Follow-Worthy Leaders Do This

Much has been written and talked about on the importance of leading others. But what about leading ourselves? Our ability to self-lead has clear links to our ability to lead others and ultimately achieve success in whatever endeavor we undertake – whether at the gym, on the court or field, at work, home, play or study.

As the age-old saying goes, sometimes we are our “own worst enemy.” This is because we forget to take care of ourselves in the daily grind to lead our teams and our organizations.

It seems obvious to say that if we don’t eat, drink, or breathe, we don’t live. But I introduce this idea to lead us to two more obvious points:

  1. If we don’t learn, we can’t grow.
  2. If we don’t grow, we can’t grow others.  

It was Marshall Goldsmith, popular leadership coach and author of What Got you Here Won’t Get You There, who said:

To help others develop, start with yourself.

I once heard John Maxwell, another popular leadership coach, author, and pastor offer this idea about the importance of taking care of ourselves:

If you’ve ever flown, you’ve heard a flight attendant say, ‘If you are traveling with children or seated next to someone who needs assistance, place the mask on yourself first, and then offer assistance.’

This is a simple metaphor for our lives reminding us that in order to help others we must first take care of ourselves. As I reflect on this idea, I find there are three things we must do:

  1. Eat well and exercise
    • Self-focus on the body. What we consume and how we exercise affects our health, which in turn impacts our ability to put forth our best every day. When we are called to lead, and tested to our very limits, we must be ready and able to endure. Being ready requires eating and drinking right, avoiding anything harmful, and routinely doing something physically active that keeps us moving. Successful leaders are healthy individuals. 
  2. Study and hone your craft
    • Self-focus on the mind. Whatever field or industry we select, we must build a strong foundation of knowledge and skills in order to compete. But if we want to do more than just compete – that is, win – and help others do the same, we must recognize that our expertise is only as sharp as the last time it was sharpened. Our responsibility is to never stop learning. We should set aside time weekly for purposeful self-improvement, whether through independent study, participating in experiences outside of our comfort zones, or actively learning from peers and mentors. Leaders who can learn are leaders who can teach.
  3. Reflect quietly
    • Self-focus on the spirit. Quiet reflection can take many forms: prayer, meditation, sleep, a conversation with a loved one, a walk in the park, and others. However we do it, the key is to pause and let the world around us settle. This allows us to regroup and settle ourselves. And it is in these quiet times when we can hear our inner-voices, see the impacts of our choices, and when clarity engulfs us and we suddenly feel able – once again – to take on the world. A leader who is lost can find their way in a mirror.

You should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day. Unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour. ~ Old Zen adage

When I think back on situations when I was least effective as a leader I recognize those as times when I wasn’t taking care of myself. I know it is easy to lose self-focus in the hustle and bustle of daily life. I also know that’s a mistake.

The harsh reality is that, despite hierarchy and formal authority, people choose whether or not to follow someone. Therefore, in order to lead others, we must offer something worthy of following. And to be follow-worthy we take care of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. Doing so allows us to offer our very best while leading ourselves, and others, to success.


Your Resume is Lazy

sleepyhead_zzzRecently I was talking with a colleague about the “elevator pitch“. She looked at me funny and said “what’s an elevator pitch?” Of course, I explained it to her.

But, the point of this story is that there may be people in business today who are not familiar with this concept. That means those who know what it is, can create and deliver one, may have a leg up in the job market.  So…what is it?

Allow me to begin with a story.

Jack and Sara

Jack and Sara are both recent college graduates.They are also friends. Shortly after graduation they attended a social gathering hosted by a mutual friend. At one point in the evening, as conversations typically go, the discussion turned to Jack and Sara and the fact that they had recently graduated. Someone asked:

What did you study and what are you planning to do?

Jack answered first and he said something like this:

“I studied marketing and I’m hoping to do something in that area. I kinda like advertising and I kinda like sales. Not really sure yet.”

