When I served in the Air Force, I worked on aircraft armament systems. I was responsible for loading bombs on B-52s and missiles on F-15 and for making sure that the electrical systems on those aircraft worked so that the bombs and missiles would launch when they were supposed to. It was a serious job, and I didn’t know how to do it when I entered the Air Force. I learned how.
I have clients and friends who have learned how to do all kinds of things that, at first glance, might seem too hard or complex: fly a plane, write a novel, build and sell a multimillion-dollar business. They didn’t know how to do these things when they started out; they had to learn how to do them, and the way they did it was to take it one step at a time. My client who flies planes, for instance, had to take a demonstration flight, put in some book-learning time and spend time in the air with an instructor before going solo.
When I tell people that you can learn to do pretty much anything if you break it down into small chunks or bites like that, they always agree with me—unless I’m talking about leadership.
Everyone seems to think that leadership is a magical talent: You’re either born with it, or you’re not. I don’t believe that. I believe that leadership can be learned, step-by-step, by cultivating the qualities of a great leader. Let’s look at those qualities, one by one.
Quality 1: Great Leaders Understand the Power of Positivity
Shortly after 9/11, I talked to an insurance agent I knew. I asked him how things were going, and he said, “Jim, my business is destroyed. It’s horrible.” I sympathized; it was horrible. This awful attack had happened against our country, and the effects of it were echoing through our society in ways we couldn’t have anticipated.
About a week later, I talked to another insurance agent I knew, and I asked him how he was doing. I expected about the same answer, but instead he said this: “Jim, 9/11 was a terrible thing. I wish it had never happened. But it’s causing people to reevaluate, and I’m able to help them make sure they have the insurance policies they need to protect themselves and their families.”
I was blown away by the contrast between these two guys. Both insurance agents; both working in the same uncertain environment; both reacting in a completely different way. It wasn’t that the second agent was callous and saw this as a chance to take advantage of people’s grief and vulnerability. It was that he saw an opportunity to help people by ensuring they were taking care of their families, even when the worst happens.
Who would you rather follow? Someone who is beaten down by the world, or someone who sees hope and possibility even in our darkest hours?
I’m not saying that my second agent friend never felt discouraged or negative. We all do. Life is hard sometimes; it gets to us all. We’ve gone through another horrible time together in the last months, and there have been times I’ve been discouraged and negative. What can you do at times like those? Check out my article Don’t Let the Bad Days Get You Down and my video Reset Your Mindset. You can also have fewer of those bad days in the first place by making habits that put you in a more positive frame of mind, like:
- Doing a daily devotional or meditation
- Getting regular exercise, especially outside
- Cultivating an attitude of gratitude and being thankful for what you have
One more thought on negativity: Yes it’s natural, but don’t make it formal. By that, I mean, keep it out of business time. I work with a lot of property managers, and it’s easy for them to feel caught in the middle between owners and tenants. There’s nothing wrong with a couple of property managers getting a gripe on every once in a while; we all need to release that tension. But it should never be part of an association meeting or other formal gathering. Also, always finish up a gripe session by brainstorming about what you can do to relieve that tension between the two parties and create something positive.
Would you like to read more about being positive? I highly recommend the book The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Time with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon.
Quality #2: Great Leaders Develop Their Leaders
When I ran a BNI franchise, I oversaw 65 chapters. There was no way I could physically manage all that myself; I had to have other leaders over those individual chapters so I could keep the entire organization running smoothly and growing.
Not everyone will end up needing 80 leaders like I did, but every business or association needs some number of leaders: people to head up different departments like sales or membership; someone to be groomed as a #2 for you.
You may be thinking, “Jim, I barely know how to be a leader myself! How can I develop other leaders?” You do it the same way you develop yourself as a leader: Help them develop the qualities we’re talking about here.
You do that through mentoring. That means not just giving them a set of tasks and letting them have at it; it means setting expectations, then checking in on a regular basis to see how they’re doing and to provide any guidance and assistance they need.
Let me share a story with you: When I ran that BNI franchise, I knew I needed to have regular mentoring meeting with my leaders. So I did. I started out every meeting by talking about BNI and how the business was doing. Then I got to them and how they were doing. After a while, I realized I was not seeing the results I wanted to see. So I shook things up: I decided to start each meeting by focusing instead on that leader and how they were doing. I asked how things were going—professionally, but also personally—and how I could help them. What amazed me was that by putting that kind of attention on them, it made my leaders want to talk about what they could do to help BNI succeed! They felt valued and empowered.
