Guest post from Leo Bottary:
Leadership lessons exist all around us, all the time. All we have to do is pay attention. Let me offer two examples – one is about growth and the other involves the power of declaring victory.
One of my favorite fictional characters provides a profound lesson in leadership in a wonderful book called The Offsite by Robert H. Thompson. His name is Sam Arthur, and he is the groundskeeper at Tucson, Arizona’s La Mariposa Resort & Spa – the location of an offsite meeting for two high-powered teams from competing pharmaceutical companies.
Consider for a moment that Thompson could have given Sam any job at the hotel – general manager, bellman, concierge, etc. (Or, the author could have chosen one of the other high-powered executives portrayed in the book to be our teacher, so to speak). The groundskeeper, however, serves as the perfect metaphor for servant leadership. Sam sees to it that the soil is healthy. He makes sure the plants get enough water and sun, and that their environment is free from weeds and pests. The plants are given everything they need to succeed on their own. Sam knows that if he creates the right conditions for growth, his gardens will flourish.
One would hardly imagine Sam screaming at the flowers to grow faster or fuller. Sam’s approach to nurturing his garden is what great leaders do to build successful enterprises. They create conditions for people to flourish! Maybe more importantly, Sam reminds the executives attending the offsite, and us as readers, that we can learn something from everyone we meet, no matter what their job or station in life. This is how we grow.
When it comes to declaring victory, I experienced how leaders (coaches) can help people reframe tough challenges to ensure success. About 15-20 years ago, I frequently trained for and ran a number of marathons. Sometimes, on long run days or even during a few races, if I was not feeling 100% physically or just mentally beaten down by the distance, I would stop and walk for a while, run until I couldn’t run anymore, and walk again. I’d repeat the process until I reached the end of my training run or, in the case of a race, the finish line.
An experienced runner once told me that this can happen to anyone, but that I was thinking about it all wrong. He said that if you have to stop and walk, that’s fine, but when you start running again, don’t run until you can’t go another step. When you do that, you’re engaging in a mental exercise of repeated failure. Instead, when you feel good enough to start running again, look ahead of you and spot a tree or a stop sign. Set that as your goal. Run to it and declare victory. Start walking again, and when you’re ready, identify another marker. Run to that and call it a win. He advised that declaring victory, rather than succumbing to repeated defeats, would help me finish more quickly and with a healthier attitude. The recurring wins would actually bolster my confidence for the future. Of course, he was absolutely right. It works brilliantly.
I once offered the same advice to my daughter Kristin during her first attempt at running a half marathon. I explained the “declare victory versus succumb to defeat approach” to getting across the finish line. She tried it and was extremely grateful for the way this small change in mindset helped her complete the race that day.
Now imagine Kristin, not as a runner, but as an employee. She is charged with achieving a lofty goal, has a solid plan to achieve that goal, and then begins to implement the plan with all the energy in the world. As she runs into difficulties along the way, her enthusiasm yields to the current circumstances and the reality of the long slog ahead. She starts to believe that the situation is controlling her, instead of the other way around. When this happens, this is where the leader can remind her that it’s okay to walk for a bit, set a short-term goal, achieve that goal, secure a win, and set a new short-term goal. It’s as simple as putting one foot in front of the other and declaring victory as often as possible.
Some of the greatest leadership lessons I’ve ever received came when I wasn’t looking for them. I can only imagine the stories and lessons the readers of this blog could share – especially those that were gleaned from unexpected sources and/or seemingly unrelated experiences. If you have one, share one in the comments section. It’s among the best ways to truly learn leadership.
Leo Bottary is a sought-after thought leader on peer advantage, an emerging discipline dedicated to strategically engaging peers to realize your business and life goals. A popular author, educator, keynote speaker and workshop facilitator. His new book is What Anyone Can Do: How Surrounding Yourself with the Right People Will Drive Change, Opportunity, and Personal Growth.
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