3 Key Qualities of a Successful Leader

Who Will Succeed?

In 2002 Verne Harnish held the 10 year reunion for the Birthing of Giants (BOG) program, the genesis of the “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits” material. During the Q and A session one of the participants asked him a key question.

“Hey Verne, you’ve seen so many entrepreneurs succeed and so many fail. Have you noticed anything specific about the difference with those who made it to greatness?”

Verne thought for a moment and answered, “There are two qualities I have noticed in those who get where they want to go.  While intelligence, passion, and discipline are all useful qualities, success belongs to those who have these two attributes – an insatiable need to learn and an unquenchable penchant for action.

Those that win, he went on to share, are constantly exploring for better ways of doing things and ways to improve. Once they identify a new and better way forward, they don’t sit back and let others pass them by. They use their tools and resources to attack issues and make things happen.

While I agree with Verne on the two key qualities he spoke to over a decade ago, there’s one other crucial factor that I would add to the mix – one that’s “inescapable” but will bring a leader to greatness: the readiness and ability to have a difficult conversation.

Over the last two decades as I’ve coached, advised and closely watched CEO’s and Executives from start-up to $250 million companies grow their businesses, one thing is clear.

Time and again leaders don’t or won’t have the difficult conversations or make the hard decisions that building a successful and sustainable business requires. Here are just some examples with which you may be familiar…

  • Firing an employee, a vendor, a partner after months (sometimes years) of trying to “make it work”.
  • Admitting that you were wrong and made a bad call or didn’t live up to your role as a leader to your management team.
  • Confronting a performance problem with an employee who you’ve known forever and at one point was an invaluable part of your business but isn’t working anymore as effectively as they once did.
  • Deciding to cut an underperforming part of a business because it’s not profitable and never will be and letting go a third of your work force as a result.

All of the above are just a sample of the conversations and decisions that I’ve seen CEO’s and executives struggle with over the years. I’m sure you’ve had your share too.

But just like bread won’t rise without the right leavening, you won’t succeed in business without this critical ingredient.  To find out more about why these conversations are so challenging to have, check out this oldie but goodie from Fortune magazine (thanks to Joe Hawke from Hawke Aerospace for sharing this with me) – and read below for my 5 key “takeaways” for how you can step up to the “Crucial Conversation” plate and be a more effective leader!

1)     Be Aware – As human beings we’re wired to avoid pain.  As the Fortune article says, the field of neuroscience has done a lot to increase our understanding of why we do things the way we do.  And one of the key contributors to our behaviors is the Pain Avoidance Model which is governed by the amygdala – whose job is to assess threats.  Awareness of this very human tendency to see many situations as threatening – even ones that only have emotional pain attached to them – has supported our evolution but it can lead to some very bad decision making.

2)     Get Perspective – When we’re flooded with emotional pain – whether it’s fear of losing control, making a mistake, having to deliver bad news, we need to take a step back from the situation and allow time for our rational minds to process it.  When you’re in the thros of the amygdala (“in the grip” psychiatrists say) you can’t access the pre-frontal or logical part of the brain.  That’s the part that will help you to deal with the pain and work to a resolution.

3)     Talk it Out– Talking actually helps dis-engage the amygdala, which is non-verbal.  This is what a good business coach will help you to do but you can also reach out to a more objective listener (certainly not someone in the business) – a friend, colleague, or even a significant other.  My husband is brilliant when it comes to helping me work through one of these conversations or situations.  I talk.  He listens. And helps to work through the emotions to get to the root of what’s upsetting me and what I need to say or do.  Find the right partner though.  One who won’t let you off the hook and will follow up with you so that you have the conversation or make the decision. A “noodge” can be a great motivator to do “the deed”.

4)     Write it down – Once you’ve worked through the emotions, or as you’re talking it out, write down what you need to say or do.  Always start with your positive intent so that people don’t feel attacked.   Make sure that you frame the conversation with an end in mind and say it up front.  (The book, “Crucial Conversations” outlines some very effective methods for doing this.) And don’t be afraid to bring your notes with you to the meeting.  It makes you more human.

5)     Just DO it – As the saying goes.  But put a timeline on it and put it in your schedule.  Find a quiet space where you won’t be interrupted and at all possible, have the conversation face to face.

And if you’d like more info, give us a call or consider signing up for our upcoming One Day planning session on January 18th. We’d love to see you there to help you have a successful 2015!

 

 


[1] Thanks to Kevin Daum for sharing this story with me.

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