Leadership: there is only do

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It was early in my career, and my big task that day was to talk to one of our warehouse workers about his increasingly poor performance. It seemed like things were going okay until, suddenly, everything went bad at once.

The man across the desk from me rose up and towered over me. His face was bright red and his giant fists slammed again and again into the desk while he cursed me and the company and life in general. He stormed out of the room, slamming the door so hard the pictures fell off the wall. I was stunned.

Learning from The Explosion

That was the day I realized that, while I had read and studied leadership, I never got to the most important thing. The professors who taught me and the books I read seemed to be all about leadership traits or leadership characteristics. Almost fifty years later, that’s still true.

This morning, I fired up my browser and went to Google. I found 28 million hits for “leadership traits,” 49 million hits for “leadership qualities,” and 107 million hits for “leadership characteristics.” Traits, and characteristics, and qualities are fine. They’re fun to talk about. The problem is that they don’t tell you what you should do.

When I searched for “leadership behaviors,” I got 2.7 million hits. That’s a lot, but it’s a lot less than all those other things and, yet, behavior is the most important thing for you to master if you’re a boss. Leadership is a doing discipline. Your behavior drives your success.

What’s Behavior?

Behavior is what you say and what you do. Nothing else. Behavior is observable. Behavior is what influences other people.

What’s in your head and what’s in your heart are important, but unless you translate them into what you say and what you do, they don’t make any difference in your leadership. If you want to change your results, change your behavior.

The Bonus

Most of the leadership books and articles suggest that you change how you think and then change how you act. The problem with that is that it’s not effective as doing it the other way around.

If you consistently act the way a great leader acts, you will find yourself thinking and feeling the way great leaders feel. In other words, the best way to get those leadership traits is to act the way people with those traits act.

For years, my friend, Jim Cathcart, has suggested that aspiring leaders as a very simple question:

“How would the person I want to be act right now?”

Bottom Line

I think of this as a twist on the words of Yoda in Star Wars. Think: “There is no be. There is only do.” Concentrate on what you do and you can improve your performance. It’s that simple.

My new ebook Become a Better Boss One Tip at a Time has 347 things you can do to become a more effective boss.

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What People Are Saying

Luc DE BELLOY   |   28 Mar 2017   |   Reply

I am ok with your article, I would only add you really have to be yourself to do to or act yourself ! Walk the talk ! Luc

Wally Bock   |   30 Mar 2017   |   Reply

Thanks, Luc. I think that “being yourself” is important but you have to be careful not to make “being yourself” a reason not to change the way you do things. I’ve found that the best bosses I’ve witnessed are open to trying things that have worked for others and adapting them to fit their own personality and style.