Leadership beyond the C suite

By Dan Wyant

Too often leadership is viewed as belonging exclusively to those at the top. Wrong. Leadership applies to everyone, regardless of where they reside on an org chart or what type of organization they belong to — be it the private sector, government or nonprofit world. Everyone has the ability to lead.

To put this in practice, here are my top 10 suggestions, ranked from 10 to 1 to reflect increasingly higher forms of leadership: 

10. The world is run by those who show up. Leaders are fully present, consistently putting in the effort that’s necessary to achieve their goals. It’s like training for a marathon; you prep each day to get ready. Some quick examples:

  • When asked the secret to winning 100 consecutive games, Geno Auriemma, coach of the UConn Huskies women’s basketball team, had just five words: “We take no days off.”
  • In the book “Younger Next Year,” authors Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge outline guidelines for defying the aging process and living better, which include exercising six days a week — no excuses.
  • Former U.S. Navy admiral William McRaven made a commencement speech at the University of Texas, where he outlined life lessons from SEAL training. One that hit home with me was how little things matter. If you want to change the world, McRaven says, start by making your bed every day.

Bottom-line, there are no short-cuts, no silver bullets. Leadership begins by showing up.

9. Relentless, positive action. This is Gov. Rick Snyder’s mantra, and it’s a great way to approach life. It’s about not giving up, not blaming other people, and not trying to seek credit. Instead, you maintain a positive attitude and focus on getting things done.

For many people, responsibility means being accountable, but I interpret it differently. To me, it’s about the ability to respond and deal with whatever life throws at you while remaining upbeat. Optimism is always better than pessimism. In fact, responding negatively isn’t really an option. If you indulge in whining, hand-wringing and complaining, you’ll not only bring yourself down, but everyone around you. In contrast, moving forward with a positive attitude gives you power and the ability to inspire others.

Life is not fair, people will not always treat you right, and you will fail at times. Yet it’s how you react that makes the difference. The power to respond positively lies solely within you.

8. Do what you say you’re going to do. Integrity is the essence of leadership. If you don’t walk the talk, if people can’t trust who and what you are, then you can’t lead. It’s just that simple. And integrity starts with the small stuff, such as not telling white lies or agreeing to do something you know you can’t take on. Granted, it’s easy overcommit and say “yes” when someone asks a favor, but you need to recognize when your plate is too full and have the courage to say “no.” People may not like being turned down, but they’ll respect you for playing it straight. Like a broken glass, when trust is shattered, it’s hard to put back together.

7. Pursue diverse partnerships and respect everyone. Actively seeking diverse collaborations is how effective leaders get things done and achieve better results. For starters, having people with diverse backgrounds, thoughts and opinions at the table gives you a better, broader perspective. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you do have to respect each other and recognize there is more than one right answer. Respect is what enables you to overcome conflict and develop trusted relationships, which are necessary to accomplish big, hairy audacious goals.

6. Model desired behavior. Just as parents try to model the kind of behavior they want from their children, the actions and attitudes you exhibit in the workplace will help shape corporate culture. Regardless of what you ask from others — whether it’s showing up on time, being fully present in meetings, or treating colleagues with consideration — you need to act accordingly. What’s more, when times are tough, you need to step it up and be at your very best.

5. Lead through listening. Most people don’t listen with the intent to understand, but rather to reply. This is a big problem today in a time where we come from different backgrounds and philosophical opinions. We all think we are right. We all want to be the expert in the room. So when we have conversations, our knee-jerk reaction is to try to convince people, to argue with them, to win them over to our side.

Yet real leaders have ability to listen first — to seek input and try to understand the other person before they try to be understood. Steven Covey devotes an entire chapter to this in his “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.” Listening to understand is a way to find common ground in difficult situations. You don’t have to agree with someone but you do have to hear their point-of-view and consider it in order to have a relationship or resolve conflict.

4. Be bold — and stay the course. This isn’t about being foolhardy, but rather about stepping out of your comfort zone, taking calculated risks and not regretting that you didn’t try. Many people spend their entire lives under someone else’s directive. That’s OK, but at some point later in life you may regret not achieving your own dreams because you were too busy supporting someone else’s.

Ed Lowe, our founder, is a great example of bold leadership. He tried a lot of things that weren’t always successful, but the important thing was that he learned from setbacks. Being persistent and picking yourself up after a failure is a big part of being a leader. You may have naysayers, you may get bored, but what’s important is that you keep plugging away.

3. Enable others to act. Effective leaders delegate and trust their team. You strengthen others by sharing power and discretion. If you want to accomplish big things, you must develop collaborative goals and have shared decisions. You can’t do everything by yourself.

2. Do the right thing. This is my wife’s mantra, and it’s pretty straightforward: Don’t cheat, don’t lie, don’t treat people badly. Don’t be biased. Don’t push the easy button. Some of these things may be tempting, but this is about having solid ethics. In the long term, this saves a lot of time and trouble because you aren’t second-guessing yourself, stressing out or feeling guilt ridden — and you’ll sleep a lot better.

1. It’s NOT about you. This is one of the toughest things to do. It’s human nature to be self-centered, but if you devote time and energy to helping and mentoring others, then you’re practicing a fundamentally higher level of leadership. It’s about a broader purpose in life, what we’re all trying to achieve. Granted, I’m not there yet, but I’m working at it. 

So my challenge to you is this: Be a leader — regardless of where you sit in your organization. Admittedly, there are a lot of things you can’t control, but there’s also a lot you can control. Not only do you have the ability to influence others, but I argue that you have an obligation to lead. It takes effort, but there are some great side benefits: You’ll be more engaged with work, your quality of life will be better, and you’ll make a real difference in people’s lives.

Copyright © 2017 by Edward Lowe Foundation


Dan Wyant
President and Chief Operating Officer
 |  
“To me, leadership is about building a team, trying to get the best out of others, and helping them be successful,” says Dan Wyant, president and chief operating officer of the Edward Lowe Foundation. “If done right, the impact should be lasting.” In this series of articles, Wyant shares insights about leadership gleaned from more than three decades of managing entrepreneurial and conservation organizations in the private, public and nonprofit sectors. To send Dan comments,   click here.
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