How Great Business Leaders Get Their Spark?

How do top leaders find the magic in what they do with amazing inspiration and creative genius that create that special spark?

During my eleven years as a business coach and consultant I’ve interviewed many accomplished business leaders and identified seven rituals that the top leaders practice in their journey to self-discovery and transformation:

1. They Practice Strong Self-Awareness

They often start their businesses and make decisions about their businesses with significant self-knowledge, stemming from instinct or introspection. Their understanding of their own likes, dislikes, strengths and weaknesses are particularly insightful. They’ve gained independence from their initial pre-conceptions about life and business, ideas that may have been instilled by their parents, teachers or early childhood experiences. Rather than relying automatically on advice and direction from others, they make sure that there is a strong fit between them, their individual tastes and their chosen business. In many occasions, I’ve sensed that some top leaders have sensory acuity; an acute sensitivity that allows them to determine if they are on track or off track and to use their flexibility to adjust their course along their journey.

2. They Gravitate Toward Strengths and Rise From Weaknesses

The top leaders are able to put their egos aside and see themselves clearly enough to know what they are good at and leveraging their strengths whilst rising above their weaknesses. They aren’t afraid to develop staggering capabilities to gain a competitive advantage and out think their competition. They know that the essence of life is to be, do and have.

3. They Radiate Authenticity and Integrity

They understand that authenticity is alignment between their underlying character and their statements and actions. To them, integrity is the consistency of their words and deeds, from one day to another and across different situations. They realize that they must be in touch with themselves, and they must be themselves, because if they’re not, it will be immediately obvious to everyone around them.

4. They Are Levelheaded Decision Makers

Some of them make very rapid leadership decisions; others take much longer to navigate a key crossroads. But many rely on gut instinct – on trusting themselves and not getting overly bogged down in analyzing the pros and cons of every possible contingency. This instinct rests on strong self-knowledge.

5. They Pay Their Dues First, Conquer the World Later

When they started their entrepreneurial journeys, their egos were inflated by mystical confidence and grandiose visions. They started their ventures with detailed maps to the top. They thought about paying their dues and perhaps starting to save; they were laying the foundations of their lives, with complete knowledge of how the final blueprint would look. Many had nursed quiet but intense hopes, clear glimmers of ambition and passion as they took their business to the next level. Idleness was not an option; especially if their families weren’t affluent enough for them to spend time deciding what they wanted to be when they grew up.

6. They Cope With Insecurities and Use Them for Motivation

The top leaders do not sail through work and life without doubts. Many share stories of early uncertainties; anxieties before big decisions were made. Leaders do have their periods of doubt and insecurity but they get past them. They use their insecurities and limitations as extra motivation to spur them to action and inspire others around them.

7. They Stay in the Present

Top leaders gain the confidence to raise their sights by staying in the present moment which in turn becomes their true identity. Even with the pressures of day-to-day responsibilities and challenges top leaders don’t abandon their dreams and hopes, and thus avoid the traps of recalling past unpleasant experiences or worrying about the future. In business and in their private life, they often spot opportunities or create them for themselves and others because they are present and ready when these opportunities come.

They start every venture with the belief that they could achieve anything. What mark them for success is their ability to rise above all challenges with amazing confidence, which in turn fosters their ambition and passion.

Across the majority of my interactions with top leaders, the basic pattern was the same: They achieve small successes in local settings, then they use the knowledge, contacts and confidence from those experiences to replicate successes on a broader scale. It’s quite encouraging and extremely satisfying that, even as we speak, I still experience and witness a wonderful spark from most of the business leaders I get in touch with during the course of our daily business. Their mantra is to inspire in everything they do. They equip themselves with all the tools and skills necessary to live an inspired and inspiring life. By starting with a spark, they ignite their flame and become a true torch that changes and inspires their world.

Have Americans Lost Faith in Business Leaders?

In a June, 2013 Gallup Poll (Confidence in Institutions), only 9% professed a great deal of confidence in big business, while 13% indicated quite a lot of confidence. In the same poll, 31% expressed very little confidence in big business. Ten years ago the value was the same at 31%. Twenty years ago, 28%; thirty years ago, 26%.