Then it was Sara’s turn:

“I earned my degree in marketing. Over the summer I interned for a local start up company. I ended up working on their social media campaign and absolutely fell in love with that area of specialty. Since then I have continued building my own online presence and have amassed a small but respectable following. My plan is to find another start up company where I can help build and manage their social media strategy. Do any of you know of a company that needs someone like me?”


At that, a quiet, shadowy figure in the corner raised his hand and said, “Hey Sara. My name is Joe. Let’s chat.”

Turns out Joe was the owner of a start up and had been looking for someone to help with his social media strategy. Sara was soon after hired by Joe.

So, what happened in this story? Two college graduates walk into a party with the same degree. Only one walks out with a job. Where did Jack go wrong and Sara go right? What did Sara know that Jack didn’t know?

The answer is simple. Jack was unable to articulate who he was and what he wanted. He probably thought that his degree and resume would do all the work for him. Sara, on the other hand, knew that her resume was lazy and wouldn’t be getting her a job any time soon and that if she wanted to land a great job opportunity she had to be ready at a moment’s notice to sell herself. In short, Sara had her elevator pitch ready to go.

What is an elevator pitch?

It is very simple: A brief and to-the-point explanation of who you are and what you want, that ends in an “ask.”  It is called an elevator pitch based on the idea that you may have 15 to 30 seconds, the time it takes to ride from one floor to the next, to sell yourself to the person riding the elevator with you. That person may be a hiring manager, someone of influence, or someone who can simply offer you advice or help you make a connection.

Of course, as evident in our story of Jack and Sara, the opportunity to sell yourself may come at unexpected times – not just in elevators – so you should always be ready.

Let’s face it. Your resume is lazy. Don’t expect it to do all the work for you. Get yourself an elevator pitch today.

ish happens

Half-full or half-emptyish.

This is the word we use when something is stuck between being and not being. Between is and is not.

For example, we might say, “that shirt is red-ish.” Or, “I’m feeling sick-ish.” And sometimes, “the weather is a bit warm-ish.”

Describing things as ish is handy, because it helps us avoid committing when we’re not quite ready. And when it is used in the course of regular conversation, we tend to accept this half-way point as okay, and we carry on. We typically do not challenge convenient ish-isms.

But when is being ish not okay? What about in leadership? Is being leader-ish okay, not okay, or maybe okay-ish?

Read my Lead Change Group post, Leader-ish: When You’re Not Quite a Leader, to find out if you’re being a leader, or just leader-ish.

Leadership Takes the Stage

I recently guest-blogged on the Lead Change Group’s site, exploring leadership themes from the world of theater.  Here are two excerpts:

Playing the Part of Leader

You can learn the behaviors of a good leader, and act like one, but until you truly feel and believe in what you are doing, your “audience” may be left unconvinced, uninspired, and wanting more.  By “audience” I mean anyone within the leader’s realm of influence – peers, direct reports, managers, customers, stakeholders.  Like a realistic actor, the character-based leader engages his mind, heart, and soul in an authentic portrayal of the part.  He’s not merely acting the part. He is leading.

What can leaders learn from the best actors about how to be authentic?

  • Know your back story
  • Improvise
  • Beleive it
  • Read the reviews
  • Change roles

To read more, visit  Playing the Part of Leader.

Leadership ASAP

Can you lead a team in a hurry?  In today’s lightening-fast business world, effective leaders who achieve swift results through others have the advantage.  What does it take?  I’ve led and overseen lots of project teams.  They don’t all succeed, and the ones that do have a few things in common.  Theater ASAP is an annual event where a group of writers, directors, and actors produce original theater in a 24-hour period.  Imagine if you had to lead a team in your organization to create something and deliver it to a customer with only 24 hours notice, could you do it?  What would it take?

Here’s what makes Theater ASAP work:

  • Talented players
  • Clearly defined roles
  • A dedicated and shared purpose
  • Clearly defined outcomes
  • A hard deadline

To read more, visit Theater ASAP.