Leadership Secrets From The Inside

Leadership is mercurial stuff – it’s very hard to put your finger on. Most of us think we know what good leadership looks like but the reality is that we struggle to appropriate it for ourselves. That’s because knowing the principles of leadership is very different from being the person needed to change our world. The human condition is a complex thing but here’s what we know for sure about great leaders – success is an inside job. To lead we must do so from the inside-out. Forget personas, we must be the real deal.

Poor leadership abounds and worse still, toxic leadership is often veiled in a cloak of transient success, sporting metaphors and bravado. Performance cultures where politics fester in every corner are common-place. Corporate bullies and psychopaths are all too common. Flame-thrower style management for short-term financial KPI achievement all to the detriment of sustained success. ‘Shareholder value’ touted as a euphemism for executive stock plan optimization. Lord Of The Flies meets Wall Street… it’s no way to live.

Real leadership, on the other hand, is precious because it’s rare. There are many in leadership positions but only a few are great. Most live lives of discomfort when it comes to leading, wondering when the day will come that they will be found-out. I have a confession to make; I’m one of them. I’ve been leading teams and companies for decades and I’m not a natural leader; it’s been hard yards, working on myself – building from the inside-out. What is leadership and how do we become one worth following?

Here is a great truth – leadership is an inside job. But within all of us is a labyrinth of complexity and we are the way we are for reasons we never fully understand. The first step on the road to success is to heed the advice of an ancient Greek aphorism: ‘Know thyself’. Here are my thoughts on the factors that contribute to the complexity of leadership and success.

First of all, we inherit our intelligence, personality and family of origin. None of us were able to choose our parents or genes – these are the cards we are dealt. But intelligence and personality can be enhanced and altered if we choose to do so. Any weaknesses in all three of these foundational elements must be managed as we strive to be the best possible person we are capable of becoming.

Upon the foundation of genetic IQ and personality our attitudes, beliefs and values build us into who we are. By the age of seven, our personality and values are largely formed and these are influenced heavily by our upbringing and environment (family and society). The Catholic Order of Jesuits is attributed with the saying: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man". There is much truth in this assertion but we are not robots, nor mere animals. We are uniquely endowed with the ability to laugh and cry, to dream and create, to choose appalling evil or breathtaking beauty, to plumb the depths of hell or reach for the stars. The hope for us all is that we can break the shackles of our past and redefine our futures.

Attitudes, beliefs and values can therefore be rejected, adjusted or chosen. It is natural to question and challenge all three, especially as we grow through adolescence. My father was a committed atheist and I had no religious brainwashing as child at all; yet I chose faith as a teenager and I remain a believer today. Others are raised in loving religious homes and reject the values inculcated during their upbringing. Free will and free-thinking are what make us truly human.

But all of this is below the surface – not visible to an observer. For most, it is the unseen baggage being carried while running the race of life. We are rarely held back by external factors, it is instead our inability to let go of limiting beliefs and behaviors that stymies us. Consider the illustration below as we now discuss the factors above the line.

Here is the reality and the problem that most of us face in life. We can only have the outcomes, results and wealth we desire if we consistently and masterfully execute the right inputs, actions and behaviors. To have we must first do; but to do effectively we must be the person worthy of the success we seek. All of the factors ‘below the line’ in the illustration either enable or sabotage our efforts.

The biggest mistake people make is seeking to manage by results rather than inputs. Jason Jordan taught me that you cannot manage revenue and he instead illuminates the path of focusing on activities that achieve objectives, that in turn create results. The only thing we truly have control of is our behaviour and actions to execute the inputs that create success. We cannot manage outcomes, results and prosperity or wealth; we can only have them as goals. We should relentlessly focus on what we do and being the person capable of executing masterfully.

It’s not enough to project a persona, we need to actually be the authentic person worth following. Anthony Howard is a business mentor and he taught me that there is no such thing as authentic leaders, just authentic people in leadership roles. He coined the term ‘human-centered leadership’ and he is worth following. The very best motivation for leadership comes from changing the lives of people by believing in them. Service of a noble cause for the benefit of people (customers and staff) is what drives the very best leaders.

So as you consider what really drives you and what baggage you need to let go of to be truly successful, here is my list of ten elements for success.