The values for small business were far better by roughly three times in a great deal and quite a lot categories, at 29% and 36% respectively. Only the military polled higher than small business. Americans trust small-business owners in the creation of jobs more than any other entity.

Though the results over thirty years don’t indicate a dramatic shift in the public’s lack of confidence in big business, there is clearly room for improvement. What drives this lack of confidence? What are the sources? Is it the seemingly endless number of highly publicized corporate scandals and criminality? Is it executive compensation? Outsourcing to foreign countries? Mass layoffs? Cutting of or reducing employee benefits? Greed as a primary operating principle?

It is all of the above, and probably more. At the heart of the matter, in my opinion, is executive leadership. Because of the relatively easy access to owners of small businesses, they are known by the public in ways that leaders of big businesses are not. Hence, small business owners are more likely to be accessible, accountable, and admired by the members of their communities when they conduct their activities with integrity and responsibility. If they act otherwise, they’re finished and they darn well know it.

Leaders of large businesses may not be well known to their own employees, much less the general public. They are mostly seen in newspaper or online articles when commenting on quarterly results or gaining millions in stock options or announcing a domestic plant closure or an overseas plant opening. Is it any surprise, then, that the public expresses low levels of confidence in business executives they know very little about, and who they assume know and care very little about them?

Then again, the general public knows little about the military leaders who are entrusted with the nation’s defense, yet they indicate very high levels of trust in those leaders. Why the difference? Why is one group trusted and the other, not so much?

Military leaders are seen as having the public’s well-being at the heart of what they do. They are generally regarded as unselfish, committed to a life of service where the demands are great and the sacrifices are many. Great military leaders are seen as ambitious, sure, but never at the expense of their troops. The American military has long served this nation honorably and skillfully, and its tradition of sacrificial service has earned a place of special trust with the citizenry.

Business leaders should consider this difference carefully. No, business isn’t the same as military service. But great leaders are great wherever they are, in whatever capacity they serve in. And in all fairness, big business has also unquestionably served this nation well, in peace and war.

So, have Americans lost faith in business leaders? I think not. But public confidence isn’t improving, which reflects the need for business leaders to think anew how they are perceived by the public, and how that perception can be upgraded. The business leaders in the forefront on this in an honest, ethical, and assertive way will be noticed. And appreciated for it.

7 Top Reasons Business Leaders Need to Write Business Memoirs

You might take the experiences of your business life for granted and not recognize the value of what you’ve been through. But here are seven reasons why it is important that business leaders take time to share their stories in writing or other ways.

Reason 1: You are a Part of History

Business leaders become a part of history by influencing their own part of society and the economy. You have lived through your own dynamic era in history and have a unique perspective on how the economy affects businesses in general and how society has changed for the business world over time. History is a story told from the perspective of a writer. Pick an event in your business history and write about your perspective on the event.

Reason 2: Business Leaders are a Demographic Group

You have a lot of colleagues who could relate to your story. Business leaders have a worldview that comes from getting up everyday thinking about how to influence the life of customers either directly or indirectly. You influence the world through the use of technology and belong to a group that takes risks others don’t. Write about what has inspired you to keep going everyday.

Reason 3: A Unique Cultural Understanding

Business leaders come in all demographic categories, and ethnic and cultural groups. If you are a Baby Boomer, you belong to the most diverse age category alive. Being a part of this rich diversity means having unique insights on cultural and ethnic history, traditions, and events. Boomers lived through the dynamics of changing the national policies towards segregation and integration. People were learning to live together for the first time during your lifetime. What was it like to be the first woman, person of your ethnicity or cultural group in your business or company? How was it for you to encounter a person of a different background for the first time?

Reason 4: Business Leaders Grow Wiser Instead of Older

Business leaders do age, but aging brings about wisdom. Many events you have encountered are experiences others would benefit by knowing. How did you get through the latest economic downturn? What did you do to change your business when the going got rough? You have more wisdom than you probably even realize and until you put it in writing others won’t realize it either.

Reason 5: You Live Life-Long Learning

To grow a successful business you have to continue to learn. The idea of life-long learning probably never crossed your mind because learning is just something you do on a regular basis. List lessons you have learned by operating a business over the years. Talk about the lessons of raising a family while growing a company. Tell how you got through conflicts in the marketplace. Talk about starting the company with little to no money. People need the insights of leaders who have made a difference in the world. You are in that category.

