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44 Leadership Lessons from Champions & Transformational Leaders

As organizations become increasingly agile while their challenges become more complex, the workforce becomes both more ambitious and less motivated, technology catalyses both progress and disruption, new challenges in leadership development emerge.

Research shows that the organization’s leadership strategy, pipeline, and programs are not up to the task. Companies ask themselves the question: “Are the strategy and rigor of leadership programs suited to face the challenges of the future?” Likewise, leaders ask themselves the question: “In a world of overwhelmed employees, how do I avoid becoming overwhelmed?” For every eight disengaged, or burned-out employees there is one manager asking him, or herself, “How do I tackle this crisis?” These challenges are often perceived as a failing on the managers’ part.

Leadership is a lonely path

There is a great loneliness in leadership. You’ve proven yourself a skilled architect of visions and strategies, a master deviser of project plans, a kingpin of stage boundaries and budgets, and a maverick of work packages. You’ve worked so hard to get where you are. But it’s not enough!

“It is not enough that he work hard,” writes sociologist William Whyte, “now, he has to be a damn good fellow to boot,” and has to, “enjoy listening sympathetically to subordinates and team playing around the conference table.”

From neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), to emotional intelligence training, there are more leadership development courses to choose from than there are leaders to follow them. Yet, the world is not growing any more content with the quality of the trade. Only half of the largest companies believe that their executives know how to build a culture of engagement.(1)

So where is all the vapid talk about ‘leadership’ actually headed? Once the dyed-in-the-wool principles of management and social sciences have been discredited, will leadership pass into the hands of credulous emotional intellectuals who keep Goleman by their bedside? Or, into the hands of those that swoon over Kotler’s methods?

Power and the beguiled

“Power is always dangerous. It attracts the worst and corrupts the best,” Edward Abbey

It is part of the human nature to search for leaders where the looking is good. We look among the cocksure, power-hungry and fanatics. But are those that are compelled by power really the most equipped to manage it?

Connecting people, when you’re isolated

Like lighthouses, leadership is a paragon of both human isolation and our connectedness to each other. And just like lighthouses can’t go running after boats to save them but instead must stand there shining, a leader’s challenge is not to save the workers’ race from the current storm, but to be a “lighthouse” in it. How do you remain steadfast and unaffected by the storm? How do you avoid getting wobbly when the winds of change are blowing with such vengeance?

The relentless pursuit of excellence

“Success,” Jim Rohn tells us, “is something you attract by the person you become.”

As a leader, you can only take people as far as you currently are, personally and professionally. But how do you accurately assess how far you’ve come? And how do you know how much further do you keep on going?

The path of a leader is a path of personal transformation. But devoting yourself to personal development isn’t like other pursuits. It is not like playing tennis on the weekends, or collecting coins. Hobbies like tennis, you can pick up and drop with ease. Personal development, on the other hand, is a different story. Once you pick it up, there is no turning back. You can’t just opt-out. You can’t go back. There’s only one way to go, and that’s up and forward!

If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.

“The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.” — Abraham Maslow

Everyone loves to study and emulate successful leaders who have demonstrated the ability to win in their respective field. We particularly love picking up knowledge from leaders in the world of sports. Their expertise in coaching, managing people and running a team can easily be translated into life hacks and business tactics. The lessons listed below highlight the thoughts and achievements of particularly noteworthy individuals I have studied over the past two years.

One of them is 8 times squash World Champion, Nicol David, whom many people consider the greatest player in the history of sports and a 21st-century legend. Nicol is winner of 80 Pro Titles and World No 1 for a record-breaking length of time. Her story, distills Nicol’s approach into five leadership lessons that are applicable to managers of many institutions — covering topics such as how to maintain discipline, the underappreciated power of intuition, and managing inevitable change.

I also feature a piece by Susie Nam, COO of Droga5, which grew seemingly overnight into the best ad agency in the United States. Susie explains why entrepreneurs should think twice before pressing the gas peddle. Droga5 knew when to take the foot off the gas which is what made the company stronger as a result.

Paul R. Charron, is the former Chairman & Chief Executive Officer at Liz Claiborne, and one of the US’s most respected thinkers in the fields of strategy and competition. The workplace, he believes, is a school and everyone in it is a teacher.

I hope these leaders and their insights inspire you in the coming year.

Good luck on your journeys into your hearts!

Ready to lead from the heart?

I’ve created an eBook detailing the journeys of these leaders. Get the FREE eBook here!

44 Leadership Lessons

1. Leadership is more about the intangibles than about the technical skills.

2. Diversity is the path to original thinking.

3. You can only guide others when you understand yourself.

4. To drive engagement, give people a sense of progress.

5. Purpose is like alchemy. It transforms followers into allies.

6. Being a source of daily inspiration and positive energy is not only a leader’s choice — it’s our duty.

7. Emotional Intelligence is not a nice to have. It’s a must have.

8. Knowing when to take the foot off the gas is more important than the need for speed.

9. Be content to be yourself and others will respect you.

10. You can’t get good at something on your own.

11. Discipline and dedication are what makes good leaders great.

12. Making the right move is more about intuition than about strategic thinking.

13. Do Good to lead well.

14. Culture is competitive advantage and that gets built at the top.

15. You can’t empower people without relating to them.

16. Leadership is about both, reflection and reflexivity.

17. The workplace is a school and everyone in it is a teacher.

18. Strategy comes first. Engagement follows suit.

19. The problem with finding the right future leaders is that organizations aren’t creating the right leaders today.

20. Systematic stupidity is not an accident. It happens when you turn a deaf ear to your people.

21. Customers must come first.

22. A clear plan, team alignment, and a winning culture are key for effective change management.

23. Creativity is the lifeblood of any great company. Create an environment where good ideas will rise to the top.

24. You always learn more by falling down and getting back up than you do by having an unbridled run of success.

25. Striving to be an inspiration is wasted effort.

26. Diversity drives value. Practice being a generalist.

27. It’s the people that make a business and a company, not the product or the technology.

28. Forget the resume. Look at the person.

29. Change, and do it often.

30. A strategy that doesn’t leave room for the unexpected is not a good strategy.

31. You’ve got to always factor people first before you embark on a change journey.

32. No risk is so big that a person with determination can’t make it work.

33. Don’t fall prey to “rank-based” logic.

34. Willful ignorance, not lack of creativity, is one of the main obstacles to innovation.

35. Pay close attention, especially to those that sound like fools or madmen.

36. If there is one universal truth about leadership, it is that all leaders have problem subordinates.

37. You probably overestimate your Emotional Intelligence.

38. Emotional Intelligence is no soft skill.

39. Define your unique contribution to the environment in which you operate.

40. Do it the Google way: Search inside yourself.

41. Don’t wait until things go wrong to change them.

42. Don’t shy away from hiring help.

43. Emotional Intelligence, like any other habit needs to be schedule in.

44. Stay aware. Stay open. Practice Often.

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(1) Gallup, 2017. “American Workplace Changing at a Dizzying Pace.”