Gian = Leadership: Timeless Advice on Competitive Advantage

The Art of War

In his book, The Art of War for Executives, author Donald G. Krause provides interpretations of author Sun Tzu’s writings from The Art of War to help business leaders use the material in everyday business situations.

His interpretations incorporate philosophies from modern business leaders such as Peter Drucker and Warren Bennis, as well as military strategists such as George Patton and J.F.C. Fuller.

Sun Tzu said: “We estimate using five principles and calculate our strategies. Then, we judge our course of action.”

Gian = Leadership

Of the five principles…the fourth is called Gian (or leadership).

This principle—Gian—is the basis for this article. I have sifted through Krause’s modern interpretation and compiled three focus areas with timeless points of wisdom that can and should be applied by leaders in every business to gain and sustain a competitive advantage.

These points are:

  • Information
  • Perceptions and Your Target Market
  • Competitive Strategy

On Information

“Foreknowledge cannot be gotten from ghosts and spirits, cannot be had by analogy, cannot be found out by calculation. It must be obtained from people, people who know the conditions of the enemy.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

  • Timely, accurate information is the lifeblood of successful competition.
  • Information means getting facts—timely, accurate facts—about the reality of conditions and circumstances in the competitive situation. Nothing in competition is more important than getting facts.
  • Facts clarify the situation. Alternatives are based on the facts. Appropriateness is based on evaluation of alternatives. And action is based on appropriateness.
  • Information also means giving out perceptions. Perceptions are facts and fiction that move your competitors and constituents where you want them.
  • When an executive fails in competitive operations, it is due to overdependence on internal knowledge or folk wisdom. Folk wisdom is that body of unchallenged assumptions which everyone thinks to be true. Folk wisdom exists in every organization. The value of information offered by people who do not know constituents personally is almost zero, particularly in times of rapid change. Decisions made far from the constituents impoverish the executive.
  • The wise executive harvests timely information from his constituents and his competitors. One new product idea generated from discussion with a real client is worth any number of ideas generated by consultants or [internal] staff.
  • Learn more about the people who use your products. Get better information. Create new products and services that fill previously unrecognized needs. Move quickly before your competitor finds out.

On Perception and Your Target Markets

“Whether in an advantageous position or a disadvantageous one, the opposite state should be always present to your mind.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

  • Keep your good name and your superior reputation before those who determine your future. Keep the quality and value of your products/[services] in the minds of your clients. Keep your clients’ needs uppermost in your mind.
  • In circumstances where your competitor is strong, develop innovative products and services. Look for indications of constituent dissatisfaction. Move quickly to meet needs. Where you competitor is weak, emphasize the advantages of your products. Look for better ways to serve.
  • Wear out your competition with unrelenting attention to the needs of your constituents.
  • If you have twice as many clients, make sure you understand why they are choosing your product and why they might choose your competitors’. Talk with your constituents. Talk with your competitors’ constituents. Redefine and differentiate yourself. How are you different? How are you superior?
  • Seek to divide the constituent group into smaller, more profitable niches which you can dominate. Further, seek new constituents for existing services. What additional services can you provide? Can you meet needs outside your currently defined constituency? Look at yourself through new eyes.

On Competitive Strategy

“Ponder and deliberate before you make a move.” ~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

  • An executive must create plans for competitive actions which allow him/her to leverage his/her particular strengths within his/her organization in the marketplace. By competitive actions, I mean actions that bring an individual or an organization into conflict with other individuals or organizations. Leveraging your strengths gives you a competitive advantage.
  • All competitive advantage is based on effective execution of plans. Poor execution ruins superior plans. Superior execution saves mediocre plans. Further, superior execution can make more effective use of innovation and information. Surprise your competitors with your willingness and ability to adapt and change.
  • Constantly seek new approaches and methods, seek new market segments and different clients. Even with successful products look for new uses among old clients and new clients among those not considered before.
  • Confuse your competitors with constant innovation and superior service. Innovation is the one weapon which cannot be defended against.
  • The ideal strategy is to make competitors’ products or services obsolete through innovation.
  • Your aim is to take over a group of constituents intact by appearing superior in their minds. Thus your resources will be preserved and your profit will be greater. This is the art of effective competitive strategy.
  • The ability to triumph is a matter of positioning. Wait for the opportunity created by others. Execute effective strategies at the appropriate time.

Do you feel there are any important pieces of wisdom missing from the lists above as they relate to obtaining information, perceptions and target markets, or competitive strategy that are vital to business success? Do you disagree with any of the points above? I would like to hear your perspectives.

Note: I have changed Krause’s use of the word “customer” to “client” to stick with my viewpoint that all buyers should be considered “clients” with whom you want to build and maintain a relationship, rather than “customers” with a transactional focus.


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What’s Your Personal Leadership Anchor?

