4 keys to leadership success

I just had the pleasure of speaking to two groups back to back on leadership, branding and communication–my favorite topics as a lifelong learner.

(Yes, I’m retired and committed to taking a year off. But these are fun engagements that do not count as work, contrary to what my husband Randy says.)

Here are four highlights from my messages this week to the multicultural leadership class at Hodges University and to the N.A.P.L.E.S entrepreneurs (motto: “work smart, not hard”):

1. Learn the rules of the game

Have you ever walked into a situation where you feel bewildered, like you’re the only one who doesn’t know what’s going on?

In every setting there are interpersonal dynamics, subtle and overt games of power, politics and perceptions. What kind of interactions are taking place about what? Who is engaging with whom, when and how? Where do you fit on the team? Or are you on the team at all?

Next time you’re in a group, put on your laboratory coat and study the chess pieces before you.

You can’t win if you don’t know the game, let alone the rules.

Now you may say, I don’t want to play; I don’t like to play games.

The ultimate objective of advancement is to make a bigger difference. If that’s your goal, you’ll need to play, and play to win.

2. Know and brand yourself

Self-awareness is the most powerful catalyst to success. What is unique about you that is measurable? What remarkable, relevant benefits do you offer?

Understanding your strengths and core brand yourselfvalues will allow you to distinguish yourself in a marketplace of talent.

I love Strengthfinders, which was first published as “Now, Discover Your Strengths.” It highlights the enduring talents that make each of us not only unique but extraordinary. There are the naturally recurring thought processes that are ingrained in us from childhood.

My top five talents are achiever, command, arranger, input and learner. Even as a kid, I was the leader, the natural organizer. I collect information, synthesize it, connect it and put it into action. I would be a complete disaster an assembly-line career–which explains why I lasted just one day folding blueprints as a summer job.

Once you know yourself, it’s vital that you develop a strategic plan to market yourself as a brand, just like Starbucks or Mercedes.

A brand is a promise that connects emotionally. Ask yourself, how well do you connect with your key stakeholders? Is your social media persona consistent with your brand attributes? Is there a gap between how you’re perceived vs. how you want to be perceived? If so, what must you do to slowly change those perceptions over time?

What you’re striving for is to become a stand-out brand that fulfills your destiny.

3. Hone your communication impact

I’m a huge proponent of over-communicating. Effectively.

There are four components of communication to work on: speaking, listening, non-verbal and thinking–which is the most important but tends to be least thought of.

Before you begin your communication, consider these questions:

  • Who is your audience?
  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • What are key messages?
  • What will sell your audience?
  • What are assumptions you should challenge?

When it comes to non-verbals, which represents 50% plus of what your audience will “hear,” here are my basics for your body language and tone:

  • Confident
  • Inviting
  • Energetic
  • Aligned with your message
  • Attuned to your audience

As with branding, your focus is on your audience. Get that right and the rest will follow.

4. Develop an innovative environment

In this fast-changing landscape, one cannot relied on what worked in the past. There are no standard trends or familiar routines that can be readily overlay onto this new world.

More than ever, innovation will define success.

As a leader, our job is to establish an environment that unleashes the best in our folks, that encourages, enables and rewards creativity. When you take new ideas and execute them, you get innovation.

Among the best ingredients to facilitate innovation:

  • Seeing with the eyes of a child or an alien
  • Pulling together unusual suspects
  • Combining diverse, disparate ideas

Diversity is innovation, says Frans Johansson, author of The Medici Effect. His book describes how the intersection of diverse concepts, cultures and disciplines bought together by the Medici family sparked the Renaissance in Florence. Just imagine the networking parties among Michelangelo, Leonardo, Donatello, Galileo and Brunelleschi. termite mound

One of my favorite examples from his book is about termites. Despite the vast range of  temperatures in the desert, they have to keep their mounds at 87 degrees in order to grow the fungus that breaks down the plant matter they eat. They achieve this by a clever series of tunnels and vents they continually adjust to guide and store cool air.

Pretty cool. But so what?

So Old Mutual challenged architect Mick Pearce to build an office in Zimbabwe, without air conditioning.

He used the termite principles, with the help of fans, to construct the Eastgate office complex, which opened in 1996 at one-tenth of the cost of comparable sites. That in turn inspired the Portcullis building in London, which opened in 2001 for members of Parliament.

Diversity. Creativity. Innovation. Ideas into action.

Now, put it all together: 4 keys to leadership success

  1. Learn the rules of the game
  2. Know and brand yourself
  3. Hone your communication impact
  4. Develop an innovative environment

Mei-Mei is available for presentations, strategic planning and coaching. Check out her website or contact her at meimeikirk@gmail.com


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