Must be present to win

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The longer I think about it, practice it and teach it, my philosophy of effective leadership gets simpler and simpler.

A deep commitment to self-awareness, a wholehearted approach to relationships, a lifelong pursuit of learning; these are all hallmarks of great leaders.

And none of that matters if the leader isn’t present in the first place.

Step one: you must show up.

You can’t “phone it in.” You can’t commit in words and not in actions.

This is stupidly obvious and self-evident and, yet, the absent leader – the “leader” in name only – remains a reliable cause of organizational failure.


Why do you lead?

Yesterday, I shared the leadership profile I use with my clients including this essential question: Why do you lead?

If I know why you lead I will be better equipped to follow you. I will know how to follow you. And I want to know how because that will make me – and you – more successful.

Without a personal and compelling response to this question your followers will still follow but only transactionally. And this might be enough for some leaders.

But for those looking to create meaningful impact and sustainable change, transactional followership will never be sufficient.

It’s the heart of your followers that you have to capture and this comes, in part, from a clear and unequivocal statement of why you lead.

One approach you might consider:

In a follow-up to his book Start With Why, Simon Sinek created a workbook called Discover Your Why. I recently used his methodology – personal storytelling that reveals themes of contribution and impact – for the first time with a client.

It worked really well, bringing to the surface an array of values, behaviors, strengths and interactions that made sense to my client as the defining pattern of his life. Discovering that pattern allowed him to name with purpose and clarity the core of his leadership point of view.

Being able to do that means that he can now provide his team access to what matters most to him in a concrete and usable way. And he is further equipped to continue that conversation as circumstances change and new challenges emerge.

“What” and “how” are critical questions to answer well but for deep commitment to a cause worth fighting for, “why” is everything.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.