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Imitation: The Easiest Path to Leadership Success without Starting from Scratch

Find Awesome and Copy It!

Inspiration is contagious. 

Oprah Winfrey started out as a small-town newsperson and became a media mogul. 

Mother Teresa served the poor in the worst conditions. 

Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Malala from Pakistan, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein—the list goes on. 

Each of these people had drastically different personalities, values, and vision, yet they all inspired millions.

Of course, you don’t have to meet a tech giant or join the Peace Corp. to find those electric people who inspire leadership success.

One of the first people to speak deeply into my life was a guy named Jim. He put a John Maxwell book in one hand and Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in the other and began to teach me about leadership. As one of my first mentors, he told me he believed in me and saw amazing talent in me. 

It changed me and made me want to elevate my game.  And it made me realize—no great leaders are 100% original. 

It’s shocking, but true. 

We all model our lives after somebody. The difference is who and what do we choose to model. That decision changes everything.

mother-teresea

Inspiration Is Everywhere—If We Only Look

Inspirational people have a way of affecting our souls and changing our thinking. 

As kids, we model what we see in our parents and older siblings. Our word choices, actions, attitudes, and way of viewing the world all are shaped by what we see modeled for us. 

As adults, we encounter more and different viewpoints, we get to choose new patterns to imitate and replicate. 

So who inspires you? You may have never given it much thought. 

I encourage you to pause and consider it now. Who are your heroes? What leaders inspire you? It could be a… 

  • Teacher
  • Mentor
  • Boss
  • Coworker
  • Friend
  • Podcaster
  • Family member
  • Community figure
  • Spiritual leader
  • Author 

They could be your closest friend, but could also be someone whose perspective you value, whose work you’ve read, whose smile you pass everyday and take encouragement from. 

Great leaders have a way of bringing out the best in us. It’s the simplest way to gain your own leadership growth without starting absolutely from scratch! 

(I call it, “Copying Awesome!”)

They encourage, uplift, and inspire. Their presence inspires you to bigger and better things. You want what they “have” and are willing to listen up to find out how they got it. 

PRO Tip: Inspired From Afar

You don’t have to know someone personally to gain wisdom from them. You can engage some of the best mentors in the pages of books or via an online course or video. Use it all. 

Read voraciously, take notes, and apply what you learn to your own life to equip you for your own leadership journey.  

online-course

Key Markers of Inspiring Leadership

When you know who inspires you, you can identify the individual components that make them who they are and find things to replicate in your own life and leadership.

Some key characteristics may be:

Passion. They know why their work matters. They have a spark that comes from real engagement with their mission— if they lose their way, it always guides them back to what’s important.  

Honesty. They share ideas and opinions without fear of what their peers might think. They aren’t working in the spin room, but from a place of authenticity. 

Positivity. They don’t see failures, they see lessons. Unexpected changes are opportunities to grow. These people inspire hope, progress, and a big-picture mentality in the middle of seemingly discouraging circumstances. 

Inclusivity. They value the perspectives of others—even people who disagree with them. They actively encourage communication, creativity, and team thinking from every player. 

Wisdom. They may not be the oldest or the longest-working team member, but you can tell they don’t just bring knowledge to the table, but perspective and wisdom. 

Patience. They create space for trying, failing, and trying again. They are the listening ear you want to take frustrations and struggles to. 

Determination. When others want to quit, they dig deeper. They ask questions. They make moves. They have the grit and willpower to endure the dry spells and still reap the rewards of hard work. 

And this is only a starting list! Inspiration can strike from any direction. 

Now it’s your turn. 

As you think about leaders who’ve inspired you, ask what it is about them that speaks to you on a deep level. What is it about them that energizes you and makes you want to make them proud?

(Everyone’s life can be a lesson if you understand how to let it teach you.)

If you want to take it one powerful step forward—start a Board of Inspiration. Here’s how. 

  1. Get a posterboard, whiteboard, or personal journal. (Something with lots of room.) 
  2. Whenever you notice an encouraging, inspiring, or challenging characteristic—in anyone, friend, coworker, public figure—put it on the board! 
  3. Add books, articles, or resources that catch your attention.
  4. Add quotes that encapsulate your personal brand or mission. 
  5. Keep it somewhere you can see it! 

