MMA fighters require a blend of disciplines to become champion in the caged octagon where they fight. However, a champion in any endeavor is likely to tell you they didn’t become a champion in the ring, they were merely recognized in the ring. The “becoming” happened during his or her daily routine. Leaders in business are wise to understand the same principle applies to them.
The challenge for many leaders is carving time out from working in their business and reallocating it to working on it and themselves. To excel in the leadership octagon you should focus on upgrading a handful of both internal and external critical success areas that significantly impact results. In fact, the results you attain in external skill areas are in direct proportion to your success at improving internal areas essential to leadership excellence like discipline, character, personal growth and relational health. In the spirit of the octagon, I’m listing a total of eight key leadership development areas; four internal and four external. Since internal development sets the pace for external growth, I’ll start there:
I. Internal development areas.
1. Personal growth
This is your commitment to continue upgrading your skills through educational reading, listening, seminars and the like. Realizing that you never arrive and continuing to work on yourself is a catalyst for continued and consistent growth. Incidentally, even if you’ve been in the business for decades, personal growth still applies to you. After all simply because you show up doesn’t mean you grow up in the vital skill areas necessary to remain relevant in this business.
Key takeaway: Growth is not automatic. Get better or get beaten; it’s just a matter of time.
Without high level of discipline you’ll never be consistent enough in the success factors critical in leadership to become great in business; nor will you be able to even apply the ideas you develop through personal growth. Discipline means you make yourself do what you know is important even when you don’t feel like doing it, and that you do so without excuse and regardless of the cost.
Key takeaway: Discipline fuels consistency and consistency builds your credibility and culture. The alternative to discipline is disaster.
Strong character includes a wide array of traits essential to leadership excellence: remaining teachable, keeping commitments, honesty in words and deeds, accepting responsibility and more. Without strong and consistent character your chances of earning meaningful buy-in from followers is remote. Leaders that last over the long haul protect their talent with rock solid character; they don’t sell out their values to make a sale, a month or a friend.
Key takeaway: Character flaws normally show up in one’s tendency to take shortcuts; to look for a quick, easy way to succeed without paying a price for it.
4. Relational health
If you don’t take the time to know your people, you’ll never be able to move them very far. It’s the leader’s job to connect with and establish relationships with their people, not the other way around. Building a relationship doesn’t mean you have to become their best friend; it means you learn their strengths, weaknesses and motivational triggers so that you can treat them like the unique individual they are and not like another head in a herd of cattle.
Key takeaway: To excel in the leadership octagon you must overcome the temptation to spend too much time in your office with stuff and fail to invest enough in people-work. Substitute rules for relationships at your own great peril, and be warned that rules without relationships eventually equal rebellion.
II. External development areas
1. Leadership skills
The good news: leadership is developed, not discovered. The bad news: many people in leadership positions over-manage and under-lead. As a result, they don’t fully develop the vital skills necessary to reach their leadership potential.
Key takeaway: Without pledging to personal growth your leadership skills will plateau and you’ll become a lid on the growth of your team. Want more from your team? Then become more as their leader.
2. People skills
Making people feel understood before you try to make them understand you and your expectations is a people-skill that involves the ability to connect with and listen to others. However, to connect with others you must value others more than your own ego or agenda.
Key takeaway: A primary obstacle to developing people skills is today’s tendency to substitute cold technology for warm conversation.
Preparation is a discipline that can and must be developed. The level of your preparation determines the level of your performance. The more time you spend preparing, the less time you’ll spend repairing.
Key takeaway: Preparation earns you the right to be optimistic about results. “Optimism” without preparation is simply wishful thinking.
4. Creating crystal clear clarity
Your culture is largely defined by the clarity of your vision, mission, values and performance standards. Without clarity there can be no accountability, because the question becomes: “accountable for what?”
Key takeaway: As a leader you can afford to be wrong from time to time, but you cannot afford to be unclear. Decide what you stand for or you’ll fall for just about anything.