Mastering Leadership

Leadership Is Tough These Days; Do it Anyway!

It is indeed a great honor to have joined such a respected organization as BLR® and be invited to write this weekly column. I am also very proud of the world-class leadership development workshops and coaching programs that Bluepoint Leadership brings to this partnership.


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In crafting this column, I will draw upon the lessons I have learned over the past 25 years working with some amazing companies and even more amazing leaders. I have one overriding objective: to help you gain fresh insight into this very important social dimension we call leadership and incorporate this insight into the next chapter of your career.

To provide you with an understanding of some of my biases, beliefs, and assumptions about leadership, I have chosen to share the following six points, which underpin our development programs at Bluepoint.

1. Leadership Is an Act of Faith in Others

Over the past 25 years, I have had the great honor of coaching some of the most successful leaders on the planet. Their career journeys are unique in most ways; however, to a person, they have shared one, pivotal experience—“Someone saw something in me that I could not.”

While I rarely use quotes from leaders in the sports field, the late Jim Valvano conveyed this sentiment with profound simplicity: “My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person; he believed in me.” Would your team members say this about you? Would your friends? Your children?

2. Leadership Is a Craft, Not a Role

The cool thing is this: All can master this craft. Leadership is not the exclusive domain of a few charismatic, visionary men and women. Fifty years of intense research has pretty much taken the mystery out of leadership.

We know the practices that, if done well and consistently, will have a positive impact on the performance, learning, and development of others. It’s not rocket science. Treat others with dignity and respect, communicate a compelling story about the future, see the best in others, model personal accountability, and share your passions generously. Even ordinary people like most of us can master the craft of leadership. What aspect of leadership are you seeking to master today?

3. … and One Must Earn the Right to Practice this Craft

Integrity, authenticity, honesty, respect, honor … all words, good words, that authors use to describe the qualities a leader needs to have so others willingly follow him or her. I prefer to look at this idea of “earning the right to lead” through the lenses of intention and trust.

When we believe a leader is sincerely concerned about creating the best work, job, career, life, etc., for us, we become open to his or her influence. When we trust that the leader will stay true to his or her values, promises, and who he or she really is, we lower the barriers we put up to protect us from lies, deceit, and denigration and, again, become open to that leader’s influence.

I was deeply moved by the comments of a participant following an executive leadership development retreat this past year. He said, “Gregg, I have read every book on leadership that I could get my hands on, but I didn’t realize until today that, if I want to become a better leader, I need to become a better person.” What evidence exists that proves you have earned the right to lead?

4. Leadership Is Everyone’s Business

I believe the day of the hero leader is rapidly dying—that one inspirational visionary who is driving the business ahead and bringing the organization with him or her. Most progressive companies today recognize that the extremely dynamic social, technological, and commercial challenges they face require leadership at every organization level.

This means inviting and expecting all members of the organization to lead— to initiate and execute strategic changes, coach others for high performance, and inspire teammates to bring their best talents to projects—the full suite of leadership activities. In what ways are you developing leaders on your team?

5. Communication Is Not a Leadership Competency

It is your leadership. Virtually everything you accomplish (or don’t accomplish) as a leader is a product of your communication. At Bluepoint we believe that alignment is the holy grail of leadership. Here is the problem. As managers, we are trained to provide teams, colleagues, and managers with accurate and timely information necessary to do their jobs. Important, yes. However, leaders need to communicate on a much higher level.

They need to capture the hearts and minds of others. They need to communicate in ways that get others to think and act differently and in unison. Leaders find themselves spending a huge amount of time sharing a near infinite number of complex messages when they fail to communicate the few key things that guide action and decisions for others: meaning, purpose and the pathway forward.

As a leader, you are irrelevant until you speak, are heard, and make a personal connection with those you wish to lead. Are you spending your time communication information or meaning?

6. Leadership Is Often Messy, Tough, Unfair, and Thankless—Do it Anyway

Candidly, I find many books on leadership to be quite shallow and somewhat misleading. They shortchange the reader by asserting that their particular model or series of practices will result in a joyful journey toward the achievement of some grand objective.

What they downplay is the fact that much of a leader’s work is uncertain, risky, and emotionally draining. I think the payoffs are huge, but we need to be honest with the tough work that inevitably accompanies leadership. I like the way my two former partners, Boyd Clarke and Ron Crossland, put it:

“If you choose to lead, prepare to take a stand. It is not for the fainthearted. Some will judge you unfairly, blaming you for their lack of success. Others will expect resources you cannot give, answers you do not have, and permission you cannot grant. You will be misquoted. Your judgment will be questioned. You will certainly stumble. Failure will stalk you like a predator. The toughest problems will be yours alone. You must take responsibility for the failures and give credit for the successes. Lose the fantasy that you will be cherished, immortalized, or revered. Expect long hours and few moments of gratitude.

Expect also that some will soar.… They will make you glad you chose to lead.”

To make a significant impact on your team and organization, what are you prepared to learn, invest, risk, and sacrifice?

Thank you for reading this inaugural article. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you each week. Please join the conversation. I would enjoy receiving your comments, stories, and opinions on any aspect of leadership.