Imitation isn’t just the sincerest form of flattery, it’s also the quickest way to get remarkable results.

Why reinvent the wheel when so much of what you need to live an inspired life has already been modeled for you? Why start at the drawing board when leadership success is there in front of you in full color? 

Find awesome and copy it.

3 Keys to Execution Excellence in Your Organization

How to Consistently Get More Done without Losing Your Mind

You could probably study for the rest of your life—and still never finish all the books, articles,  editorials, and contradictory perspectives on how to execute with excellence. 

Thankfully you don’t have to sift through it all to find a process that just works.

One of the most helpful—and beautifully simple—leadership processes I learned was from a group of seasoned, Alaskan mushers. 

They didn’t have to get fancy or annotate. They got right to the point and shared with me something that not only works for them on the treacherous Iditarod Trail but can work for any leader—on and off the trails. 

We called it the R.A.C.E method. 

The acronym stands for Ready, Action, Checkpoint, Evolve. 

These simple but powerful steps create a process that any leader can apply—for excellent team execution again and again… and again! 

Let’s break down the first step: Ready 

In this phase, I’ve found three keys to consistent execution excellence—goals, roles, and habits. These are the what, the who, and the how of getting things done. 

To get ready, you need to know what you want to achieve, who needs to fulfill which roles, and how you will function in the day-to-day to succeed.

Goals

Setting INSPIRED goals begins with asking these questions:

  • Where do you want to end up? 
  • What is the order of the steps? 
  • Who does those steps best? 
  • How much time do you need? 
  • What are the best in your industry doing?

On the Iditarod trail, mush teams rely on trail markers to let them know how far they’ve traveled and how much longer they have to go. 

Even with these markers, some mushers have stopped fifteen minutes from the next checkpoint, because they didn’t realize how close they were to achieving the next goal. In the middle of the action, it’s difficult to tell one snowbank from another. 

The same is true for you and your team as you execute. 

With your head down in the weeds, you can lose sight of where you are. That’s why you need goals that serve as checkpoints. 

The checkpoints do two things. They help people focus on componentized goals and provide built-in celebration points along the way. 

Similar to the way the various camps on an Everest ascent provide visual cues to progress, your checkpoints let people measure progress toward achieving results.  

As you evaluate your goals in the harsh light of reality, you must consider your team’s ability to deliver on those goals in that time frame, which leads to evaluating the roles needed and who will fill those roles.

iditarod-dog-sled-race

Roles

When you’re clear on your goals and you’ve set checkpoints to monitor progress, then you can start positioning your team for maximum success by examining roles. 

I suggest you begin with these questions: 

  • Who is actually doing and delivering? 
  • Is everyone crystal clear about roles and responsibilities?
  • How does each person contribute to each step?
  • What strengths does each person contribute and where will he or she do the best work?
  • In light of the role, what weaknesses does each person have and how can these weaknesses be overcome? 
  • Do you need to add or remove people from the team? Have you first trained them to ensure removal is wise?

Sports teams are only allowed a certain number of players. You too must work within certain constraints such as budget and organizational restrictions.

 That’s why it’s so important to have the right team members in place to get the job done. 

An offensive lineman may technically be physically able to line up under center, receive the ball, and throw it to a receiver, but that’s not what he’s built for.

 In baseball, pitchers are notoriously bad hitters. That’s not why they’re on the team.

The constraints actually help the team by forcing them to put the best players in the roles where they perform the best.

 Likewise, constraints help you ensure you put the right people in the right places to win. 

That doesn’t mean no one will ever have to do a job they don’t enjoy or step out of their comfort zone, but it does mean that you position each person to be and deliver his or her best. 

(A pitcher sometimes has to bunt a run in. Football players sometimes line up differently for a trick play.)

But your team is filled with people who will excel in their areas of expertise—and propel you to excellence—if you ensure they are in the right role. 

Habits

Habits have the power to make or break your execution. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” 

Nowhere is this reality more apparent than in execution. 

