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How Elite Leaders Win

woman business leaderHave you ever noticed when you buy a new car you suddenly start seeing it everywhere on the road – even if it’s not a popular model? Well, it’s happening to me, only not in relation to cars.

Earlier this year, I published a blog about the characteristics that define elite leaders. Since then, it seems like everywhere I go I’m noticing leaders who truly stand out from the crowd. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, since we find them in every field from athletes and architects to musicians, military, performing arts and more. But for whatever reason, I feel drawn to them, perhaps because they teach us so much about winning. (And, really, is anyone out there attracted to losers?)

To briefly recount some key points from the previous blog, elite leaders:

  • Pause – long enough to actually think before making decisions and taking action (unless there truly is an emergency or crisis that requires instant action).
  • Reflect – constantly examine their decision-making processes and update their thinking to stay on top of their game.
  • Expand – actively seek the wisdom and advice of others, especially those with different backgrounds and points of view.
  • Explore – talk about possibilities rather than potholes, asking “why” rather than “why not” questions.
  • Self-correct – promptly acknowledge their mistakes, adjust, and refocus on winning.
  • Practice – constantly work to hone their craft and get better at what they do and what they want to do.

Elite leaders also have a learning orientation. They’re curious, open and interested in exploring the new and the different, even when it challenges the prevailing wisdom.  In fact, they often go out of their way to challenge conventional wisdom. Partly to satisfy their innate curiosity, but also because they’re constantly looking at what could be instead of what is. Moreover, they can put this learning orientation ahead of their ego and the need to be right. Rather than wasting time digging in and defending their position, they can put their judgment on hold and listen with an open mind to what others have to say.

Elite leaders take great satisfaction in developing others. Think about American Idol versus The Voice – two highly popular television shows where contestants put their singing talents on the line. One show demeans and makes fun of people, whereas the other encourages and supports those who dare to get up on stage. One sets people up to succeed; the other catches people doing it poorly and lays into them for not doing it right. In your organization, which approach do you think might work better in getting employees to help you win?

Moreover, elite leaders don’t just practice, as mentioned above. They practice getting it right. Ask a winner in any field and they’ll tell you that winning is a habit that requires constant practice. Rather than succumbing to the constant and ongoing pressure to just run, elite leaders identify the tasks and activities that contribute most to their definition of winning, and then purposefully practice them until they become habits.

I can already hear what you’re saying: who has time to practice? We’re running as fast as we can just to get the product out the door!

Granted, it can be very difficult in today’s hyper-paced world to carve out time to practice. That’s why so many of us just get up in the morning and start running without thinking about where we’re going. Elite leaders are no less busy than the rest of us. The difference is they find ways to build practice time into their schedules, and don’t let interruptions derail them.  They make sure every time they do something, they pause long enough to do it well, versus just do.

Elite leaders also have a knack for leveraging the success of others in a positive way. More than just strategic/visionary thinkers, they look around to see what works or might work in their world and consider ways to incorporate that into their organizations. They constantly consider how new ideas and new ways of working can be applied towards success in what their organizations do.

Finally, elite leaders don’t let themselves get caught in analysis paralysis. They understand that it’s okay to make decisions without having all the information. They know that today’s strategic plans aren’t set in stone. And they know they can adjust if necessary.  In fact, they proactively build regular review and adjustment periods into their plans, usually once a quarter at minimum.

Leaders set the tone for everything that happens in their organizations. What tone are you setting, and is it the one you want?


Call to action: Pick one thing elite leaders do and make it a habit of your own.

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