Leadership: Cruise Ship or Sinking Ship?
By Jackie Mulrooney, President J P Systems, Inc.
Are you a born leader? Maybe you have a picture in your head of a successful leader. They are smart, confident, and self assured. They always know what to do next and make wise decisions. They point out the way to go and everyone rushes after them. Well that was not me.
For years I read articles on leadership hoping to find out the secrets of leadership. As the youngest of four kids, I never had a vote about what was going to happen next. Leadership was a mystery of a process, if it even was a process and not a gift you were born with. I felt I had no innate ability for leadership.
When it came to selecting a college to attend, it was a great puzzle. I talked to recruiters, interviewed graduates, researched, soul searched, prayed at church, but was in a lurch. I did not know where I needed to go. After a long grinding process, I concluded I was going to go to a small school out in the country. I realized that although I did not have to lead other people, I still had to lead myself. I had to find an answer that fit me and I had a deadline.
Does that sound like you? Maybe you are not a born leader either. But listen to what I found out. I have good news for you! You don’t have to be born that way. You just have to learn how to do what born leaders do. It takes discipline and thought. But this is a skill you can learn if you have the heart to do it. So start lurking around some born leaders and do what they do. I selected mentors. They told me these things:
- Leaders come early and stay late.
OK, I thought, not a difficult process. I can do that. Then I heard:
- Business leaders have a deep understanding of product knowledge and legal knowledge.
OK, seems plain enough. Then they said that:
- Success is where opportunity and preparedness meet.
Do you have your elevator speech ready? I recently had to give an ‘elevator speech’ which is a 20 second version of your value proposition. The funny thing was – I was actually in an elevator. I saw the floor numbers going up and up, all the while thinking ‘this is actually quite funny as I am in an elevator’, and was trying to ignore that and instead give my impromptu speech. Hint: make sure you can whip out a business card in less than 4 seconds. Did I get it done? Yes, of course – when the bell went ding and the doors opened, they took my card. Success tastes good. I was prepared and I put myself at a conference where I had opportunities. Opportunity and preparedness met in an elevator. I made deliberate decisions and took specific deliberate actions which led to this moment.
- Leaders develop a keen understanding of how to motivate people. They learn what makes people tick and why.
This was a lot tougher. How do you know what motivates any one person? They are all so different. But Dale Carnegie wrote a great book on that, so I moved ahead. Then I was told to learn about time management.
- Plan your work and work your plan.
Leaders develop a plan and schedule all important tasks. That took some time to develop this habit. When I was young, I kept forgetting to write appointments down. Then when I finally got to where I wrote things down, I forgot to look at the calendar. Life is much better now. Meeting alarms go off and my Executive Assistant texts me if I am late.
- Successful people learn how to develop successful habits and execute completely.
It takes time to develop good habits. Although I had not practiced any leadership skills when I was very young, I spent my 20’s and 30’s learning and doing just that. I had to learn that:
- Leaders set achievable, specific goals, write the goals down, and put a date on them.
We could spend a whole day on just goal setting. Tony Jeary is a master at this. Look up his MOLOs.
- Leaders recover from their mistakes.
It is not the end of the world if I miss a meeting or a goal. It may be the end of a valuable relationship, but it is not the end of everything. OK I made a mistake. I am human. Maybe you set a vague or ridiculous goal. Say to yourself “Not smart; I won’t do that again.” Then keep going and don’t quit.
- Leaders learn to coach themselves and say what they want, not complain about what they do not have.
OK stand up, say to yourself “Self, I’m talking to you.” OK, here’s where you start listening to yourself. Say “Maybe I was not a leader in the past, but I will be. I am going to overcome any bad habits and start new better ones. I am going to learn from other leaders.” Come on, really stand up now, (I don’t care if you feel funny doing it, stand up). Look in the mirror and say to yourself: “Success looks good on you! Some day I’ll be a cruise ship and not a sunken ship.” Success principles are going to feel funny, uncomfortable. That’s OK.
If someone puts you down, grit your teeth and say silently to yourself: “You’re going to eat those words.” Then just smile. They don’t know who you are. You have decided to be a productive person and a leader. Now move on, go about your day. Look busy and confident. Ignore them, maybe look at your calendar and quietly say “Hmmm.” or something like that. Subtlety goes a long way. There is an ancient Middle Eastern saying: “Even a fool when he is silent, people will think he is wise” (Proverbs 17:28).
- Learn how to talk to people and speak in front of people.
I learned to talk about FORM – Family, Occupation, Recreation and Money. Everyone you meet will talk to you about one of those four things. Try it every day. Try talking to someone you do not know. Begin in a friendly way. Start by saying “Incredible weather we’re having!” It is the most neutral way to start a conversation. Then just listen to what they say.
I joined Toastmasters. They know how to teach people how to give a speech. Learn how to give a good, solid, engaging 3 minute speech.
- Leaders lead. They don’t push.
You can’t push a rope. You have to pull a rope. Think about why the other person would want to do something.
- Success will not attack you.
It will not be the case that one day when you are minding your own business walking down the street, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, success jumps out and attacks you! It is not an accident that I succeeded in my business. It will not be an accident for you either.
Do something simple and basic to make your mentor proud of you. Always have your client’s best interests at heart. People can spot a phony.