The moral of this story is that if you help people get what they want, you will get what you need. For association leaders: You focus on your board and chairs, and they’ll focus on their chapters. For business owners and managers: You focus on your department leaders, and they’ll focus on the functions of their departments.
There are a lot of great books about leading out there; I recommend The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell and Stephen Covey and The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. You can also read more about helping your leaders succeed in my article Do You Have a Wingman? Getting Your #2 to Think Like #1 and my video Getting Leaders to Lead..
Quality #3: Great Leaders Don’t Go It Alone
I like to say that even the Lone Ranger had Tonto. When you look around at great leaders, it often seems that they stand alone. Take Mother Teresa: The Missionaries of Charity that she founded ran hospices, orphanages and charity centers—not just in India but around the world. There was no way she could have run all that by herself, so she developed her leaders (the nuns and priests who ran and managed the houses and foundations). She also tapped into other resources, getting support, advice and assistance from the Vatican, governments, spiritual mentors, donors and others.
You may not be able to call on the Vatican, but you are not without your own resources. If you’re the head of a local association chapter, for instance, you can reach out to other chapter heads across the country as well as to association ambassadors and regional vice presidents. If you’re a business owner or manager, make sure you’re involved in organizations in your industry that provide education, support and networking so you can meet others who understand the challenges you face.
Cast your net wide to include mentors, colleagues, friends and family members. You never know what gem of advice you’ll hear or what connection you’ll make that will prove invaluable. And don’t overlook those leaders you’re developing; they can be a great source for ideas and support.
One last thought: We all get to the point where we feel stuck; we’re not making progress, maybe we’re up against a deadline, and we’re so frustrated that we say (or shout) to ourselves, “I’ll just do it myself!” That is exactly the time to not do it yourself. Just like a fever is an indicator that you’re sick, that sense that you’re alone and no one else can do it as well as you is an indicator that it’s time to reach out and pull in your support.
It can also be an indicator that you’re not delegating enough or that you’re not effectively delegating. I know: The “D” word scares a lot of people. But remember that great leaders develop their leaders and they don’t go it alone; that means that they don’t do all the work of their business or association by themselves. They train, develop and empower others. For more on making delegating work for you, check out my article Letting Go to Grow and my video Getting More Done in Less Time.
Quality #4: Great Leaders Begin with a Vision
I end with this even though it’s the first thing you need to do to be a great leader. That’s because it’s the most important quality of a great leader. If you forget everything else you read here (and please don’t—it’s just four things!), hold on to this one: Vision is at the heart of all success, personal and professional. If you don’t know what you want to accomplish in life and business, you’re lost.
Vision is the thing that gets you out of bed every morning, even on those grayest, rainiest mornings. Even on those mornings after something terrible has happened to our country, our economy or those closest to you. Vision is the purpose and passion behind the work you do. It’s a guiding light not just for you, but for your leaders, your staff, your customers and clients.
Let me give you an association-related example:
Say your association’s vision is to be the best property management association in the state, or even in the country. What does that mean? What is it that you do to become that? You might say, “We’re the best because have the most certification classes,” but then someone points out that some members of your association don’t care about certifications. You say, “We’re the best because we have the highest membership and make the most money of any chapter in the country.” That’s today. What about tomorrow? Tomorrow, your membership will shrink if you’re not providing value to those members. Ah, there is it: “We’re the best because we provide value to all our members: to our broker/owners; to our vendors; to staff at every level in our property management members.”
This works for businesses, too, of course. Get some business-related examples and learn more about vision and leading in my podcast Freeing You from Your Business on I Heart Radio, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts and other platforms. It’s also available as an article on my blog.
Great leaders aren’t born; they are made, step by step:
- Great leaders share their vision to motivate their team and empower their team to fulfill that vision.
- Great leaders model positivity to cultivate a culture of opportunity.
- Great leaders develop the leaders under them to boost the capacity of what their organization can accomplish.
- Great leaders tap into the experience, knowledge and support of those around them.
You can be a great leader.
Please consider me one of those sources of experience, knowledge and support you can tap into. I would love to help you become the great leader I know you can be.