Leaders: Always Fix Yourself First

“One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.” – Albert Schweitzer

We all fight far greater battles privately, within ourselves, than we ever face in public arenas. When people recognize their shortcomings, most will work their entire lives to change and rise above them in order to become the person they want to be. Indeed, some of history’s greatest leaders – Abraham Lincoln, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr. – have each faced personal challenges such as lacking enthusiasm, doubting their capabilities, using poor judgement, and even feeling bouts of insecurity. The answer to why anyone looking to be a leader must work to remove these debilitating factors may seem obvious. But in fact, the reason has less to do with the leader than with the people they are hoping to lead.

To be truly effective as a leader, your shortcomings must never eclipse those of the people that you are trying to inspire.

Leaders inspire others to reach, to go beyond what they believe they accomplish. To do this, leaders themselves must be armed with a clear mind and strength to lift others. This means having feelings in check that may weaken a leader’s abilities.


Self-improvement – much like being a leader – is an ongoing activity. The truth is you will never be without faults; the question is how well will you be able to monitor, manage and maintain control of these areas for improvement effectively enough to be a strong, dependable leader. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Acknowledge your shortcomings. As the old saying goes, admitting you have a problem is the first step. Write down the issues you have for you to help get clear in your mind what exactly it is that you have to work on. A good exercise to help you understand what these may be is to ask a trusted friend their opinion. Take their feedback to heart, abstain from objecting, and listen with an open mind. If someone is truly trying to help you improve yourself, it is in your best interest to just listen.
  • Set goals, keep records, and celebrate wins. Any process that requires ongoing work over a long period of time is difficult to do without motivation. Leaders looking to have sustainable results can find this motivation by having points of reference and keeping track of personal improvements. Seeing growth in your abilities to overcome personal weaknesses will help you to remain diligent in keeping with the mental or physical activities driving positive change.
  • Figure our a ‘therapy’ that works for you. It is almost impossible to change who you are without also making a change in the way you approach addressing who you are. Find activities – mental or physical – to accomplish this, that work for you personally, and give you the strength to become the person you want to be. For Lincoln, he would write each evening; Gandhi would take daily walks, Mandela would have regular meetings with trusted friends, and King Jr. would pray. In each of these activities, these leaders found incremental improvements in overcoming their own personal challenges. It is, however, important to find the ‘therapy’ that actually works for you. Once you’ve found it, prioritize the activity and make it a part of your regular routine.


  1. What do you do to perpetually address your shortcomings as a leader?
  2. How do you help others reach higher and overcome their own shortcomings?

As always, your answers and other thoughts are welcome in the comments section below.

Bringing Back The Value Of Meetings

“People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.” Clifford Nass, Professor – Stanford University

Imagine you and I are having a conversation – let’s say in your living room – and you’re talking about something that is really important to you. So important, in fact, that you spent several hours preparing to have this talk with me; so crucial for me to hear what you have to say that you’ve asked me to take an hour out of my life and join you in the conversation.

Now imagine – really imagine – that I am reading and sending text messages on my phone the entire time you’re talking; or maybe I’m reading emails from work. How would you feel about that? Would it be rude? Would you be offended? Would you say something? Regardless if you did, I’m sure our relationship wouldn’t be better off for it.

Yet this same behavior has become almost commonplace in today’s business meeting. The larger the group, the more likely it is to happen. The longer the meeting, the more likely it is to happen. Take 20 people and sit them down in a room for 2 hours and each person will, at some point, either check email on their phone or simply open their laptop and start working.

Under the guise of workaholic taskmasters, what the people who do this are really saying is “This really doesn’t matter to me. If it did, I would be paying attention and thinking about how I can add value to the discussion.”

When we dismiss the value of being present, fail to focus on the conversation, stop engaging people in meetings, and pass on the opportunity for discussion, debate, collaboration and consensus building, everyone loses.

I once worked with a CEO who took the reigns at a failing company soon after the CEO was fired. After a few weeks on the job, he started to unashamedly telling people they could leave (meaning “leave”) if they were caught working on their phones or laptops. It took very little time for most of his executive team to get the hint and start using the same practice with their own meetings. Six months later the CEO made it official and sent a memo requiring A) all meetings be laptop free and B) any phone use must be related to the meeting discussion (such as looking up information or emailing relevant questions to non-attendees).