You can have the noblest goals but, without systems in place to achieve those goals, you’ll never get off the starting line. 

You’ll do what you’ve always done and wonder why you’re getting the same results. 

To achieve excellence through execution, you’ve got to manage your own habits and then help your team members manage theirs. It goes back to the DITLO I described earlier—what happens in the Day In The Life Of your team. 

So, how do you make the right things habitual for your team? Identify the right things to do, then make them repeatable, sustainable, and scalable. Start by answering these questions:

  • What’s the workload?
    • Does it come to you segmented or does it need to be compartmentalized? 
    • Are there trends, patterns, and timing to follow? 
  • What are the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that lead to successful execution?
    • Do they exist by design or by default? 
    • How effective are they? Are they current? 
    • Do you know the steps in the process? 
  • Do you know your strengths and struggles, efficiencies and inefficiencies?
  • What are your output expectations? 
    • Are there checkpoints to ensure you get the outcome you need and provide accountability?

Working through these steps takes time. It’s not flashy, and it’s not always fun. 

And that’s why so few do it—and they fail to deliver excellence. 

But when you have answers to these questions, you can begin to work them into your DITLO and move to other steps in the process.

business-measurement

Are you ready to RACE with Excellence?

The bottom line is this: preparation is half the battle. Getting RACE-Ready with achievable team goals, clear member roles, and systemized habits will put you three steps ahead of the competition before the starting whistle blows. 

These goals, roles, and habits make up the foundation for excellent execution. 

You can be intentional, passionate, real, have a heart to serve, and integrate well, but if you fail to execute you’ve failed to do your job.

 There’s no substitution for executing with excellence. But if you work the steps with excellence, execution takes care of itself. 

If you or your team needs a proven guide to help you plan well in this Ready phase, just reach out.

How Inspirational is Your Leadership Brand?

Like It or Not, You Make Branding Choices Every Single Day 

People aren’t the only forces of inspiration. Brands have the same power—one that is multiplied, even, by the number of people who come together under one missional banner. 

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, he sold a metal box with a microprocessor, small screen, and a clickable wheel. But what did he deliver? A thousand songs in your pocket.

That small piece of hardware has changed the way people consumed music. 

It might be retro cool now to buy albums on vinyl or even cassette, but a thousand songs in your pocket was transformational in 2001, helping pave the way for the iPhone and establish Apple as a global monolith. 

What is the big idea YOU serve to your customers? Think for a moment before you answer. 

You may think you “sell” one thing but actually deliver another. And if your sell and your deliver aren’t matching up, there may be a disconnect of inspiration. 

You can discover it again—that idea that made you tick, the goals your people signed up ready to achieve. 

But it requires asking the hard questions: How inspirational is my brand truly? And what decisions am I making everyday that set me on this course? 

Inspiring Brands can Inspire Positivity OR Negativity

Brands clearly have an identity, much like a person, but do they always inspire? And further, do they always inspire in the positive sense of the word? 

As a leader in an organization, you are a torchbearer for your brand. The things you say and do reflect on the brand.

The NFL for years has talked about the shield when referring to their logo.

They have high standards for what they want their brand to be. That’s why players get fined for wearing the wrong cleats or something that doesn’t match the uniform. 

It’s seen as disrespectful to the shield. 

The NFL has a brand code that it expects its players to live up to and abide by. Unfortunately, however, many fans feel the NFL has been inspiring in the wrong direction lately. Right or wrong, the League has paid a price for that perception. 

So whether your brand is inspiring positive or negative thoughts, you will make an impact either way with the words and actions you use to front your brand. 

Inspiring Brands Get to the Heart

Some brands, like Apple, become status symbols. Others like Tom’s Shoes and Patagonia become outlets for causes the owners and employees can support. 

Now more than ever, brands have a say in how they are perceived in the marketplace. Dove, a Unilever Skincare brand, launched a campaign several years ago called “Real Beauty.” You may remember the ads. 

It began when they “put six women in their underwear on a billboard in Times Square and challenged conventional norms of beauty imagery.”

These women weren’t famous supermodels with recognizable faces. They were women of all shapes, sizes, and skin tones and showed that Dove products were for everyone. 

