). This sense of wanting more is an insatiable hunger. It is poison to our soul and kills new, creative possibilities because it locks us into a pattern. It might make our life more comfortable but it doesn’t bring us true fulfillment, which only comes when we feel like we are making a difference in a genuine, meaningful way.
You can be financially successful, a respected leader in your profession, be admired for your status, have beautiful possessions and a lovely family—but still feel a nagging sense of emptiness.
I find that most people who have made it in their career and have achieved success have just about everything they want materially, but do not feel fulfilled. They want to venture out and make a difference, but are immobilized by fear and the need to have a familiar sense of security, stability and enough…
Security often means that they do not take risks or allow themselves to be open to new possibilities. Many have lost the concept of having ‘enough’ and cannot accept the idea of making less money for a while, even if it makes them happier. They cannot escape the money trap and therefore are not free. Because of the overwhelming need for survival, even beyond the point of enough, we ignore our deepest yearnings and continue in a job that is not fulfilling—or even worse, a job that is sapping our lifeblood and essence. We think we are making a living, but in reality our spirit is slowly dying.”
Maybe it’s time to take a fresh look at the hidden—and not so hidden—costs of our addiction to more and how it hinders our ability to reinvent ourselves. If we’re able to recognize when enough is enough and get a grip on that insatiable hunger, we just may be surprised to discover a fulfilling, new—and different—richness in our lives.
What if you came into work one day and discovered that overnight your company lost its ability to pay you. The entire company bank account had – poof! – disappeared, a victim of outside financial fraud. Would you chip in and see what you could do, or would your last day of pay, be your last day?
Bob Gutermuth, President of Dialog, found out on February 19, 2009 that all of his company—and personal—assets were frozen. The company funds had been held in the Stanford Financial Bank—which was discovered, on that fateful day in February, to be the second largest Ponzi scheme after Madoff. This subject, of course, is near and dear to my heart since I too was hit with the same financially catastrophic news. What I learned is that we all react differently to adversity—some fall victim to it, while others use it to come out stronger. It’s a fascinating subject that inspired my next book called, The Whammy. But I digress…
With every dime frozen indefinitely and faced with having to close its doors, Dialog was in serious trouble. Bob called everyone together and outlined the situation—in detail. For an undetermined period of time, Dialog couldn’t pay its lease, its vendors or its employees. In the spirit of democracy, he opened the books and invited communication. And everyone chipped in to help. Some employees went weeks without pay, while others decided to take time off. The crisis took months to resolve, but Dialog was able to make it through. It’s a great testimony of an organization of people who openly chose to endure financial hardship by rallying together. And it worked.
So the question for today is this… How many of us work for a company that would inspire us to make a choice to go weeks, or months, without pay? How many leaders would dare to be so straightforward and open? And how many employees would choose to be so loyal? What is the difference between a company like Dialog and a company like… (well, I’ll let you fill in the blank!).
I often write about leadership best practices and am pleased to add this example of how democracy in the workplace—along with open communication and open books—saved a company from imminent financial ruin. Not only did this marketing consulting company come back, but it came back stronger. Congratulations Dialog!
To see a related video about Dialog and its democratic practices, click here.
Professional Destiny® is about finding the career you were born for. I've created this site to help you in your pursuit. Here, you'll find excerpts from my book, as well as new ideas and stories to help you make the most of your natural gifts. We're a community, so please join the conversation!