Leadership - 09.13.2019

5 Strategies to Strengthen Your Leadership Gene

Lessons learned from mentors and thought leaders

Tony Hunter Author: Tony Hunter

Most people enter their careers with aspirations of becoming a leader and achieving success. In my experience, leadership brings a whole new level of responsibilities and expectations. While expectations of senior executives are, at times, unfair and unreasonable, that’s what you sign up for.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have a career that’s allowed me to learn leadership lessons from mentors and thought leaders. I’ve also watched others perform their responsibilities in ways that amazed and impressed me…and others, not so much.

To be at your best, I suggest these five areas of focus:

1. Staying current and relevant

Life is like an escalator – you either move up, or move down. Staying still means you fall behind. There is only one way to accomplish this first area of focus; become a lifelong learner. My fear of failing and/or looking unprepared drove me to constantly look for new knowledge and expertise. In the publishing industry, technology changed on a near daily basis, so staying current and relevant was necessary to build transformative plans and get ahead of disruption.

This lesson applies outside of the publishing industry, and into all aspects of work and  life. Keeping up with changing technology isn’t just good for executives – it’s good for fathers and grandfathers too. 

Knowing what’s going on within your industry – staying up to date on innovations and emerging trends – enables connections, partnerships as well as powerful strategic thinking, and decision making. 

That said, it’s challenging to stay current and relevant if you do not have #2.

2. Physical, Mental and Spiritual alignment

When talking about my personal and professional lives, I focus on harmony – not balance. Balance has the connotation of a scale, trying to even things out. Throughout my career, I’ve found that is not realistic. Sometimes your work will demand more of you; sometimes your family will need you to be there for them. Finding harmony means knowing when to give and take on each of those aspects of your life.

In order to find the harmony, I’ve noticed in hindsight that alignment across the physical, mental and spiritual aspects has contributed to my best performance personally and professionally. It’s simple, yet hard to execute. Stay fit and take care of your body. Find ways to sharpen your mental agility and mental toughness. And finally, make time to strengthen your spirituality muscles…because there are times when you’ll need to rely on your faith.  

When all three are clicking, you’re at your best…two of three, average…only one, trouble ahead.

3. Slow down to speed up

Ever wonder why we keep rushing to get things done…pressure others to make a decision immediately…applied the fire, ready, aim approach to implementation? Then, we act surprised when we don’t have buy-in from others, people make “safe” decisions and projects go off the rails.

Well, what I’ve learned is that there are times when slowing down gets you further, faster. Take time to diagnose the problems; gather input from others before making big decisions; experiment and phase in the plan; allow for differing views to be expressed versus running with the first good idea.

Knowing when to do this is an art, not a science. Be on the lookout for situations where you feel like action isn’t the best option. Planning and preparation is 90% of success…execution should be the least impactful. 

 4. Mitigate risk…and take more

As a leader, building a company culture that is action oriented and reward seeking is critical in today’s fast moving marketplace. All big ideas require risk. The key is to ensure your employees aren’t afraid to fail, and are taught risk mitigation techniques. Fear of failure will stifle innovation and bold action. 

As I’ve said before,  failure isn’t falling down, it’s staying down. When you encourage a culture that is not afraid to fall down, you create an environment where people bring bold, new opportunities to the table. Otherwise, you’ll create an even bigger issue: inaction. Inaction isn’t a strategy to address disruption or drive transformation. It’s a strategy to fall behind.

5. And/Also Solutions

Early in my career, I was taught a valuable lesson; when faced with an “either/or” choice, find an “and/also” solution. You know the drill. We can either drive down costs or improve customer service. We can increase prices or drive volume. We can focus on our people or focus on our profits. We can achieve short term results or plan for the future.

All fools’ choices. None satisfying to great leaders. Greatness occurs when you encourage your team to stretch beyond these choices, and find “and/also” solutions. Force the dialogue of competing alternatives; find common ground; combine good ideas to create great, bold ideas. Press ahead and gain alignment of stakeholders. Measure key leading indicators and outcomes to maintain executional focus. 

Leadership is a challenging role to play. There’s no one size fits all. I’m hopeful these ideas and areas of focus give you inspiration to be the best you. 

Along the way, enjoy the ride and learn from the challenges. Stay positive and lead your team by example. They’re watching you. Everyone is.