Four Ways To Be a Good Leader By Being A Good Person

John Coltrane, the great American jazz saxophonist and composer, once said that to be a better artist you have to be a better person. He could easily have been talking about leadership. It’s not about your title; it’s about who you are as a person. And you can be a better leader by working on being a better person. You must be, before you can do. To accomplish much, be much. The doing must be the expression of the being. It is foolish to think that we can accomplish much without first preparing ourselves by being honest, caring, unselfish, and trustworthy.

Leadership is about creating results through others, while helping people around you grow and flourish – without the use of positional power. It’s about presence, not position. The question is: Where does that sense of presence come from? How does one develop that presence? After years of research and observation, I’ve come to understand that sense of presence comes essentially from being a good person. It’s that easy, and it’s that difficult. Here are a few ways to develop your leadership presence by being a good person:

  1. Earn the respect of others through self-respect. We’ve all met people who are bright, talented, competent, and good at making deals, but something about who they are as a person got in the way of all their ability. Certain abilities belong on a resumé, and certain virtues belong in a eulogy. If you think about it, it’s the qualities written in a eulogy that are the ones that truly matter when it comes to earning trust as a leader. People of strong character are integrated human beings.
  2. To lead you have to connect. To connect, you have to care. You can’t fake caring, just like you can’t fake character. When coaching an executive and discussing possible reasons for the lack of results from his team I asked, “Do you care?” he kept going on about his frustration for the lack of accountability on the team and the poor attitude of his employees. I pushed further, “I know you care about results, but do you care about the people around you? Do you care about what matters to them, about their families and their values and their unique gifts?” After a long pause he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No, not really.” I then suggested he do his organization and himself a favor and step down from the responsibility of management. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership is a largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating them.
  3. Centered leaders know their worth, strength, and security comes from within. Because they don’t define themselves by their external environment, they can remain calm in the midst of the storms, secure in the midst of failure, and keep perspective in the midst of success. Centered leaders are guided by an internal compass based on their own values and their own approach to life rather than the fleeting opinions of others or comparisons to others. They are focused on what matters and are able to go within and find inner strength, wisdom, and stability, even in the midst of a demanding external world.
  4. A commitment to contribute beyond yourself, whether it’s across the world or across the corridor, makes a great leader. Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have devoted much of their energy to global development philanthropy. While in Ottawa to discuss overseas aid with the Canadian government, he said, in part, “In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, where a lot of people are doing quite well, the question is: Can you take your loyalty and your values and go further than yourself and your family, even beyond your region and your country? Can you have, as a member of the human race, the idea that you would volunteer time or your voice, or whatever means you have to give? … people want to be associated with more than their own success – they want to have knowledge and a sense of progress that they contributed to [something beyond themselves]… We call that our ‘global citizenship’ movement.” Bill Gates understands that being a good person means allowing your success to overflow into making life better for others.

Being a good leader by being a good person cannot be taught in a leadership course or from a textbook. But it can be learned. It can be developed. My dad would say that it can be caught even though it can’t be taught. It means your motive is do good by being good. And it amounts to leading well by living well.

7 ROOTS OF LEADERSHIP Living A Good Life

Over the winter, my wife, Val and I took time to transplant trees and repot houseplants. It’s been good for me to slow down and spend some time working with soil, getting my hands dirty and connecting to the land, reminding me of the value farmers bring to our culture. I’ve been learning from Val, our resident plant expert, that a healthy root system is necessary to ensure a robust plant. Through their natural intelligence, plants know this and develop extensive roots before their energy is transferred into growing foliage. You’ll see this in a houseplant that will get root bound in a pot before they flourish above the ground. The root system is first developed in the dirt, thus enabling the plant to support its growth above the surface.

Leadership is like that. The source of what is manifested in the world is not seen by the world. Like a plant, whose strength and energy come from its roots, the strength and energy of a leader comes from within. A good life – through a person’s roots – precedes good leadership. Below is a short list of what a good life means to me, and the roots that will sustain and support you to do the work that you are called to do.

