Leading With Courage

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This weekend is Memorial Day weekend, a time where we all should remember to honor the lives of our armed forces who sacrificed their lives for us to live in a free country.  Some of the most courageous people I have met have served in our military and they typically understand that respect is a trait that is earned through time and actions and not words.

The traits that make our military successful typically hold true in the business world as well.  As a leader, we are all accountable to developing our teams with experience usually being the best teacher.   Loyalty and trust is built through the hundreds of daily interactions you have with members of your team.  Too many times, disingenuous leaders focus on one big decision or the promise of something big to come down the road without building strong equity with their team using consistent recognition or coaching.  People don’t follow ideas or tactics…they follow the ideas and tactics from the people who they trust.  Focus on big dreams with small tangible actions.

Being a courageous leader also means allowing differing opinions and welcoming discussions which causes healthy debate.  Weak leaders only want “yes” people on their teams…people who always agree with the leader’s thoughts and ideas.  Courageous leadership is not running away from those who disagree with you. Courageous leaders are not threatened by tension on their teams. They deal directly with the challenges and discuss them openly without repercussions.  Embrace differences in opinions and be open to ideas not your own. The strongest teams open dialog with their direct reports in the early tactical stages of influencing change.  They focus on the right questions (does a decision make our product/company stronger or does this decision improve the quality of the services we offer).  The cynical leader knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing, and too often, cynical leaders make decisions that negatively impact their business without listening to their team’s opinions.  Basically, they have their mind made up prior to asking for input…which is the worst decision a leader can make.

Ways To Be More Of A Courageous Leader:

  1. Create a Leadership CRM: You should know everything about each direct report on your team…birthdays, marital status, hobbies, career goals as examples.  You earn trust by focusing on the individual and treating them as your most important customer, which they are.  Personally, I have used Evernote for 5 years and this is a great tool across multiple platforms.  And, as is the case with every CRM, garbage in = garbage out.  Make sure you take the time to develop your customer relationship management tool!
  2. Ask your teams what you can do better – The best leaders don’t have all the answers, admit mistakes, and ask team members what they could be doing better without defensiveness. On every field interaction I have, I close out by asking what we could be doing better as a company.  Some of the best ideas we have come across result from asking this simple question.  And if you have a healthy team culture, then you may get some honest ideas to improve your business.
  3. Be a fountain and not a drain….I heard this from a colleague last month. While we all have times of frustrations in our lives, make sure you are contributing to something positive every day.  Every individual should be self-motivated to perform at a high standard…leaders inspire their teams to achieve what they did not think was possible.  Make sure you are doing your best to provide daily or weekly affirmations to your team in leading them to high levels of achievement.
  4. Conduct After Action Reviews –  After every meeting or major initiative, focus on what went well and what you could have done differently.  Focus more on the positives then the negatives and make sure to learn from your past experiences.  The best teams know that you either win or you learn.

Being a courageous leader requires focus on the things you control, anticipating the challenges ahead (leaders anticipate, losers react), and creating a shared purpose of why you do what you do (a great read is “The Culture Code” by Daniel Coyle).  Anyone can lead when a plan is working…the courageous lead when a plan falls apart.  On this Memorial Day weekend, please take a moment to thank a veteran or active duty member of our military for their service and their courage in defending our country.

Well Done > Well Said

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