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4 Ways to Be a Leader Who Matters | Inc.


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Special Report Dec 17, 2012


4 Ways to Be a Leader Who Matters

Leaders who build lasting legacies don't do so overnight. For long term impact, a leader must be reflective and thoughtful.

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The greatest need we face in business today is leadership that makes real, positive change in the long term. Because of the financial market's short-term focus on results, the media's need to fill columns with stories linked to current events, and a culture that fetes celebrity, we reward the new, the counter-intuitive and the loud. And yet the most important challenges we face are none of these things. Our greatest challenge is to to build companies that grow and are profitable in the long term, which provide valuable and rewarding employment, and which contribute to a just and fair society. Achieving this requires leaders who are prepared to do more than simply rush to the next opportunity and extract the maximum short-term gain. Leaders who think, act and value the long-term. Leaders who change lives, and who leave a legacy. I get to spend every day with leaders from businesses of all sizes and types, and over the years I've come to believe that most want to do just this, but find it hard to break free from the insistent demands of the urgent, to focus on the quieter needs of what is important and lasting. I've also watched as many have achieved true greatness--those who have become leaders who changed industries, cities, lives. Here are the four steps I've seen all of

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4 Ways to Be a Leader Who Matters |

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them take, in becoming a leader who makes a difference: 1. Find a place of solitude. Every great leader needs a place where they can think. Somewhere away from the constant clatter of incoming information, somewhere quiet, somewhere contemplative. A blessed few leaders have the mental strength to achieve this state of abstraction anywhere--in a crowded office, or anytime during the hurly-burly of a busy day. The rest of us need to work at it. For me, walking my dogs twice a day gives me the time I need to think consciously, unpolluted by the dopamine-inducing ping of incoming email or the lure of conversation (tip: leave the cell phone behind or switch it off). Other leaders I know use a visit to the gym, the act of making a meal, or have a favorite chair in a quiet room. Where's your place of solitude? 2. Discover your contemplation trigger. Solitude is a worthwhile state in and of itself, but we're considering it here as a vehicle-a means to think clearly and deeply about matters of importance. But with all the manifold possibilities, with the myriad of issues that press in on us every day, what should we spend time thinking about in more detail? It's alarmingly easy to emerge from an hour of solitude to discover that our lizard brain has hopscotched from topic to topic, or dwelt on matters of (merely) tactical importance. Here's what I use as my "contemplation trigger": "What is the single greatest challenge I face today that will profoundly affect the success of my enterprise one year from now?" The one-year horizon works for me in most cases because of the nature of my business. However, at least once a year, I set aside a week's contemplation to dwell on a threeyear horizon. (Your mileage may vary.) 3. Get beyond instant gratification. We live in a time of instant gratification. Read something semi-interesting? Post it on Twitter. Saw something funny? Share a photo on Instagram. Cute cat trick? Hop on Facebook. Formed an opinion about something? Write a blog post. Leadership, especially leadership in the long term, requires us to forgo instant gratification. Not simply as a repudiation of a banal, I-share-therefore-I-am zeitgeist, but because reflection and contemplation are the compost of great ideas and the genesis of deep commitment. Time is the most precious resource you can give to your leadership. The sacrifice of time--choosing to pause, and investing in reflection--is the price we pay to build the depth of leadership that leaves behind a legacy, and not just a fast-vanishing footprint. I like the "rule of 90": Wait 90 seconds before sharing the brilliant idea that just struck you in mid-discussion; take 90 minutes before sending that email with your no-brainer tactical instruction; allow 90 hours (four days) for strategic thoughts to percolate; give the gift of 90 days for truly game-changing ideas to take root. Does this mean abandoning your intuition and forgoing on-the-spot improvisation? Of course not, but like any great sports team, your no-huddle offense will deliver longterm success only with the discipline and solid foundation of well-planned, wellrehearsed, well-executed plays. 4. Model more than you share.

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In the over-sharing culture we live in, we're in danger of forgetting that leadership comes through leading, not by telling. Seeing it isn't doing it. Sharing it isn't doing it. Only doing it is doing it. Try this: Next time you see a leadership need in your organization--whether it's about how people should be treated (customers, clients or employees); how you communicate internally or externally; or what your long-term mission, vision or values are--try modeling the change you want to see without the use of emails, memos or powerpoint presentations. See how long it takes your people to recognize and understand what you want from them, without merely telling them. To revitalize a much-cheapened saying: Be the change you desire. Don't have time to model change? Thinking, "Great idea, but it's easier and quicker to send a memo."? That's fine. No one will die and the sun will come up tomorrow. But remember, you're leaving behind footprints on a beach when you could be changing lives. Read more: Why Employee Engagement Is Not Important (Yes, Really) 8 Signs You're a Control Freak Why You Should Be (Cautiously) Optimistic in 2013

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Les McKeown is the author of the bestseller Predictable Success: Getting Your Organization on the Growth Track--and Keeping It There and is the CEO of Predictable Success, a leading advisor on accelerated organizational growth. His latest book is The Synergist: How to Lead Your Team to Predictable Success. @lesmckeown @lesmckeown

neil Wednesday at 12:29pm

Good article. One of the first I've read which says to take a step back...away from the clutter...away from the noise. I've been crticized for being unreachable at times...taking time without cell phones and constant contact..."CEOs cannot escape that". Baloney... weigh in when it makes a difference. I do my best thinking (i.e., work) when at the gym.

Christine Overvelde Tuesday at 2:11am

Nice to see the need for contemplation addressed. Only in these quiet moments does creativity bubble to the surface. And, creative thinking is another leadership skill. It would have been nice to see a creative take on the photo to this insightful article. The old wise white man is clich and not necessarily expansive.

faizan ali Monday at 2:13pm

excellent artical

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pmracc December 20, 2012 at 12:15am

I enjoyed the article, specially the need for solitude. My place is my bicycle and everybody knows that when I ride I always come back with new ideas and positive energy :-)

FJ Hawkins December 19, 2012 at 12:05pm

I, by accident, read the 4 Ways to be a Leader trailer on this site and must admit in my experience this is a just another book on not facing how to do business. Business is people, sales people are human, customers are people and if they do not like the sales people then they simply do not buy. There is no magic phsyco babble to this - When will the pretend Authors & Business successes of these so called books get it. Read Steve Covey - Simple - Usefull and to the point

Parry Aneja December 19, 2012 at 10:37am

Something Wonderful, Something New and off-course Something Innovative.

admin December 18, 2012 at 8:39pm


Chris Sargent December 18, 2012 at 4:17pm

I enjoyed this post, thanks. I interview a CEO a few weeks back who wanted to introduce a day of "maun vrat" into his days.... a very similar concept, reasoning and motivation to what you've written about.

Tom Brady December 18, 2012 at 2:13pm

I'd add a #5 - exploring how to develop a conscious capitalism organization by joining @

Lisa Young December 18, 2012 at 2:10pm

I wish it wasn't so rare to see people talk about excellence in the long term and creating a legacy through great work. Love this post.

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