  1. Clarity. Clarity is about living your life by design rather than by default. Living without clarity is like embarking on a wilderness journey without a compass. Any way will get you there if you don’t know where you are going. Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare and precious achievement. You’ll be told in a hundred ways what is expected of you and what is needed of you to be a success. The real discipline in life comes in saying no to the wrong opportunities.
  2. Courage. If you have ever walked through something that frightens you, and you grew through to the other side, you know that courage is inspiring. It inspires you and it inspires those around you. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is facing fear and walking through it. There have always been courageous men and women who have been prepared to die for what they believe in. What do you care enough about to give your life for?
  3. Character. If you want to attract others, you must be attractive. Strong character demands that you shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can give, to endeavor not for what you can have, but for who you can be. A job title, the letters behind your name, the size of your office, or your income are not measures of human worth. No success by the world’s standards will ever be enough to compensate for a lack of strong character.
  4. Calling. Calling is a devotion to a cause beyond you. It is inspiring to be around people who have a dedication to a cause they care about. When you feel an internal calling, a deep sense of pursuing what you are meant to be pursuing, you take a step toward completeness in your life. “A musician must make music,” wrote Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, “an artist must paint, a poet must write, if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.” Whether you are paid or not to express your calling, a good life requires you listen and respond.
  5. Contribution. When we come to the end of our days on this earth, we take no material thing with us. It’s not what we have gained for ourselves but the contribution we have made to others that makes life meaningful. It’s not what we get from life that has the greatest most lasting reward. It’s what we give. A good life requires a generous spirit and a giving heart. A life of contribution is a good life.
  6. Connection. After three decades of observing and learning from thousands of leaders in hundreds of organizations and in every walk of life, I finally understand what my parents tried to teach me more than forty years ago. In an interdependent world, everything is about relationships. It’s not all about models or strategies or programs or the latest technology. Whether you are a CEO building a company, a middle manager leading a division, a supervisor ensuring results on your team, a front-line sales person, a customer-service representative, or a parent attempting to develop capable young people, leadership is all about making contact and building connections. And caring is at the root.
  7. Centering. “Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows,” wrote Henry David Thoreau. For me, a good life is built around a spiritual center that I constantly seek and return to. From this foundation I find security amidst uncertainty, serenity in the middle of success and failure, stability among the fleeting emotions of happiness and sadness. It is this center that sustains me and provides connection in loss, humility in achievement, perspective in chaos, strength in weakness, and wholeness in fragmentation.

It’s an exciting time to be living in this wondrous world. What concerns me is the possibility that our efforts to continuously improve and advance everything will create a society that is actually less satisfying to live in. Every day we have an opportunity to invent a new world through the choices we make. Not just in a narrow economic sense, but also in a broader human sense: for ourselves and for our children and for our children’s children.

What does a good life mean to you, and how does living in accord with what matters to you make you a better person and a better leader?

5 KEYS TO UNLEASH GREATNESS ON YOUR TEAM

I meet some amazing leaders in my work. People hire me to work with their organization and I end up a better person by spending time with them. One such leader who has become a good friend is John Liston. John was formally a regional director at Great West Life, and now is the principal of Liston Advisory Group. John lives what he leads. He’s a person of strong character. He’s passionate. He cares. He cares about his people. He cares about the work. He cares about his organization. And his approach to leadership produces results. When he was at Great West Life, his was the top region in Canada in 2010, 2011 and 2012. This spring we ran a customer service program together for a police department.

In a recent conversation with John about his coaching experience with his daughter’s Under 19 Ringette team, he explained how he coaches the same as he leads. Same philosophy. Same approach. Same leadership. Here are John’s five keys for unleashing greatness within a team:

1) Hire great people. You need to know the skills you need from your people and, more importantly, you need to know the kind of attitude you want from the people around you. You can always teach skills, but you can’t teach attitude. Building a great team means knowing precisely the kind of person you want on your team. It means hiring s-l-o-w-l-y. Take your time. Ask questions and assess the right fit. If you study what most people do in business you find that they spend their time hiring for competence (resume, experience, etc.) and almost always fire for character. What John, and other great leaders do, is hire for character and train for competence.

2) Create an environment for people to be their best. When are you at your best? Typically it is when you are focused, but not worried about mistakes or failing. In John’s words, “When we win, we party; when we lose, we ponder.” This means it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you learn from them. See the best in people. Fit people don’t fix people. Find their strengths and build on those strengths. Find a place where people can take their gifts, their passion, and their talents, and make a contribution. It takes coaching, mentoring, and, most importantly, time. When you create these environments, people “chose to” come to them; they don’t feel they “have to”.

