Let's continue from last month's column on my journey down the leadership trail. It may help yours.
I learned that there is no short cut to developing leadership. Leaders are not born that way. It takes hard work and more.
To me the key ingredients of leadership are:
- Smart (not just hard) work
There is no order of importance; they are all essential.
But how do you develop these traits? You know there are probably as many different routes to developing leadership as there are different roads that will take you from Memphis to New York. But if you don't pick one and stick with it you will never get there.
Where you start is not that important. The important thing is to start. I started by talking with the best leader I knew personally, Carl Sewell a dealer/client whom I respect very much.
Carl helped in several ways. Perhaps the most important thing he gave me was hope. Hope is huge and has two parts. The first is encouragement. We all need that. The second is the introduction to two great resources: books and an executive course called “Creating the Future” offered at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.
The first real business book I studied was The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt. This is a great first book to read. It and the Darden course shoved me down that road of leadership.
The next book that had a real impact on me is Made in the USA, the story of Sam Walton. But probably the book that I treasure the most is an early biography of Jack Welch, the legendary former CEO of General Electric. Written by Noel M. Tichy, it's provocatively entitled Control Your Own Destiny or Someone Else Will.
While the books and courses spurred me along, without a doubt the single greatest leadership tool I have found is an organization. It is called The Executive Committee (TEC).
It's an international organization comprised of local CEOs in non-competitive businesses. It's a great group. I'm proud to say I'm a founding member of the first TEC group in Memphis.
With TEC, I met monthly with other CEOs; sharing successes and failures, working with a professional facilitator and listening to world-class consultants and business leaders dubbed “resources.” However, the most valuable part of TEC was not the resources or even our facilitator, but my fellow CEOs.
I learned we are all capable of great ideas, stupid mistakes, poor execution and moments of brilliance. I also learned that I was not alone in my upstream swim; there are thousands just like me. As I said, trying hard is not enough, being smart is not enough, being charismatic is not even necessary. It takes more and the road never ends.
We are never finished learning, but when we see the end of our business career in the far away future, a real leader positions a successor.
As reported in the book Good to Great by Jim Collins, and held as truth by me, the sign of a truly great leader is one who builds a culture that sustains the ingredients of leadership long after. This continuation of leadership is the true test of leadership. How do you score?
Don E. Ray is a CPA with the Dixon Hughes Dealer Services Group. He's at 901-684-5643 and [email protected].