The following is a guest piece by former Primerica co-CEO John Addison.
If you look around the world today, you’ll notice something is lacking: real leadership. That’s not a political statement; it’s an across the board statement. You see it every time a corporate CEO gets indicted, or a teacher gets arrested for inappropriate relationships with students and yes, you see it when politicians start behaving badly.
Real leadership is our most scarce commodity, much more so than oil, land or cash, and it’s one we need to focus on growing and preserving in order to improve things now and for future generations.
In my book, “Real Leadership”, I share the nine principles I learned during my almost three decades rising through the leadership ranks at Primerica. They are common sense, doable leadership principles anyone, regardless of their leadership title (or lack of) can easily implement but tend to overlook. The time to stop overlooking them and change the tide of leadership is now.
Practice #1: Decide who you are
Your past and your upbringing may have been less than desirable, but that’s not important because the person you ultimately become is up to you.
Decide what you believe in and who you are in the process of becoming. Look for the good in yourself and focus on bringing out those qualities. Then, grant the same grace to other people.
Even when you hit roadblocks, keep moving forward. Deal with the issues right in front of you, with the intent of being just a little bit better today than you were yesterday. Incremental improvements take patience, persistence and faith, but they will go a long way to make you the kind of leader people admire.
Practice #2: Shine your light on others
Real leaders understand they are there to work for their teams, and not the other way around. Real leadership, the kind that makes a lasting impact, is centered on building up the people who work for you and shining a light on them and their achievements.
People are more productive when they feel recognized and appreciated. But, recognition can’t be something you don’t do regularly. Make recognition part of your culture. Share the credit with your people when things are going well and don’t blame them when they’re not. You take that responsibility since, as the leader, what they do or don’t do is a reflection of your guidance.
When you do a good job of making the people around you look and feel good, it’s ultimately going to make you look good, too.
Practice #3: Build on your strengths
We are all born with talents, but instead of focusing on those talents, we waste a lot of time trying to get better at the things we’re not good at. Stop wasting your time trying to do things other people do far better than you. Instead, find something you’re good at without trying hard. Then try hard to hone that skill.
Being a leader doesn’t mean you’re the one guy who knows how to do everything. It means you’re the one who know how to get things done, which means you know how to delegate and rely on the strengths and talents of others to help your organization reach its goals.
Practice #4: Earn your position
The greatest opportunities for leadership typically arise during times of trouble and chaos. That means people who aren’t necessarily in leadership roles have to step up and create their position.
Embrace the adversity, because, even though at the time it may feel like the world is crumbling down around you, it may be exactly what you need to move your career to the next level.
Once you earn a leadership position, don’t think you’re in a position where to slack off and let the people below you do the hard work. No matter what your position is, you’re really not that big of a deal. Real leaders work harder than everyone else and, in order to show you’ve earned your position, your people need to see no one is more committed than you.
Practice #5: Focus on what you can control
As a leader, you have to be the most focused person on the team– and not just focused on anything and everything. You have to be focused on the things where you will have some influence that will move the company forward. That requires some introspection on your part.
You need to ask yourself what your weaknesses are and then position yourself where they won’t get in the way of progress.
The only thing you can change is what you do and how you react to situations. Don’t waste your time focusing on what your predecessors may not have done right, trying to change your customers and employees or trying to get results by lighting a fire under people. Instead, focus on what you need to do to build a bright, secure future and that will create the why that gets your people motivated.
Practice #6: Develop a peaceful core
To be an effective leader, you have to carry within your core an untroubled, peaceful center that allows you to stay calm and weather whatever storms happen to be brewing.
Check your inner dialogue often to make sure you aren’t letting in negative thoughts that lead to you being critical, resentful or in a state of constant worry. You have to take the time to find an inner peace that allows you to be content with exactly who you are as you are and will allow you to stay possibility- focused instead of reacting to situations that will inevitably arise with panic and anxiety.
Look for that inner peace in your religious practice, gardening, exercise or any other place where you feel calm and connected to the positive things in your life. Escape there as often as needed to recharge and stay focused on being an effective leader.
Practice #7: Be a lighthouse
Most of the leaders we have today are weathervanes—they point whichever way the wind blows. To be a real leader, you have to be the person everyone knows they can count on to stand firm when it matters most, which means you have to be a lighthouse.
Lighthouses are there for when storms are brewing and times are dark. They are the ones who make the tough decisions and are fluid enough to change with situations while still staying focused on the organization’s goals.
If you want to be a great leader, you can’t allow yourself to be the victim of moods and whims. You have to be the foundation built on rock that successfully and skillfully guides your people through the most troubled times.
Practice #8: Don’t burn bridges
Real leadership isn’t something that can be accomplished on your own. You’re going to have to rely on the talents and good will of others to help your organization reach all of its goals, so likeability needs to be one of your greatest abilities. People are willing to do a lot more for you when they really like you.
Making enemies isn’t an option. You need to earn the respect of the people on the other side of the table and they need to know that, even when you don’t agree, you’re still going to be fair and honest. You won’t succeed if people are waiting to knock you down and are hoping you fail.
Swallow your pride and work on your relationships, especially when it’s hard and the last thing you want to do. You never know when you’re going to need the help of your “enemy” to take your business to the next level.
Practice #9: Make your parents proud
All of us are here on this earth for a reason. We may not know what our destiny is just yet, but it will reveal itself in time. All you can do while you figure it out is live the life you want to tell.
Don’t wait on circumstances to change or make money the focus of your goal. Tomorrow will work itself out and money will come and go. Find what makes you happy and make sure you are doing that.
When you come to a fork in the road and aren’t sure which path to take, ask yourself who in your life you care about most and then make the decision that will make them proud.
John Addison is the former co-CEO of Primerica, the largest independent financial services marketing organization in North America. He currently serves as the leadership editor of SUCCESS magazine and author of the book, “Real Leadership: 9 Simple Practices for Leading and Living with Purpose”. To learn more about John’s work, visit his website: JohnAddisonLeadership.com.
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