3) Understand the why (the reason) before the what or the how. At the 1963 Washington D.C. Civil Rights March, Martin Luther King did not stand up with a “strategic plan.” Martin Luther King had a dream. He gave people a reason. What’s vital in building a team – as well as building a life – is to not confuse the means with the ends. John Liston understands this. He understands that people aren’t accountable if they aren’t motivated. If they aren’t accountable, it’s because they don’t have enough reason to be accountable. A vision is what gives people a reason to get on board. John uses the vehicle of sport to teach character. Character is the why. Character is the goal. Sport is the means to that goal. Some people get confused and think sport is about winning. Professional sport may be, but all others are about character. Winning is a by-product. It works the same in business.

4) Execute with precision. John is a master of accountability cultures. He understands that you have to inspire people, and then you have to link that inspiration to clearly defined outcomes and a precise way to get there. This is where John is tough. He models the values. While he cares about people, he has a precise, results driven process for creating an environment for people to hold themselves accountable – to themselves and to each other.

5) Celebrate success. In John’s words, “you have to know what success is, know how to get there, and know how to celebrate it when you’ve achieved it.” You have to know what constitutes success and shine a light on it. Tell the story. Acknowledge people. Catch people being successful. You have to care and you have to connect. Celebration can be big or it can be small, but most importantly it has to be meaningful.

John’s passionate, inspiring energy is contagious. It’s always been important to him to create an environment in which people have a chance to be their best, to realize their potential, and to be recognized for their achievements. John is the kind of leader people want to work for. He’s also the kind of friend people seek.

What kind of environment are you creating on your team?

5 LEADERSHIP LESSONS FROM A BELOVED MAYOR

Boston is one of my favorite cities. I get there at least once a year for work or to visit friends. For my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, we flew to Boston for a rare opportunity to see a Red Sox game and a Bruin’s game in the same day. The Fenway Park experience will be embedded in our hearts forever. There is something inexplicable about being in Boston. The beauty, the arts, the people, the universities, the passion, and the pride of community – that shone especially brightly through after the marathon bombing – all contribute to making Boston a magnificent place. But there is something else that has been a part of the splendor that has stood out in this city for more than the past two decades: Boston’s former beloved mayor.

Tom Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor, is a reminder of the special qualities that can make a politician cherished as a leader. Upon his death, back in 2014, Harvard’s paper, Crimson Staff, stated, “Boston lost its longest-serving chief executive, Harvard lost a partner, and the community lost a symbol of Boston’s cohesiveness, toughness, and spirit of renewal.”

There aren’t many politicians that are called ‘beloved,’ but that’s how most people in Boston would describe him after his more than five terms of office. Tom Menino was part of the fabric of Boston and the lessons about the importance of leadership that can be learned from the life of Tom Menino are worth noting. I have listed some of Menino’s attributes that describe his presence as a leader.

  • Be connected. With his constant presence in the neighborhoods of Boston, more than half of Boston’s residents had personally met their mayor at one time or another. ‘Tommy’ Menino attended every possible event, ribbon cutting, and other public gatherings. People who met him said he was warm and genuine. He was authentic. Based on the hundreds of tributes after his death, Tommy’s down-to-earth, accessible manner and understanding of people made him highly regarded, both as a politician, a leader and as a person.
  • Be a champion for the minority. Among Mr. Menino’s main priorities were “providing every child with a quality education; lowering the crime rate; and promoting a healthy lifestyle for all city residents.” Defender of the poor, those captive to their environments, and minorities, Menino stood strong as a principled leader of Boston, making it a great and beautiful ‘town’.
  • Be humble. Months after leaving office, Menino was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. When he announced his illness, he made it clear that he did not want people to feel sorry for him, reminding the public that there are people worse off than him. He did not want to be treated any differently because of this illness. His attitude was the same as all previous challenges he had faced: “We’ll get through it.”
  • Be principled. As a boy, Menino and his family experienced prejudice because of their Italian ethnicity. Thus, he was a staunch opponent to discrimination, and had zero tolerance for prejudice or racism of any kind. Menino stood up for justice by marching in the city’s gay pride parade and refused to march in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade because it banned LGBT advocacy groups. As a bridge builder in a city that had long been accused of inadequately handling race relations, Mayor Menino shattered the mold and stood for justice by connecting the gap.
  • Be courageous. Leaders who get things done require toughness, discipline, and courage. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Menino checked himself out of the hospital despite a broken leg to attend the memorial service and deliver his tribute to the victims and to the city. Menino knew that to be a leader you aren’t going to make everybody happy. Having the courage to stand for what he believed in was more important to him than popularity. The paradox was that by living and leading this way he was hugely popular.

