Building a good foundation for leadership

Isn’t it remarkable how often you hear journalists and authors lavish praise on organizations when they perform exceptionally? No matter how many times an executive or team actually follows a simple idea of authenticity in leadership, everyone’s shocked that it actually works.

We’re too accustomed to people paying lip-service or half-hearted attention to the idea of high-performance because people feel pressure to perform and produce dollar signs. When I stop to think about it, I suppose we should celebrate the ones who follow through on being authentic. They should be the rule rather than the exception, but the fact that it’s reversed, says a lot about the state of business today.

Seriously, though — there’s no magic to this. It’s merely a question of whether or not you’re willing to do your homework, as though you were being watched for every little mistake you could leave to chance. Business is a mental sport, and most of the time, it’s won by those who make the fewest mistakes in practice.

The first person you lead is yourself

In every position imaginable, right down to the lowest entry-level position, every person in your organization is a leader. They may not all behave that way, but they are. In fact, it’s been shown that cultures and companies that insist on this kind of standard for their individual members completely dominate their field.

That’s because every single person has a responsibility to “lead themselves.” Before you’re capable of leading others, you have to learn how to lead yourself — how to do what your role requires, according to time and standards. One mindset you should immediately adopt is to encourage leadership and ownership at every level.

But how is this done? First and foremost, you build your own deep, authentic foundations as a leader. You have to become a devoted student of yourself and your behavior. You have to seek first to understand who you really are — your deep intrinsic identity and purpose. If you’re seeking the kind of supernatural success you read about, this is where it starts.

Why we fail to build foundations

I was like a lot of people in business — I was talented at two legs of a three-legged stool. I was good at functions and freedoms but not foundations.

I could do a lot of practical and technical work, coaching and training sales teams. I knew the levers to pull and tactical ways to increase the numbers. These were the “function” pieces of the equation, and they lead to the “freedoms” — the financial rewards and recognition. The danger of understanding how to make these work is, for most people, that they think they’re good enough. Most people think money is the answer to everything, including life’s deepest questions.

Everyone will sooner or later face a wake-up call, and mine came in the form of a season of back-to-back traumas. After enduring these traumas, I became convinced of the fact that knowing all the right moves and getting paid well to do them wasn’t going to be enough. I needed something that didn’t depend on my ability to perform or on the market’s willingness to trade money for it. In fact, I came to believe the only way I could truly be valuable to my fellow human beings was to be immune to both rewards and punishment. I had to take a stand for what deeply mattered within me.

Clarity brings focus

With a burning desire for authenticity in the inmost parts of my being, I suddenly found myself doing things that would ordinarily make me panic. I fired some clients, and I stopped sugar-coating myself in the digital universe. I found myself strong enough to believe I could survive without the applause or approval of the world around me.

I tilted my part of the world in a certain direction, only to discover I’d found the secret of many great leaders we know as well as many more we don’t. I suddenly drew the interest of inspired people who were willing to follow and trust me because they knew I meant what I said. I’d discovered an unmovable “true north” in my life and it was compelling enough for people to believe in. Today’s most successful human organizations are fiercely dedicated to the visions key leaders choose for them.


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