It was a risky proposition that could have backfired, but according to Rob Candelino, Vice President of Brand Building for Unilever Skincare, the campaign transformed the company’s image. Candelino said that the billboard “was so groundbreaking and profoundly inspiring to women” that they were flooded with positive feedback. 

Dove used their platform as a brand to send a message to the heart of their market. 

Inspiring Brands Cause a Reaction

Think about the following brands: Zappos, Starbucks, Target, Salvation Army, Red Cross, Tesla, Google, Disney, Chick-Fil-A, Walmart, Home Depot, and Amazon.

Do they evoke a positive or negative reaction in you? 

Would you want to work with these brands? Why? Why not? 

What have these brands done that sticks in your mind and causes a reaction? What cultures do you think these brands have inside the company’s walls? 

Some are listed among the top places to work. Others are frequently defending their culture and treatment of employees. Are their employees happy, highly regarded, frustrated, exhausted? 

Now consider this: just as you have a reaction to these brands, your customers and the marketplace have a reaction to your organization’s brand. 

Your company brand is and will be known for something.

It may be the lowest cost, the highest quality, reliability, luxury, economy, sportiness, value, or humor. 

Building Your Brand Identity

Whether you lead an organization of millions, a division of thousands, or a team of a few, your leadership can inspire—or exasperate—the brand you lead. Yes, that’s right! 

Even a small team has a brand identity. 

You can decide to be an inspirational leader or an exasperating leader who shapes that brand in either direction. 

If you choose to do nothing about your leadership style, you’ll naturally become exasperating to those you lead. No one wants to follow someone who simply goes through the motions. What do you want your brand to be? 

What type of leader will you need to be in order to create a team that embodies that brand?

Get out a pen and paper before you do anything else today (it will be worth it). 

Write down at least 5 adjectives that describe your ideal leadership brand. What feelings do you want to evoke in your audience? In your coworkers? What are 5 action words that describe how your leadership will execute? 

Then put your favorites together in a missional statement.

This statement can change, it can grow, but if you can keep it in mind before every decision, delegation, project, and product, you will find it 100x easier to stay on-mission, on-brand, and powerfully inspirational, not only as an individual, but a brand. 

Want more free InSPIRED Leadership insights? Click here.

The Real Reason No One Listens When You Speak

3 Steps to Communicate Powerfully with Your Team

People have been figuring out ways to communicate with each other since they first set foot on the earth—from cave drawings and hieroglyphics to modern day emojis. 😎

We’ve become masters of getting our ideas across. Without dialogue, our teams disintegrate. But communication requires more than the transmission of information.

On a boat flying across the bay, crew members must become efficient and effective at relaying information. Wasting time and energy, or worse, risking miscommunication, just won’t do.

In your business, what are your critical communication points? Do you speak to employees or team members in person or via video calls? Will a team member text you with a question, call you, email you, or wait until you come asking? How does your behavior influence how willing teammates are to communicate with you?

Every interaction is a potential miscommunication unless you are intentional about integrating.  

The Communication Checklist

As you re-envision what you want successful communication to look like on your team, take these three steps:

1. Identify

It’s also important to identify the key people with whom you need to communicate the most—and help leaders on your team do the same with their key personnel. Everyone needs a leader who will hear him or her. As a leader, you must take responsibility for communication as far as it is within your control.

2. Adapt

Integrated communication depends on doing it in ways others understand and appreciate. Does one member love to contact you directly? Give them a chance to do so.

Are they independent and work on their own until checked upon? Be sure to check in on them at regular intervals.

It’s impossible—and not necessary—to get everyone to speak the same language. Do your best to integrate with the people you lead and speak to them using their preferred style.

3. Ask

When I’m working with turnarounds or start-ups, I like doing critical communication in morning huddles. These are short team meetings designed to communicate critical information, focus the team, and get back at it.

To make sure you are communicating effectively, consider these questions:

  • What are the critical components I need to communicate?
  • What does my team need to know?
  • Whom should I tell first?
  • Are there any critical communication points being missed?
  • Is my communication one-way or two-way?
  • Is the message I’m trying to deliver the message that’s being received?

