Leaders Are What Leaders Do

Dr. John Townsend

March 3, 2015

As a leader, in the end, you are what you do.  To lead well, you need the necessary elements of the right vision, values, resources and plan.  These are non-negotiables.

Ultimately, it ends up being about behavior.  You will succeed by what you actually do, and you will be measured by that as well.  Behaving in ways that lead you to the outcomes can’t be overstated.  Too many leaders with great ideas and talent end up with a glass ceiling because they simply didn’t “do” what they were supposed to do.

Don’t be that person.  Here are a few ideas to help you along this path.

Follow every significant conversation or meeting with an action step.  If you are taking the time and energy to meet, brainstorm, strategize or solve challenges, there needs to be some behaviors that happen as a result.  You might have a conversation that you have been avoiding, or get on the phone with a client, or jumpstart your sales team, or cut some costs.  But meetings are only as effective as the actions they produce.

Be accountable for those actions.  Leaders are busy people, often overwhelmed with competing demands for their attention.  I have seen so many leaders just get too buried to follow up on their action steps because the only person they were accountable to them lived in their own head.  Ask your assistant, or board member, or a trusted person, to remind you of the actions you have committed to.  My assistant told me she didn’t want to nag me, as she had done that when she raised her kids.  I told her I’m not a rebellious teen.  I need her to remind me, ask me, recommend to me and yes, nag me!!

Analyze, then act before analyzing again.  This is the famous “paralysis by analysis” problem. Leaders who are a bit perfectionistic, risk-averse and a bit OCD, tend to overanalyze situations.  Then they never take action steps, or by the time they do, the opportunity window has closed.  Here is a way to do this:  in areas you have good history of success with, jump out a little sooner than you are comfortable with.  In areas of struggle or failure, take longer.

Do the best actions, not just any actions.  A busy leader is not always an effective leader.  You may be busy deleting emails or putting out fires, or having compassion fatigue because you are enabling and rescuing too many people. Always, always, always, start back to your mission and your strategy.  Ask yourself two questions:

  1. “Is this action serving the mission and the strategy?”  That is, is your action step driving your organization toward the right goals?
  2. “Is this action the best use of my time and energy?”  There are lots of positive things you can do.  But do what only you can do.

Take initiative.  Be active.  Be a leader who does what you believe.

By the way, being active doesn’t mean that you say “Yes” to every challenge as I talk about in the video below.

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