Productive Leaders

Ph.D., CSP, CDR, US Navy Ret.,
CPAE Speaker Hall of Fame

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Do You Have These Aspects of Great Leadership?

Not every leader hits a homerun every time they start a venture or a project. Even great leaders have bad days, months, and even years. While none of us intend to fail, knowing that other successful people experience failures and turn those around is helpful.

What do great leaders say helped them be successful? What do they believe and do? What do they remind themselves?  

  • Get back on the horse.  When you fail, you try again, and again, and again.

    I’ve been riding horses since I was 5.  On a friend’s farm the rule was, “If you can catch it, you can ride it.”  They had 100s of acres.  We learned to ride with a halter in hand and alot of walking.  No saddle.  No bridle.  That also meant falling off (alot) because I didn’t know how to ride.  The key was to keep trying.

    My teams have also heard me say, “If you ride enough, you are going to get tossed off.” That is because you push yourself to get better, jump higher, cut a cow (that is breaking out a cow from the herd), ride green horses, and improve.  When someone tells me they have never been tossed off a horse, I know they are not pushing themselves. 

  • Forward movement. Strong leaders keep pushing to be better. They practice continuous improvement. Great is fine for right now. What are you doing to do to become even better? Are you reading smart books, going to conferences, meeting with smart people, or bringing in experts?  What are you doing?

  • Take risks. Take big risks. In the financial world, it is common knowledge that the larger rewards usually come with a greater risk. 

    At the Naval Academy, we learned about John Paul Jones, who famously declared, “He who will not risk cannot win.”  Great leaders know that learning and success comes from struggle, effort, and risk.

  • Own both successes and failures. It is usually easy to smile during a successful projects.  When true leaders fail, they learn and grow from the experience. When you and your team make a mistake – and you will – own it, take responsibility, make it right, and move on. How we respond to our mistakes is about our own accountability.

  • Don’t lose sight of your big picture. Your vision needs to be so clear and compelling that it carries you and your team through rough times. This is the basis of the first chapter of Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success.  People don’t need to be micromanaged.  Your people need your vision.  They need to know where they are going, what their contribution is, and that they are an important part of achieving the goals.

  • Love it or leave it. If you don’t have a passion for what you’re doing, your leadership is probably doomed to failure. Or mere mediocrity. Which may be worse.

Possessing some common traits of a great leader doesn’t automatically land you on the list of the world’s greatest business masteminds. It’s hard to develop leadership skills and then put them into action effectively. Bureaucracies, hierarchies, regulations, and a myriad of obstacles stand in the way of outrageous success. Superior leaders understand that obstacles are speed bumps, not brick walls. They find ways to solve the problems that crop up, and they are confident in pursuing their goals, because they know they can creatively manage issues that might derail success.


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