Leadership Anchors

Leadership anchors are your “rules of engagement” that govern your leadership style.

This thought comes from Liz Cornish, author of Hit the Ground Running: A Woman’s Guide to Success for the First 100 Days on the Job.

Defining Your Anchor

For some, anchors are a personal vision, a set of personal values and guiding principles that govern daily interaction, says Cornish. For others, it is an explicit set of behaviors. She also suggests that defining and communicating your own leadership anchor(s) inspires confidence and allows your stakeholders to envision what their world is going to be like under your leadership.

I suggest that you self-reflect on your leadership experience, brainstorm the values and principles that guide your own leadership style, and narrow it down to a single anchor which defines and guides you as a leader.

I believe that having a single leadership anchor is more effective because it forces you to define yourself with one simple statement and, such as with any brand, it serves as a capsule or tagline for your personal leadership brand.

Establishing Your Anchor

The central principle that I established for myself several years ago and which continues to serve as my non-negotiable leadership anchor is:

“If you go on doing what you’ve always done, you’ll go on getting what you’ve always got.” ~Warren Bennis

In order to achieve continual growth as a leader and personally, my anchor reminds me that I must regularly re-invent myself, and I must take risks. I realize that the only way to advance is by acting, not by contemplating.

Refining Your Anchor

The following additional quotes are closely tied to my personal leadership anchor, and will always motivate me. They capture the key elements of my own leadership and growth philosophy, and guide the conduct of my interpersonal and professional life for the foreseeable future:

  • “If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” ~Robert Fritz
  • “The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” ~Michelangelo
  • “Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far they can go.” ~T.S. Eliot

Note:  I chose to use a quote to define my own leadership anchor, and included some supporting quotes for self-motivation, but your own leadership anchor does not need to make use of any quotes. However, I feel that having a few meaningful quotes to support your anchor is a good idea. Regardless, it’s your anchor!

What is your personal leadership anchor—the guiding principle that defines you as a leader? Do you know? If not, what can you do to uncover, or discover, or create one? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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3 Questions to Be an Entrepreneurial Leader

Entrepreneur Leader

So you have a business idea and are ready to start your journey as an emerging entrepreneur. To ensure you’re ready for the road ahead, you need to have the proper mindset.

I feel there are three primary questions you must ask yourself (and answer) before you get started.

Or, if you have already started your business venture, use these questions to continually guide you and motivate you.

3 Questions to Be an Entrepreneurial Leader

1) Do You Welcome Risk and Accept Failure?

“When you reach an obstacle, turn it into an opportunity. You have the choice. You can overcome and be a winner, or you can allow it to overcome you and be a loser. The choice is yours and yours alone. Refuse to throw in the towel. Go that extra mile that failures refuse to travel. It is far better to be exhausted from success than to be rested from failure.”
~ Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics

Take risks and don’t be afraid to fail. Entrepreneurs must make lots of mistakes to learn and discover new approaches, opportunities or business models.

Use failure as a stepping stone. Assume that everything you do is a learning opportunity with new lessons.

Before you take any sort of risk, always carefully think through everything. Outweigh the pros and cons of those risks,” advises Tara Horner, author on marketing-related topics. “If the pros are plentiful, it makes sense to take such a risk, especially if it means the possibility of reducing losses for your business… when you are willing to take risks and think outside of the box, you are more likely to have success with your business ventures than a non-risk-taker.

Weigh your risks carefully, set goals, and take charge. And remember that sometimes a risk may turn out to be a setback. If you continue learning from your mistakes and moving forward, though, your calculated risks will help you reduce losses in the long run.”

2) Have You Partnered With the Right People?

“I’ve been blessed to find people who are smarter than I am, and they help me to execute the vision I have.”
~ Russell Simmons, founder of Def Jam

Don’t go at it alone. Find one or more partners in whom you believe. Your partners will help you get through the tough times, offer advice, and help you celebrate the little wins. Also, new partners add new ideas to the mix.

Find and rely on the resources you need to navigate the obstacles you will encounter along the way, and to get feedback to ensure you remain flexible and innovative. Seek advice and wisdom from those you trust and who have already been through what you’re facing.

Be sure you know what you don’t know, and be open to finding the right person/people who can help educate you and ensure you get varying perspectives on your options and actions. Consider partnering with a seasoned mentor or business advisor—possibly, someone who has started their own business and successfully grown it.

According to Gail Goodman, CEO of Constant Contact, the number one thing startups need to do “is to build a team, and not necessarily a paid one.” Goodman believes startups particularly need people they can count on, whether it’s an informal board of advisors, peers, a formal board or a mentor.

3) Are You 100% Devoted?