People Who Listen are People Who Feel Heard

All communication is not created equal. Many leaders technically say all the right information—but they’re still not communicating. They’re just transmitting. Because if you are talking and nobody is listening, you aren’t communicating.

In the military, when somebody has given an order, the soldiers respond back with a term called “Hooah!” It stands for H.U.A. Heard. Understood. Acknowledged. Effective communication asks for an echo check from the team, a confirmation that not only have they heard, but they understand what to do, acknowledge their role, and are moving to action.

Don’t mistake leadership monologues for company dialogue. Communication means not only that transmission has occurred, but also that recipients have received the information—and they know what to do with it.

As a leader start the communication evaluation with yourself. Perform a communication audit. Ask your team members to rate your communication skills, and take what they say to heart.

Then perform a listening audit. Work to listen to your team members and use their best input.

When people feel truly heard, they rise to the occasion every time. When you start listening to them, they’ll start listening to you.

How to Make Sense of Your Team Performance

Identify Where Underperformance Strikes to Blow by the Competition

Measuring Your Team Performance

If someone dropped you in the middle of nowhere Alaska with just a map and an X on it… would you know how to get there?

Of course not. (And if you attempted, would be lucky to avoid frostbite.)

Because, as any adventurer knows, before you can move towards a goal, you need to know where you are on the map. You would need to identify some landmarks to gauge where you are and some checkpoints to measure your progress toward the goal.

Evaluating the right route for your team—even if you know where to go—requires the same assessment. Any leader needs to know the landmarks or checkpoints that lie between the organization and optimal performance.

When assessing where you are as a team, there are two general categories of landmarks or Key Performance Indicators (KPI) you can use: tangible and intangible.

Tangible KPIs

As a general leadership rule, you should stay out of the operational weeds. It’s your job to plan and sustain the big-picture and train up the right delegates for detail work.

However, assessing your team well does require a season in the weeds to really understand who is doing what.

Only then can you assess the skills of each team member and position him or her for maximum value and production. Only then can you identify strengths and weaknesses and position each of them in the best possible position to contribute to the team performance.

You’ll want to take a look at things like:

  • Output
  • KPIs
  • Conflicts
  • Collaboration
  • Turnover
  • Wants and needs
  • Beliefs and behaviors
  • Capacity
  • Capabilities
  • Empowerment levels

Intangible KPIs

Other performance indicators are more easily missed because they don’t show up as numbers or percentages. But oh, do they matter! They are intangible so far as they are the performance indicators of healthy culture, problem-solving, and the relationship between team members. The four intangible KPIs I like to look at first are:

Trust. Trust is the currency of leadership. It starts when your team can trust you and you can trust your team. On the other hand, mistrust creates isolation. Isolation in a team environment always leads to disaster.

So, ask yourself:

  • Does my team trust me? Do I trust my team?
  • Do external customers trust us?
  • Do other departments within the organization trust us?
  • Do I know what my team can and can’t do—and how to grow where we are lacking?

Competence. Trust can only take you so far when you’ve got a competence problem. As an InSPIRED leader, you have a responsibility to create and guide a competent team. That means you’ve got to understand your team’s core competencies:

  • What is it that your department does?
  • What are the critical deliverables?
  • What are the critical roles?
  • Within the critical roles, what does competency look like?

Communication. All communication is not created equal. Many conversations among/to team members technically use all the right information—but they’re still not communicating. They’re just transmitting. Communication means not only that transmission has occurred, but also that recipients have received the information—and they know what to do with it.

Commitment. We all start with some level of competence, but knowledge in any industry has to be learned. Give me a person who has some level of competence, but is trustworthy with a heart full of commitment—and I can turn that person into a vital and integrated member of the team. You will gain competence every day if your heart is committed.

Becoming a Master Navigator

Together these KPIs make up your team compass. Most leaders focus on the tangibles, but the secret to finding true north is understanding both the measurable performance indicators and the abstract characteristics that set the context and culture for everything you output.
Keep them in your pocket at all times, and it won’t matter where you get dropped—if you can evaluate where your team is now, you can strategize how to get them anywhere.

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