Reason 6: Your Stories Are Unsurpassed

There’s nothing like a good story to catch the attention of others; and business leaders have a lot of stories to tell. Your stories are the legacy you have to share and leave with the world. Record a documentary of your business from start to finish. The breadth of your experiences gives you unlimited amounts of materials to choose from in order to write stories of how your business functioned over the years, what people did in the workplace, and interactions you encountered over time..

Reason 7: You Created What Others Only Imagine

Thousands of people each day are studying concepts of organizational behavior and change management. Many want to know how to work with teams. With your personal experiences these are topics you can write about with ease and give the practical side of the story. It’s necessary to know the theory but hearing how to live out the steps is equally or even more valuable. You have created ideas that others only imagine. Tell that story and inspire the creativity of others.

Writing business memoirs will never grow old. You could start today thinking of your business history and end up with a list of wonderful remembrances that help business owners stay inspired.

Leading From the Front – Where a Business Leader Should Be in Tough Times

The business environment post-financial crisis is a war and business managers who adopt the approach of the ancient warrior leaders will be the most likely to prevail. It’s a real battle for survival out there. They don’t actually kill anyone anymore, but apart from that, everything else is the same.

Centuries ago, a leader’s place was up-front – leading the way into battle astride their horse or in the front chariot. We can all imagine Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan or William Wallace inspiring their warriors to victory against all odds. Then, leadership changed and the Generals started commanding from the back where they could be better analysts and strategists (and they were, of course, less likely to be killed!).

In business, we have adopted the ‘managing from the back’ model. Look at where the manager’s office is in most buildings – in the spot that’s furthest from the customers. We even call staff at the opposite end of the business hierarchy ‘front-line staff’. In these times of crisis, leaders need to adopt more of the old ‘leading from the front’ model. Both your customers and your staff need confidence from you – your customers to stay loyal and your staff to stay fully engaged. McDonald’s recognised this many years ago when they launched their very successful ‘Back to the Front Day’ (where senior managers spent a day at the counter serving customers). The only question: is once a year enough?

When was the last time you left your office and visited some clients? What stops most managers is they don’t believe they’re good at it – or, at least, they don’t believe they are better than their sales rep, so why do it? They are missing the point. Just the fact that you took the time to go and see them will build loyalty. Also, there are techniques that leaders can use to allow them to perform this more up-front role with confidence. And the leaders who do that will earn greater respect from their staff – particularly their sales staff.

Now is the time when you should have your client loyalty at it’s highest level – before they get the tempting offer from your competitor; not after, when the best you can hope for is an opportunity to make a counter-offer.

The battleground in the business war is the sales market, and salespeople are doing it tough: they are losing long-term clients, experiencing extra delays, encountering unmatchable pricing as competitors go down or try to buy market-share. And this is why leaders need to be better sales people – so they can offer the empathy, support and suggestions that struggling sales staff need from their leader. Even the best sales staff will need help to get a deal over the line in this environment. They need a leader who is sales-focused; otherwise they will get frustrated and look for a place where they are understood. And you want the best sales staff working for you…not your competition.

Difficult times demand change. Often, this will be for the good; but any change is disruptive to staff and threatening to those feeling insecure. This will create a negative attitude towards the change which will compromise its effectiveness. And in a crisis, you need your initiatives to work!

This is another area where a leader needs to be a salesperson – to sell the change. Your task is to sell them a future with you that is better than now…and you’ll never instil that confidence in them unless you can demonstrate it yourself. In wars in the past, the generals at the back most often used their weapons not to threaten the enemy, but to threaten their own (deserting) troops. Now – what does that tell you?

In these times, images of CEOs and CFOs being hauled off to prison are commonplace. Customers’ trust in the senior management of the businesses they deal with has been challenged for the first time and it must be re-established. Smart leaders need to be more visible, personally demonstrating and articulating the organisation’s values. A lot of business leaders have lost the ability because they have left it to subordinates or outsiders (for example public relations professionals) to perform; but in these times they need to reclaim that role.

Smart business leaders will see this as an opportunity to reposition themselves with their staff and clientele so that when the recovery really occurs they are best positioned to reap the rewards.