“Adhere to your purpose and you will soon feel as well as you ever did. On the contrary, if you falter, and give up, you will lose the power of keeping any resolution, and will regret it all your life.”
~ Abraham Lincoln

Embrace your passion and don’t lose determination. Entrepreneurship is 10% idea and 90% execution. You need a strong emotional commitment and a focus on persistence. Find a way around every obstacle and never give up on your mission—even though you can expect it to evolve or change along the way.

Stay flexible and don’t hesitate to change your product or service idea or business model to adapt to a changing business environment, new technologies, or ever-shifting client/customer expectations. Those who devote themselves fully and consistently to their new business idea to move it forward are already ahead of most other entrepreneurs.

~ “We were told ‘no’ by venture capitalists over 50 times before we closed our Series A round,” says Andrew Laffoon, cofounder of the online custom photo book company, Mixbook.

~ “They told us to change our business model, to change our technology, to switch markets, even to switch to a ‘video advertising’ startup. Ultimately, our persistence paid off.”

Accept at the outset that you’ll probably have to knock on hundreds of doors before you’ll find the ones that open. Advisers will want you to change your plan. Customers won’t buy your product. But if you can take that rejection as a gift—an opportunity to learn, improve and persist—it can lead to an advantage.

Do you feel there are any other questions that are more important than these for an emerging entrepreneur to ask before taking the plunge (or to motivate those that have already started down the road to success)?


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Electric Leadership by Thomas Edison

Thomas Alvin Edison

In 1928, President Calvin Coolidge presented a medal to Thomas Edison for his contributions to the world.

In his presentation speech, Coolidge so eloquently said this:

Having carefully determined what needed to be accomplished, he has gone ahead with the unerring instinct of a seeker after truth, with an indomitable spirit for accurate research, with an infinite capacity for taking pains. Temporary failure has only spurred him to renewed activity.

Few men have possessed to such a striking degree the blending of the imagination of the dreamer with the practical, driving force of the doer. In the record of his inventions and improvements rests the unimpeachable testimony that he has brought things to pass…May you long inspire those who will carry forward your torch.

A Bright Idea

Leaders can be inspired simply by Edison’s words. I feel the following four ideals, under which I’ve compiled 12 of Edison’s leadership-oriented quotes, must be cast in the heart of any great leader.

May these literary “inventions” of Thomas Edison inspire you in your business and personal endeavors.

 On Motivation

  1. You can’t realize your dreams unless you have one to begin with.”
  2. If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astonish ourselves.”
  3. The only time I become discouraged is when I think of all the things I would like to do and the little time I have in which to do them.”

Ron Ashkenas, co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization and article author for Harvard Business Review and Forbes, pointed out that one of the “Seven Mistakes Leaders Make in Setting Goals” is to back away from tough expectations and spend more time negotiating their goal downward than in figuring out how to achieve it.

As Edison suggests, you must have a dream to lead yourself (or others) in the right direction.

A primary leadership goal should be to not settle for less than you dream of.

On Innovation

  1. If there is a way to do it better – find it.”
  2. I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent it.”
  3. We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything.”

McKinsey research has revealed a wide gap between the aspirations of executives to innovate and their ability to execute. Regardless, in a 2008 McKinsey survey, more than 70 percent of senior executives said that innovation will be at least one of the top three drivers of growth for their companies in the next three to five years (through 2013).

Other executives surveyed viewed innovation as the most important way for companies to accelerate the pace of change in today’s global business environment.

On Failure

  1. Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
  2. Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
  3. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

The wisdom embedded within your failures makes you a stronger leader. In his Forbes article, “5 Things Failure Teaches You About Leadership,”

Glenn Llopis agrees with Edison’s philosophy that failure is one of life’s greatest enablers.

If you never failed at anything, you would never be forced to take action to course-correct or try new ways to seize opportunities previously unseen, he says. In the end, it’s what you do with failure that defines your character as a leader.

On Knowing What’s Important to You

  1. Your worth consists in what you are and not in what you have.”
  2. A year from now, what will I wish I had done today?
  3. I have friends in overalls whose friendship I would not swap for the favor of the kings of the world.”

Leaders must realize the importance of the inscription at the Oracle of Delphi, which is “Know Thyself.” Each of us must be aware of what really matters to us, as this defines our own character.

Doing Things Different

In Inc.’s “6 CEOs Share Their Biggest Regrets,” leaders shared some things they would do differently.

  • Curves founder Gary Heavin said,  “I would go back and say ‘I’ and ‘me’ less, and ‘us’ and ‘we’ more.”
  • Kevin Rose, college dropout who joined a start-up and went on to dream up Digg, said, “I wish I had finished my computer science degree.” Sometimes, I’ll be sitting around on a weekend and think, it’d be fun if I could just write up a software app really quickly.”

In my opinion, the lesson of these 3 Edison quotes is that leaders must know themselves, where they’ve been, and who they want to be.