Mayor Menino demonstrated an incredible human touch through the power of his authentic presence. Determination, work ethic, and an unyielding dedication to serving others were the hallmarks of this mayor. These qualities, along with his commitment to banish the racial polarization that had planted itself in Boston, solidified his legacy as one of America’s great public servants.

However, no leader or person should ever be emulated entirely. No one is perfect, and by observing carefully, you can learn as much from a person’s weaknesses as you can from their strengths. In order to serve the greater good, at times you have to exercise your power and be loyal to your followers. The Boston Globe noted once that, “Mayor Menino favored certain developers,” took a personal interest in almost every construction project, and often banished enemies “to the political wilderness.” He was even seen by some as a bully. Sometimes ridiculed for his lack of vision and eloquence, he was not known as the greatest of public speakers nor was he a leader with a profound ideology. But none of these criticisms overshadow Menino’s overwhelmingly assured legacy. To the contrary, these weaknesses helped make him who he was.

Reflecting on the life and lessons of the leaders in our lives – both the ones we are drawn to as well as those who repel us – can make us better people and better leaders. With all his strengths and weaknesses, Menino embodied what a politician can be. His lessons of hard work, dedication to those he served, and devotion to a purpose larger than himself should inspire us all as leaders to pursue our purpose with passion and a renewed sense of focus.

7 WAYS TO DEVELOP UNSHAKABLE CHARACTER

There is no real success in the world that can be separated from being a good person.

In 1944, in Marzobotto, a small town near Bologna, Italy, two thousand civilians were massacred by Nazi troops. The Nazis were retaliating for acts of sabotage committed by members of the Italian resistance. One young German soldier, however, refused to take part in the massacre and was shot.

While few of us will ever face losing our life to live in accordance with our conscience, everyone of us have opportunities every day to choose character over comfort. In our leadership and cultural alignment programs we teach that great character is the foundation of great cultures. Like the roots of a tree, character is hidden to the world, but is vital to an aligned, sustainable organization and life. It’s not the fierceness of the storm that determines whether we break, but rather the strength of the roots that lie below the surface. And, like that German soldier, having strong roots of character determines our strength and our courage.

Twenty-three centuries ago, Aristotle distinguished between what he termed “external goods,” such as prosperity, property, power, personal advancement and reputation, and “inner goods,” what he referred to as “goods of the soul,” including fortitude, temperance, justice, compassion, and wisdom. He taught that the good life is not one of consumption, but of the flourishing of these deeper, hidden virtues.

Unshakeable character calls you to shift from being the best in the world to being the best for the world, to strive not for what you can get, but what you can be, to endeavor to be a better person, before you attempt to be a better leader. Respectful and civil societies, organizations, and families depend on the self-respect, dignity, and the civility earned by their members, acquired by living with strong character.

Below are seven ways to develop unshakable character. Take a little time to notice the effect of these simple choices on your self-respect, your well-being, and your responses to those you love and serve.

  • Take a character assessment. Take a personal inventory of your character. How are you doing in such areas as compassion, reliability, honesty, courage, prudence, contribution, and maturity? Are you one person in public and another in private? Like a business that takes regular stock of its inventory, this is a fact-finding process. There can be blind spots to seeing yourself, so get feedback from the most important people in your life. Being a good person precedes being a good leader.
  • Let go of what you want. Prudence is the common sense – that unfortunately is not so common any more – to live with what you can do without, and the ability to find joy in what is here. Every so often it’s good to surrender something we want, but don’t need. In a world that confuses wants with needs, debt continues to rise as character continues to erode. Practice enjoying not getting everything you want, and find freedom in enjoying what you have.
  • Do something difficult every day. “Do the hard stuff first,” my mother used to say. The earlier in the day you get the difficult work done, the better you’ll feel about yourself and the rest of your day will go better. Whether it’s having a difficult conversation, getting up and getting some exercise, or taking a risk, character is built on the foundation of overcoming the natural tendency to take the course of least resistance.
  • Clean up after yourself. Something eats away at your character when you leave your messes for someone else to look after.
  • Look beyond yourself. Character means choosing service over self-interest. Character grows in the soil of concern for others and the commitment to act on that concern. It is always a win-win when we find ways to make life better for someone less fortunate than ourselves.
  • Spend less than you earn. This is truly one of the best character habits you can develop. Spending less than you earn, whether it’s reflected in your home, your car, or the stuff you buy, is another version of prudence. The space you create in your life by doing so will give you freedom, renewed worth, and contentment that money will never buy.
  • Practice gratitude. Gratitude is integral to strong character. It’s the antithesis of entitlement, the poison that contaminates character. Be an appreciator, rather than a depreciator, of everything that shows up in your life, including opportunities disguised as problems. What you appreciate, appreciates.

