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Steps We Take Can Help Us Become Better Leaders

One of the things I like most about writing a weekly blog is that it reminds me what I need to do to become a better leader. I don’t pretend to be a great leader. I do plan, however, to get better day by day, week by week, year by year. This blog helps me become better and, hopefully, it helps you become better.

A few things happened this week that remind me of things we all need to do to increase our effectiveness as great leaders.

Keep in Touch with People that Helped you Along the Way

These people may be peers or maybe they were mentors of yours at some point. I started working for Kinetico Inc. 32 years ago. Their founder, Bill Prior, was a visionary in several fields. In my five years there he taught me several key lessons.

One was simply keeping a daily diary/calendar. His was a simple “seven days at a glance” calendar that showed each day in 15 minute intervals. I was always amazed how Bill could go back and see who he visited with every day looking back several years. Today, there are electronic versions. Use what works for you, but keep a chronicle of your activities and contacts.

Look for Solutions—Don’t Just Identify Problems

I remember walking in Bill’s office one day at the young age of 27 and alerting him to another problem. He told me that I was always welcome to come into his office—but asked that I do so when I can present possible answers to our challenges. It changed me and helped me become much more creative finding solutions.

For some reason I always remembered his birthday was Valentine’s Day. This year I found his e-mail was and sent him a quick note just thanking him for teaching me his leadership qualities and wishing him a happy birthday.

Here is an excerpt from the e-mail he sent back to me a few days later:

“So thank you for remembering my birthday. Yup, I’m 82. I’m older and weaker, but I’m the same guy. [I’m] still working on developing sustainable quality water.”

Make Sure You Are Passionate about What You Do

I remembered something else about Bill when I received his note. Bill was passionate about what he created. I remember him talking about his vision for quality water 25 years ago. Only after “official retirement” is he able to take that passion to the next level as he keeps inventing stuff.

Send Notes of Encouragement

The other action item that came to mind this week was triggered by a note I received from someone who attended a training session I conducted several years ago. I sent her a note of encouragement and this is an excerpt of what she sent:

“Thanks, Mark. It is words of encouragement like that that keep me going! The absolute honest truth is that you were one of the people that inspired me. I first met you in El Paso, Texas (2008) at the UT Collage of Business franchise certification class.”

Any idea how that made me feel?

This was reinforced as I listened to an interview with Bradley Cooper on PBS’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Cooper was describing to her how he would use a camcorder to film himself in his kitchen auditioning for roles. He did this over 200 times, distributing the homemade tapes to casting directors. At one point Robert DeNiro came to Cooper’s home in Los Angeles to meet him. He told Cooper that he didn’t get the part but to continue doing what he was doing.

Cooper did and the rest is history. Cooper looks back on the kindness that DeNiro shared. He validated Cooper’s what-seemed-like-fruitless efforts when he was a young actor.

So Here Are our Leadership Challenges this Week:

—We need to reach out to someone who inspired us and say thank you! We have to tell them what a difference they made for us.

—Secondly, we need to reach out to someone and tell them we like what they are doing. Surprise someone. Make it a point to find someone who isn’t expecting anything from you.

I promise you it will make for a very rewarding week and increase your leadership skills!

What Makes a Great Leader?

How does one become a great leader? I remember when I first learned about leadership in the business world. I wasn’t even 21 and managing my first general finance office. (Wow, that seems like many years ago—wait … it was!)

Hoping to increase my skills and move up the ladder as quickly as possible I started to devour biographies—as I have continued to do ever since. What I’ve discovered is there isn’t one style or type of personality that is necessary for being a great leader. I’ll give you an example.

When I was reading the Steve Jobs book, I admired him for his vision—but I certainly wouldn’t want to work for him. I know his intimidating style that I read about wouldn’t have motivated me—regardless of how rich he was. It might have worked for a tech guy, but not me.

Years ago I bought one of Jack Welch’s books. He was known to be a “great leader.” In fact, one of his tape series was titled, Jack Welch, Icon of Leadership. Again, I couldn’t get through it. Obviously, however, people who are much smarter and more successful than me liked his style.

I kept reading and reading to see if there was a certain style or example one could follow to become a great leader. Finally, I found it.

I loved the styles of Norman Vincent Peale, Mike Krzyzewski, Zig Ziglar and Ken Blanchard. I believe in “servant leadership” and inspiring others to follow you versus demanding they follow you. That works best for me.

Look at your company. Do you have a style that allows you to be an inspiring leader?

I discovered that one can’t just take the attitude of “This is how I am and you better learn to handle it.” This will produce a great deal of turnover—especially if your people feel that they aren’t part of a team that you lead and inspire. Everyone deserves the chance to make a difference.

It’s kind of like raising children. I have three kids and have learned that I handle each of them differently. My father-in-law is the master of this. He has five daughters and, somehow, each of them believes they are his favorite. The question for both you and I is, “Do we have the ability to do that with each member of our team?”

As leaders we are put in positions as coaches, parents, disciplinarians, counselors and whatever else it takes to build an effective, productive team. It may mean that we need to “free up people’s futures” to build the right team. That’s OK. It is your business and you have to build the right team that works for you, your fellow employees and your customers. What works for me might not work for you. Your challenge is to find what style makes you a great leader.