  1. IQ and EQ. Intelligence and self-awareness are both essential. One without the other is not enough. Read and be committed to life-long learning. Become an expert. Know your strengths and weaknesses.
  2. Mission and purpose. In professional selling I teach people to lead with 'why?'… it is equally important for leadership. Your why, and the why of your organization must be meaningful. Money, trinkets, and status are not enough.
  3. Passion and belief. Our why is what needs to drive us but we also need to be true believers in our cause and those with whom we work. The power of believing in another person is never to be under-estimated.
  4. Values and culture. The culture of an organization is the behaviour of the leaders, plain and simple. Are you values worth following and to they drive the right behavior? Culture is the signature of the leader.
  5. People and relationships. Nothing great can be achieved without the support of a team. Relationships with the right people are everything in any endeavor – people of integrity and genuine power.
  6. Numbers and discipline. Never neglect profit or cash-flow. Holding people to account is essential for any leader, yet proactively manage the right numbers – the KPIs which create ultimate results.
  7. Results and managing risk. This is language of leadership – delivering outcomes and navigating the challenges. Stay focused on the prize and be positively paranoid about what could blind-side you.
  8. Activity and attitude. Work-ethic is essential for success. Work hard and smart but realize that attitude is the biggest differentiator.
  9. Gravitas and humility. This may seem paradoxical but the combination is compelling. Powerful people listen much and talk little.
  10. Legacy and philanthropy. We all want to make a lasting difference and the very best leaders care about doing something worthwhile and improving the lives of others, especially those denied the opportunities afforded to the privileged.

Do the difficult work on the inside in addressing all of these issues. Read, dream, and challenge your own assumptions about yourself. None of us lives long enough to learn all the necessary lessons from our own mistakes. It is therefore important to learn from others. Jim Collins’ book, Good To Great, remains a seminal work. There are many others and we must carefully choose who we follow. Who are they in your life? Here is another related article I wrote concerning what I've learned about personal leadership.

If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

Main Image Photo by Flickr: MilitaryHealth


      Why Finding Mentors Is Like Finding Love - 7 Unicorn Qualities

      Mentorship is a lot like love. To find the perfect mentor, you need to let them come to you. One of the best ways to find the ideal mentor, is to become a mentor yourself. To learn we must teach. There is a reciprocal nature to all cycles of life.

      I believe that in order to reap the greatest benefits from mentorship, seek to pay your wisdom forward either with your own mentees or in a reverse-mentorship capacity where you can turn the camera 360 degrees and teach someone much more experienced than you, something that you specialize in and are super passionate about.

      I've been blessed with an exceptional wife and two beautiful children of my own who teach me a master class every day on every aspect of my life. I've also been blessed with an august leadership mentor in Anthony Howard. We learn from each other all the time. In many respects I have many mentors, I receive insight from my students all over the world, executives that I coach and train.

      You might be asking as you read my portfolio of posts on here, how does this guy over 50 years old, know so much about how Millennials think and all the cutting edge paradigms of Social Selling and B2B content strategy? The answer is simple: I am being consistently reverse-mentored by those that seek me out globally to learn the timeless principles of strategic selling and big deal closing.

      They know I've gone through the excruciating pain of selling to government, 22 month procurement cycles and consulting on rigorous eight (and even 9 figure) engagements to win. I've also had the rare privilege to be a country manager, run sales teams and have relationships at the top of global software conglomerates. I've gone up against incumbents David versus Goliath and unseated them in the 11th hour by deftly applying strategic thinking. Sheer will and failing forward got me here so giving back daily is in my DNA and I encourage you to do the same. That's one of the true gifts to humanity that social media brings – the ability to have a positive value exchange of good ideas across oceans.

      Beyond the karmic elements of serendipity and happenstance, here are some key things to look for in securing a lifelong bond with a leader that embodies everything you stand for, someone who can help you learn and grow, pushing you beyond your bounds and self-limiting beliefs. Feel the fear and do it anyway, get beyond your comfort zone and realize your higher self. A great mentorship should never feel like an obligation or something that helps you look good on a resume or for school credit. If you're lucky, you'll find one or two great mentors in your lifetime much like great loves and you'll never forget them. The truth is, they'll never forget you. Making an impact on another life, reaching out and touching someone's very existence is just like beauty, as profound in the eye of the beholder as those that radiate it.