Character is not developed over night. It’s a life-long process. Just as it takes years of unseen work to have an “overnight” success, great acts of character come from years of small habits, diligently and persistently lived each day. The payoff is profound: self-respect, freedom, peace of mind, and the courage and clarity to build a better world around you. The nineteenth-century British writer William Makepeace Thackeray captured the essence of character in four lines:

Sow a thought and you reap an act;

Sow an act and you reap a habit;

Sow a habit and you reap a character;

Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

 

Not All Change Is Good – Seven Things I’m Committed To Preserve

When we moved to Cochrane, Alberta to raise our children in 1991, there were no traffic lights in this small foothills community. Today, there are more than fifteen and it takes about five times longer to cover the same distance through town. You no longer buy fly rods at the fly shop. You buy them at Canadian Tire. The fly shop has gone out of business. The two locally owned bookstores, the best you could find anywhere, no longer exist. We now have a Walmart, Staples, and Sport Check. This little town has changed a great deal in the past quarter century.

I’m all for change. Change is not only a good thing; change is required. Change is an integral part of life. “In times of change,” wrote the philosopher Erick Hoffer, “learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” What I’ve been reflecting on though, is that as necessary as change is, not all change is necessary. Not all change is healthy. Whether you are renovating your home, reorganizing your workplace or redesigning your organization, starting a new relationship or new job, moving, adjusting to being new parents, loving your parents through the aging process, coming to grips with a life-threatening illness, or maybe several of these things at once – remember to ask one fundamental question of yourself and of those you are entrusted to lead: “What are we committed to preserve in the midst of this change?”

While reflecting on the changes that are happening in my life, I developed a list of what I’m committed to preserve. In the middle of the changes you are going through, what are you and those you live and work with committed to preserve? Here’s my list:

1)    Character. Character means knowing what’s right and doing what’s right, even when it causes you discomfort. Character is doing what’s honest and honorable, even when costs you financially. If your character is situational, that is, if it changes with the whims of your circumstances, you won’t have the foundation of self-respect to get through the change.

2)    Faith. Faith is the inner sanctuary where hidden permanence and power reside. My faith strengthens and supports me, allowing me to lean on a compassionate force beyond myself. My faith gives me a compass in the wilderness, a private north star to navigate the journey.

3)    Family. Family is the base camp on life’s Mount Everest ascent. Family is where you stock up, replenish, and take shelter from the storm. Family gives you a place to come home to. Family – whether immediate, extended, or inner circle of most trusted friends – gives you the stability and constancy you need to deal with whatever life throws at you. Change can be lonely, but it can’t be done alone.

4)    Health. Regardless of whatever changes are happening in the tyranny of the urgency around me, rigorous healthy habits sustain me. Ensuring that I get adequate rest and exercise, spending time in the sunlight and in nature, and eating food that strengthens rather than depletes, gives me the energy needed to thrive in change and embrace new possibilities.

5)    Traditions. What I admire about the RCMP, the armed forces, and other law enforcement and emergency services agencies is that they are steeped in tradition and fortitude. But families, communities, and individuals must also maintain traditions. Traditions and strong rituals keep people anchored and stable during the storms of life.

6)    Caring. It doesn’t cost to care. Caring is about taking time for the people in your life that matter, even if you don’t have the time. Caring is about paying attention to the little things, despite the chaos that may surround and pull you into the fray. Caring is about staying connected, even when the world seems to be falling apart.

7)    Attitude. “Everything,” wrote Viktor Frankl, the Holocaust survivor and author, “can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms-to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” Whether it’s an attitude of caring or an attitude of building, when the world around you is a problem finder, you can always be a solution maker.

So… in the midst of all the changes happening all around you, what are you committed to preserve?