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The First Rule of Leadership: Don’t Talk about Leadership

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We live in a jaded world when it comes to leadership.  We have all heard the person that delivers incredible advice on team leadership, recites maxims on how to enable employees, and then, in episodes of critical leadership practice, fails horribly to lead even by the most fundamental measures.  Too many people in significant leadership roles from Army generals to government officials to CEOs to non-profit executives have talked a great leadership “game,” only to have their own leadership behavior fall woefully short of even the most basic expectations. 

Everyone can personally point to leadership speeches, leadership books and leadership articles authored by supposedly “great” leaders that were later exposed as fabricators when their sordid behavior became exposed.  Being a leader means more than flowery words, more than motivating speeches and more than reciting classic quotes from Patton. Leaders who truly care about leading do so with humility, compassion, a focus on results, the mind of a teacher, the ethics of child, a lack of fear to enact difficult decisions and a dedication to promote the team’s results over their own career aspirations.  

True leaders focus on the actual exercise of leadership that concentrates on treating people with respect, achieving goals, innovating, improving, serving customers, teaching, and developing people for more and greater challenges.  A true leader focuses on action, open discussion, front-line presence and proof of results.  Any time a leader is celebrated more than those they lead and any time a leader creates a cult of their infallible behavior, there are clear storms clouds of trouble and inconsistency.

Lead with Humility. Humility is the constant and consistent recognition that you do not have all the information, insight and background to solve every problem of the organization on your own.  A leader recognizes that others are essential to success.  A leader’s passion to explore, analyze, and improve a situation with the insight, contributions and focus from others drives success.  The choice a leader makes how to handle mistakes in front of their team is a key exercise of a leader.  A leader that understands mistakes and learning from mistakes in front of a group displays humility and a sign of honesty and fearlessness that allow an organization to move to success.

Lead with Proof. Leaders that utilize open proof and clear evidence create waves of commitment in their organizations.  Evidence-based leaders drive commitment because they are honest, open, and clear concerning the results they want to achieve and the manner those achievements will be calculated.  Proof convinces the most diehard skeptics because a leader is not hiding results and is open about progress.  Men and women who lead with proof are more open to initiative because if someone finds a new technique to improve a process, the worth of their efforts is in the evidence.

Lead Without Fear. Fear destroys organizations, initiatives and people.  Teams that are afraid will not act, will not innovate and will not learn because they are terrified of failure.  Great leaders know that stasis, inaction, are what organizations need to fear.  Leaders work themselves and their teams through fear because success comes when fear of the unknown, fear of the competition, and fear of failure are discarded and the potential of success, not fear, is embraced.  In my days training in the U.S. Army, we were punished for being afraid and not taking decisive action.  Leaders that live in fear of failure paralyze not only themselves, but their entire team.

Lead to Create. Building, the process of creation, is done towards solving problems for people, products and services.  The creative process finds success in people, concepts, innovations and locations where others see only past failure, prospective failure or a cloud of indecision.  A focus on creation drives a leader to find problems, propose solutions and then enable solutions to solve the problem.  Most important, creativity is an action step that choses resolute stages over perfect analysis and ineffectual activities that do not solve the problem.

Lead to Change. Change arises with the activities an organization undertakes as critical factors in its environment transformation over time.  Leading to change is the process to align the businesses purpose with new requirements, consumer demands, competitive factors, cost factors, employee talent and cultural issues to ensure the organization can continue to successfully execute its purpose. 
Lead Each Person. Leadership is the process where a person applies talents, techniques and skills to bring an organization towards a set of defined goals.  Leadership is a group activity that must be exercised toward the styles, feelings and necessity of an individual on the team.  A leader reaches and interacts with each team member according to their styles to create an environment where all team members believe they are essential, critical and valued members that are all needed to achieve the organization’s goals.  Always lead each person as an individual according to each person’s needs.  People are unique, not material to be placed in a leadership “machine.”
Lead for Today. No leader’s position is ever guaranteed.  Ever.  Leaders need to lead for today, improve for today and makes others better for today.  A focus on the present forces a leader to be present for their team and the problems bearing down on the organization.  Leading for today also drives a leader to be an immediate problem solver, because you may not be present tomorrow to fix the problem.  When you recognize you may not be present tomorrow, it frees you to enable, teach and drive the team to reach what is possible today.  
Real leaders don’t talk leadership.  Real leaders do leadership.  The best way a leader impacts an organization is to adopt a humble approach, using proof to excite the team, leading without fear, leading to create something new, leading to change an organization to create success, leading with a focus on each person’s unique needs and leading with a focus on accomplishing improvements today.  In the leadership club, deeds not words, and actions not maxims, are what drive a team forward to success.
Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Special Forces Officer, author of two books and has been published in over 200 publications.  He is an adjunct professor of marketing at Flagler College and a mid-level marketing executive.

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