Over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate to be around highly successful, difference-making people ranging from corporate and non-profit executives, religious and governmental leaders, to educational and community leaders. Of all of the things I learned from working with them, three things stand out the most.
They make the time to read: To my surprise, the busiest people in the world always make the time to read books to in order to gain additional insights and become even better leaders. I’ve heard they read more than the average person, but I had no idea it was that much more. The ones I know read at minimum 12 books a year. The reason I know is because they are quick to recommend good books to me ranging from leadership, business, society, to history. The constant learning allows difference-making leaders to not rest on their success and make better decisions. To read as many books as they do requires them to schedule time to do so instead of it being “recreational” time. It did not take me long to start blocking more time to read and asking them for book recommendations.
2. They are quicker to say “No” or “Not now”: They do because they have a constancy
of purpose (The “What”) and the path to achieving it (The “How”). They will only
invest their time and money in things that align with their purpose and path. This
trait resonated with me because early in my life I had a problem saying “No.” I did
because I was trying to please everyone and was honored when people wanted me to
join their boards. As a result, I took on too much and also unwisely gave too much
money. How you use your resources will determine your success. Reason being, they
determine how focused you are. (i.e., look at how a person spends her time and
money and you will quickly see how focused she is.) Being focused is also why
difference-making leaders communicate with such clarity and conviction.
3. They are always on the lookout for talent: Difference-making leaders can spot
exceptional talent anywhere. They can because they are always looking for it--
regardless of the level the person is within the organization; regardless whether the
person has industry experience or not; and regardless whether the person fits the
traditional profile or not. I will always remember seeing a new leader within our
customer-care organization. I asked my boss where she came from. He said he and
one of our other leaders were out together and saw how she handled a very difficult
customer situation. The next thing I knew, she was working for us, even though she
had no experience in our industry or leading a team of that size. The products we
sold were specialized, so customer care was a value-added, differentiating function
for us. In other words, everyone saw hiring her was a huge risk, but my boss didn’t.
She did an outstanding job. Difference-making leaders also surround themselves with
people smarter than they are. Conversely, I’ve seen second-rate leaders surround
themselves with sycophants: people who ingratiate themselves to the leader, which
causes the leader to be in total control. The quick way to tell if the leader is a
difference-maker or second-rater is to see how many people within the leader’s
organization has gone on to lead other organizations.
In summary, if you want to become a difference-making leader reading has to go from being recreational to professional; saying “No” has to go from being something difficult to do to normal; and looking for talent has to go from being “When there is a job opening” to “When there is a talented person.”
I want to thank all of the difference-making leaders for the difference you are making in the lives of others and for the difference you have made in me.