THE S-FACTOR BLOG
Lead Like An Athlete
Many people perceive that leaders are born. In fact, leaders are no different than elite athletes. Some elite athletes may have some natural talent but its commitment and dedication to mastering their craft that gets them to the highest levels.
Leaders can do the same. Leaders can practice and develop key skills like listening, building relationships, setting vision, aligning direction, instilling shared values, inspiring innovation among other skills. Like athletes, everyone has the power to practice and progress to the next level of leadership.
Many companies don’t provide even a simple leadership model for their people. Over my 20 years leading various businesses, and having been mildly obsessed with the study of leadership, I have seen essentially 5 practice areas – maybe even strategies – to become an elite leader.
1. Have purpose. Leaders begin with a deep understanding of why they are here. They dive deep to find the unique purpose of their leadership. Few are motivated by extrinsic rewards – financial security or status, for example. More often, leaders are motivated by what is intrinsically valuable, such as the feeling of hard work, doing excellent work, helping people, working together, building something and the like. Whatever they are, leaders don’t fake it. Their unique values form the basis of their actions and voice. And they always walk their talk
2. Inspire people toward shared values and vision. Effective leaders discover and articulate the shared values of the organization. Always on stage, leaders walk the talk and model the way, consistently embodying shared values in their daily actions. They are also the catalyst for imagining new possibilities for the company and serve to inspire a reachable vision of success. How? They reach out daily to build authentic, caring relationships with people up, down and across the organization. They assemble people together and inspire robust dialogue. They ask questions and listen carefully. They let the values and vision emerge from the conversation. Then they articulate it and become its champion.
3. Relentlessly learn and innovate. At the heart of innovation is the ability to rapidly and relentlessly explore and learn. As Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, says “Learning is innovation.” Today’s leaders are an open system, constantly listening for and exploring alternative ways to progress. Hacking new paths to growth often means being misunderstood and adopting processes to rapidly test, learn, scale and fail. Great leaders embrace this new agility and constantly seek small wins to scale up and break through to new levels of performance.
4. Trust their people. Based on Dr. Edward Deci’s research on human motivation at University of Rochester, Daniel Pink, author of Drive, note three primary human motivators: Autonomy – the desire to be self-directed; Mastery – the opportunity to improve at a craft we find important and interesting; and Purpose – contributing to something bigger than ourselves. Elite leaders build teams – or organizations – of talented people bonded by shared values and a challenging mission. They support them with resources and then they take a hard step back and let them run. Talented people value the freedom to independently pursue the next level of their craft. And leaders know this high level of trust turns into high levels of commitment, creativity and breakthroughs.
5. Give Hugs and High Fives. I once worked with a CEO who gave two versions of recognition, a high five or a hug depending on how well you were doing. He was a big man so it was always interesting to watch his large physique hugging people and his giant hands slapping people five throughout the day. But people loved it. His energy and appreciation was unbridled and contagious. People felt appreciated them and their work and they would march across the desert for him. Okay, I’m not saying you start hugging everyone. Find your own way. Whatever you do, be genuine and do it in the moment. Immediacy matters when it comes to recognition.
Like an athlete, becoming an elite takes time. Like an elite athlete, if you focus on the right areas every day, you can get to the next level of leadership. More importantly, you can live a more fulfilling life and maybe inspire others to do the same.
If you want to talk about how to progress your own leadership, feel free to reach out to me here.
As an undergraduate, I studied androgyny as a force for creativity and transformation. It wasn’t my idea. Truth be told, I was carrying a “big bag of nothing” for a thesis topic and time was running out. My mentor offered it up. She said the future would be owned by creators powered by an androgynous mindset. Was I ever confused. But was she ever right.
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