As an outsider who worked closely with the teams during both tenures and saw the changes from a neutral position, I believe five benefits came of this:

  1. People no longer accepted and came to meetings that they didn’t need to attend.
  2. People worked more productively at their desks knowing it was the only time to get work done.
  3. People who did attend meetings felt more respect and better about their relationships with coworkers.
  4. Meetings were more productive; people were engaged, added value to the discussion, and *GASP* decisions were made.
  5. Post-meeting confusion and questions about the meeting’s discussions/takeaways were noticeably reduced.

The truth is we’re not mentally designed to do two non-related, complex tasks at once…at least not well. Clifford Nass, a psychology professor at Stanford University, says today’s nonstop multitasking actually wastes more time than it saves—and he says there’s evidence it may be killing our concentration and creativity too. From the interview, Nass states:

“We have scales that allow us to divide up people into people who multitask all the time and people who rarely do, and the differences are remarkable. People who multitask all the time can’t filter out irrelevancy. They can’t manage a working memory. They’re chronically distracted.”

You can see and listen to his interview on NPR here.

So if you’re looking to take the next step and join the “Focused Revolution”, here are some suggestions for writing up your own team/corporate rules:

  • Rule #1: No laptop, tablet or cell phone usage unless it is related to the meeting (such as viewing a PPT or emailing a meeting-related question to a non-attendee).
  • Rule #2 Emergency situation notifications are to be sent via email, with URGENT in the subject line, and those emails can only be answered after excusing oneself from the meeting.
  • Rule #3 While subject lines can be reviewed, no emails are to be opened and no emails are to be sent unless they are flagged as emergencies or relevant to the meeting.
  • Rule #4 Phones are set to vibrate for both calls and text messages. Voice mail cannot be checked, calls cannot be made, and text messages cannot be checked or answered.
  • Rule #5 Notify attendees if an important call is expected. If it comes in, leave the room without distracting others to take the call.

Whether you employ these rules as a team or as an entire company, once they are in place and being followed, meetings will improve. They will return to being a collaborative, informative and strategic tool for developing ideas, setting teams on paths, and delivering decisions for driving towards business success.

Roadmap for Success in Building Your Personal Brand

You may stand out, but are you stepping up?

One of the most challenging things we can do as Leaders is to inspire and motivate a wide range of personalities. Some would tell you that personal branding of your leadership requires you to have one approach, one style, and to become master of that approach, to be recognized for those values, to use it to lead all people down the path to eternal bliss…

But does it?

Chickens (Leadership Brand) vs. Eggs (Leadership Values)

Is leadership about a unique style, delivery and method…or is it something more? Is it more about the underlying values you place on being a leader? On integrity, courage, trust, wisdom, honestly, communication, genuineness? Are these values – if present in any approach – really the only things that matter? I might argue that they are.

I’ve seen many (far too many) people fail at “leadership” and then place blame elsewhere by stating that their unique leadership approach just doesn’t work for certain personality types. When, in fact, what I perceived the cause of failure to be was a missing value of leadership. Often, for some reason, the missing value is empathy (not sure why…maybe another blog post for that one), but I also find many wannabe leaders who miss on using leadership values such as compassion, honesty, transparency, wisdom and, worst of all, listening.

But let’s assume you have your ducks in line, and that your underlying value system is both strong and contains most of the critical components to be a Leader. What are the steps to putting the frosting and sugar decorations on those value cake layers? How do you build a leadership brand that inspiring, memorable and unique?

Build the Unique You

The most unique thing about you is…well…“You”. The first step here – and it must be the first step – is to get a firm understanding of who you are; where you came from, what gets your juices flowing, and what comes naturally to you. When you’re comfortable, others will become comfortable around you. Forget that you want to be, be who you are naturally. As long as that person inside you isn’t a screaming, selfish jerk, you’re probably in the range of acceptable personalities. The point is to focus on the things that make up who you are – your interests, talents and passions – understand them, appreciate them, and then use them to start building “You” The Leader.

The next step to developing your unique personal brand is to find the one thing that you can use to make “You” stand out. You need to pinpoint what is unique about you — not something that applies only to a few other people, but something that applies only to you. For most of us, this is only going to be one or two specific things. My personal thing is analogies. I love them and use them so frequently that people often jest at my expense if one doesn’t come out of me in a meeting. But that makes me memorable…in a good way. It’s a part of how I deliver my leadership to the masses and it gets noticed (I will save you from my urge to present some clever comparison for you here).