      1. Do they have real world experience? There's much to be said for composing sonnets from the ivory tower but living the dream amongst the people is a whole other level. Personally, I find that real people who have endured through real world crises and challenges emerging triumphant are most able to teach us the 'why' and 'how.' Inspired action is a million times more valuable than theory. At the end of the day, I'm asking myself: 'Have they actually done it? Have they slayed the dragon, hot air ballooned around the world in 80 days or saved the princess?'
      2. Do they possess a genuine optimism, compassion and zest for life?People that do well in life love people. I suppose there are plenty of stations in life that would elevate the misanthrope but it's been my experience that helping other people on this planet is the true meaning of life. I derive so much intrinsic fulfillment out of leading someone I'm mentoring on a journey of discovery and watching their sphere of knowledge and influence expand. I'm the spark and they are the light in a chained lightning reaction back and forth, as the world illuminates around compelling subjects new and old that we share and evolve.
      3. Do they believe in your vision and hold you accountable to it? I can't tell you how many times I've met successful entrepreneurs furiously driven by a parent or teacher that never believed in them or maybe pushed them too much. They seek to fill this void in their life with a mentor who will believes in them. Lost, they seek to pull forth their mission from within and need a guide. A theme in my writings is that all it takes is one person to truly believe in you, to make you successful. That's all it takes and you can be that person for someone, many someones. When you scout out a mentor, watch the way you feel after you've interacted. Are you bursting with ideas, new insight and enthusiasm to go attack your life with gusto? These are good signs that you've found the right one. Be ignited and ignite. The coolest part about a great mentor is how they stay in touch, check up on you, make sure you're on track for your goals and even the most granular details are interesting to them.
      4. Do they embrace self-education and lifelong learning? Never stop learning, never stop humbling yourself. We could never learn it all in infinite lifetimes so we must fall in love with learning everyday. Phenomenal mentors are multi-disciplinary students of life. They ask the greater questions and their thirst for knowledge is palpable. Their rooms are overflowing with memories, and their studies are overflowing with books, maps, pictures and ideas hitting them like tidal waves in endless flashes of brilliance. You think of someone like Leonardo da Vinci spurring a Renaissance, well these are the Renaissance men and women in your life.
      5. Are they resilient? I find that true character is exhibited in times of strife and crisis. Mentors bounce back, they're anti-fragile and accustomed to challenge. The pressure-cooker of a frontier life has built a heart full of diamonds. They tell stories of conquering unimaginable obstacles and how they did it again and again. Failure, pain, suffering and bad luck are no stranger to them but it was their attitude of gratitude, fire and tenacity alloyed with iron will that saw them through. I strive to approach every situation from the viewpoint of advantage and see the duality in all things. I look for this quality in mentors and mentees alike.
      6. Have they embarked on the Hero's Journey? Joseph Campbell writes, “We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."

      The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

      A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

      7. Do they truly embody wisdom? Wisdom is something that is earned. I have met some of the wisest people in the world and paradoxically they are often the most humble. Perhaps they've seen everything and they find the divine comedy and tragedy of humankind amusing. It's all just a little history repeating so they have somehow managed to have never lost their childlike innocence. They see the world with new eyes. Someone wise can impart things to you beyond knowledge. They can counsel you in incredibly difficult situations to make moves that may be outside the scope of your awareness. A phenomenal mentor will challenge you to think about every aspect of your life and business in new ways. She may even encourage you to get out of the nest of your comfort zone and take flight. They lead with wisdom of experience, intuition and can see through walls and around corners.

      I started this article with the metaphor of love. Finding the right mentor is almost like finding a soul mate: we have to believe they're out there in order to attract the unicorn to us. If you don't allow yourself to believe, it's near impossible for the magic of mentorship to happen for you. Step one is to keep an eye out for those rare individuals in whose lives you believe that you can make a profound difference... now. I'll close with a couple quotes that may help you think about this entire mentorship subject and process in a new way: “That's the thing with magic. You've got to know it's still here, all around us, or it just stays invisible for you.” Charles de Lint; and “Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

      Great mentors believe in you, and that my friends... is proof of magic. From that transference of belief, all things are possible.

      Now it's your turn: Who are your mentors, the most influential people on your success, your life and your happiness? What do you look for in a mentor? Which one of these qualities do you feel was most important or unusual? What's the most magical aspect of your life and who inspired it? Who are your heroes? Who's had the biggest impact on your future?

      If you valued this article, please hit the ‘like' and ‘share’ buttons below. This article was originally published in LinkedIn here where you can comment. Also follow the award winning LinkedIn blog here or visit Tony’s leadership blog at his keynote speaker website:

      Main Image Photo by Flickr: Ted Eytan