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Top Ten Leadership Lessons

As the year comes to an end, I am especially grateful for the privilege to work with extraordinary leaders and their teams, serving as a confidante and thinking partner to help them achieve what’s most important.

The common thread is their openness to new ideas and ways of thinking as well as their commitment to growing their business, themselves and others.

They’re thinking bigger as they jump into the New Year. I hope you are too.


Below is a Top 10 List of Leadership Lessons based on my work with these leaders over this year.


Top 10 Leadership Lessons


1. Questions inspire change.

One determined executive is challenging and changing the status quo in her organization and the broader business community. She understands the importance of asking good questions to uncover what people really care about first. I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Margaret Wheatley: “Real change begins with the simple act of people talking about what they care about most.”  As a leader, you can’t force change, but you can inspire change. Think about the questions you’re asking.


2. Change fosters growth.

There are some executives who have made radical changes by taking on a new role within their own organization.  A couple of executives left their organizations to transition to new senior management roles in other companies.  I’ve observed their personal and leadership growth over the years. They have created new opportunities to grow themselves and make a bigger impact. Approach change as an opportunity.


3. Dysfunction is everywhere.

Some leaders are relieved to know that they are not the only ones experiencing dysfunction at work. Dysfunction exists in different forms in teams, partnerships and organizations. The best leaders are always working to improve conditions and performance. Don’t be distracted by dysfunction. Seek constant improvement.


4. Adversity builds strength.

Some clients have had a personal battle with cancer and other illnesses that, to anyone else, would appear devastating. They have emerged stronger with a clearer sense of business priorities and personal mission. Their conviction to make a difference in and through their business is even stronger. Whatever difficulties you face will make you a better leader.


5. Surprise sharpens focus.

No one likes being blindsided. When leaders are blindsided, they’re forced to look at areas of their business or people in their business that need attention. When a top performer leaves unexpectedly, when a competitor comes out of nowhere and takes a chunk of your business, when you discover money flowing out of the business into the wrong pockets, you’re forced to see what went wrong and what can be done to prevent the problem in the future.

6. Fit matters. 


Some of the most talented leaders I’ve worked with have been extremely frustrated when they find themselves in a corporate culture that doesn’t fit them.  You may have outgrown your environment, or simply landed in a toxic environment that doesn’t suit you. You can be the most talented leader, but jeopardize results and/or your career if you’re swimming in the wrong pond. The most courageous people will make their leap into different waters that allow them to thrive. You must know when it’s time to jump.

7. Name the elephant. 

Inevitably, as a leader, you will be in situations that require you to talk about sensitive or difficult issues. Clients who “name the elephant in the room” have seen better results because they’re not dancing around issues. They’re moving through them with their teams even when the issues are uncomfortable to discuss. Name and claim your elephant.


8. Guard your time. 

A common complaint I’ve heard from executives is not being able to get things done. The higher your leadership level within an organization, the more important it is to carve out “thinking time,” not just “doing time.” Understand the value of your time and spend it wisely. “Time management systems” aren’t necessarily the solution. It starts with knowing what’s most important. Say “no” more frequently. Focus your time and attention deliberately on top priorities.


9. Trust your team.

Even the most “hands-on” leaders have learned to let go, or at least transfer ownership of some responsibilities to team members. Your team members want to grow. They want to be trusted to assume greater responsibility over time. Give them the chance. You’ll free yourself up to take on more important responsibilities and achieve better team performance.


10. Find the funny.

Despite some of the most difficult problems, there is usually humor to be found somewhere. Leaders who maintain a good sense of humor engage their team differently, and just make work more enjoyable. They’re able to laugh at themselves. As one CEO said, “I’m out of my comfort zone when I roll out of bed and my feet hit the floor!”


If you are a client, thank you for the opportunity to be of service. You may have recognized yourself in some of the lessons shared.


If you are not a client, perhaps we’ll have the chance to work together in the New Year.

Let me know when or how I can be of help.


Whether you’re a client, follower or friend, I encourage you to create your own top 10 list of lessons learned. 

You can also do this as an exercise with your team as you start the New Year.

You’ll hit the ground running with greater clarity and focus.

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