Get Hooked Up to the Network

In addition to the deep, introspective stuff, there are some housekeeping steps to take care of, and these can be done anytime (translated: ASAP). Make sure you have ahold of “you” and own your name everywhere. Start a list and make sure you sign up using your name for every social network and website login you can think of. I even own Hotmail, Yahoo and a dozen other login sites just in case I might need them in the future.

It goes without saying that part of this ownership involves you buying your space on the Internet. Use NetworkSolutions.com or GoDaddy.com or whatever site you like to register “You”.com. If you’re ready to start using some of these sites, have at it and show people who you are. Being a leader means getting yourself out there and practicing being one through communication. Trust me. Trying to be a leader with just you is both strange and pointless. Get Blogging, Tweeting, Liking, Stumbling or whatever you prefer, but get engaged on a variety of social media networks. Hitting Klout.com can be used as a starting point to make sure you’re linking up all the biggest sites out there.

As part of this exercise, you’re also going to want to put pictures up on these sites, tagged with your name so that search results you have image results. If you start getting some level of recognition in these communities, it’s a smart move to utilize the Google Alerts system to monitor your name (and misspellings) so you always know what people are saying about you.

I should point out here that the most important thing about getting out there is to do it in some way that’s valuable – through content, communication or even just encouragement. While I’m sure it would be riveting, don’t post things that are only of trivial interest to you like“25 Things I Found in My Couch Today”. Write with an audience in mind, whether that is a single person or a general group. Ask yourself this before you write, “Why would someone want to read this?” Don’t get me wrong, the topic you write about can be you, but make it relatable to someone you can picture in your mind’s eye. Also, make it relevant in a manner that relates to your brand so others start getting a feel for what you’re about.

Advanced Leadership Branding Efforts

Once you start finding your groove (and you’ll know it when you get there), start taking your efforts to the next level. You’ll start to have more time as you find leading to come more naturally. Here are three steps that I recommend you start thinking about.

Package It! A Brand is more than a pretty face (most of the time), so get a theme going. If you want to “sell” a product – aka Leadership Brand – you’ll need to become a marketer to some degree. One of the first (and easiest steps) is to get some consistency going across all off your sites/assets. Pick color(s), phasing, a motto, a headshot, fonts, and even a particular creative pattern, then use these everywhere. Being consistent in appearance tells the general public “Hey, you’ve seen this before. Yes, it’s me. You’re in the right place.”

Make “You” Tangible! The way you present yourself is critical, but having something tangible, something that goes beyond words in a blog or tweet, is what will set you up above the crowd. These can be done in a number of ways, the easiest is to either publish something or create an event (seminar or even an online chat). Have something that people can talk about and think of you when they think of that thing they are discussing with others. Make people your champion and they will do half the work for you in spreading the value that “You” bring to the table.

Get Up There! Public speaking is something that doesn’t come naturally to most people. This is exactly why getting good at it matters; it sets your brand apart to many people. Here are a few do’s and don’ts to get this part going:

  • DO get comfortable with whatever you would eventually discuss as part of the leader you want to be. If you’re into motivation, learn it like the back of your hand. There is not substitute for being confident in the knowledge you have about a subject.
  • DON’T practice alone in front of a video camera. I assure you, everyone looks stupid doing this. This will only hurt your confidence level. If you do have the opportunity to speak, I DO recommend asking someone to take video of you. But being up in front of a group, you will behave in a natural manner vs. critiquing how you look giving a speech to your cat.
  • DO get in touch with Toastmasters (toastmasters.com). These folks are great for helping with taking your public speaking skills to the next level. My experience has been that they will let you attend a couple sessions free of dues just to learn about it.
  • DO volunteer to speak whenever you get the chance. Even if you’re in a meeting and someone asks how everyone’s weekend was, share something. Getting comfortable looking people in the eye, having all eyes on you, and hearing the sound of just your voice resonate in a quiet room can never be done enough to prepare you for presenting or teaching in front of a crowd.

A Final Note…

As with any endeavor, there are always going to be those who will find some pleasure in questioning you. Don’t let it distract you. You own this process. This is one time when something can be all about you and have it be a good thing. Advise is great – heck, I’m giving you some here – but in the end, you have to decide for yourself what you like & don’t like, what you want to be or not be, and the way you want your leadership brand to be presented out there in the world.


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