The leadership and personal goal, as difficult as it may be, is to have no significant regrets. Let your character carry you, and build your character with each step you take.

Thank you, Mr. Edison!

As a leader, what most inspires you about the ideas, character, and contributions of Thomas Edison?


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On Leadership, Music and Motivation


Motivation for Business Fueled by Emotion And Inspired by…Eminem

Music can motivate you to reach your business goals and, as a result, achieve stronger loyalty from clients.

According to

“Everyone has a handful of songs that when they listen to it, it just makes them want to take action…When you find inspirational songs that pump you up, use them to propel yourself towards the accomplishment of your goals.”

In fact, music can be such a fantastic source of motivation, it’s almost like a waste not to make use of it!

Your Emotional Rescue

The reason why your favorite song can be a great motivator is because music is able to elicit positive emotions within you, hence it can stir a spirit of optimism, energize you and get you into that epic “I can do anything” mindset.

A great brand taps into emotions. Emotions drive most, if not all, of our decisions. A brand reaches out with a powerful connecting experience. It’s an emotional connecting point that transcends the product.”

My point is that if music can inspire business leaders by eliciting emotions, then motivational lyrics can also inspire them to craft brand messaging and establish brand positioning that stirs similar emotions among clients and the target market.

Resonating with Entrepreneurs

The Spirit of Eminem’s Lyrical Messages

As Vincent Van Gogh once said this:

“You have first to experience what you want to express.”

While I am open to experiencing the feeling provided by music from all genres, I have always been a fan of the often-controversial artist Eminem (Marshall Mathers). When I listen to any Eminem song, I feel his emotion and believe that his lyrics are a true expression of what he has personally experienced.

I have respect for his commitment to succeed, and have become a loyal “client” of his music, his message, and his brand.

3 Eminem Songs

Following are a sampling of lyrics from 3 Eminem songs that provide motivational messages that can be applied to business. I have included a brief summary of the applicable entrepreneurial message that can be drawn from each.

1)“Lose Yourself

Motivational Business Message: You can do anything you set your mind to. But you must take risks and seize every opportunity. Whether you fail or succeed, you can’t get there unless you try.

If you had, one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
One moment…
Would you capture it?
Or just let it slip?

The moment, you own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime

2) “Not Afraid

Motivational Business Message: Don’t be afraid to do seek guidance from others who have walked in your shoes or to bring people who can help you on board with you. You can’t do it alone. Rely on help from others who have been where you are and who are willing to help you and guide you in any way.

I’m not afraid to take a stand
Everybody, come take my hand
We’ll walk this world together through the storm
Whatever weather, cold or warm
Just lettin’ you know that you’re not alone
Holla if you feel like you’ve been down the same road
(Just follow me, I’ll get you there)

3) “Dare to Dream

Motivational Business Message: You can have or achieve whatever you want as long as you have the passion and devote yourself fully—that alone will put you ahead of most other entrepreneurs.

You can own this city
You have everything you need
All it takes is all you got
Life don’t ask you if you’re ready or not
You can own this city
Deep inside you hold the key
While the world is fast asleep
You can take it all if you just dare to dream

3 Bonus Tracks!

Other Song Lyrics to Motivate You As You Grow Your Business

While the messages in Eminem’s music have the power to motivate you, I believe you can apply the same emotions from his music (as well as the additional examples of such music/lyrics listed below) to the crafting of your brand essence, your brand positioning, and the messages aimed at your target market.

1) “Man in the Mirror” (Michael Jackson)

Motivational Business Message: Know who you are, stay true to yourself, and help others along the way.

I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways…
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make the change
You gotta get it right, while you got the time
‘Cause when you close your heart
Then you close your mind

2) “I Hope You Dance” (Lee Ann Womack)

Motivational Business Message: Dare to take risks, or you may regret not doing so later in your life/career.

Always keep that hunger…
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Living might mean taking chances but they’re worth taking…
When you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance

3) “Eye of the Tiger” (Survivor)

Motivational Business Message: Stay determined and confident, but always be mindful of the competition.

Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive…
Went the distance now I’m not gonna stop
Just a man and his will to survive
It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all with the eye of the tiger

A final thought: Even though inspirational music has the power to drive and motivate you, nothing beats the sound of your inner voice.

What are your thoughts on the power of music and lyrics to motivate entrepreneurs and/or employees and drive business forward? What about the notion that these motivational concepts can help to build brands and loyalty by stirring the same kinds of emotions among your target market? Do you have any stories to share of business success tied to music-fueled motivation?


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5 Key Strategic Challenges Leaders Face in 2012

5 Strategies

Armed with an understanding of who they are and where they are going, effective executive leaders chart a course for themselves, for their employees, and for their organizations.

But leadership must first know who they are. And where they are going.

While this leadership principle is timeless and unique to each individual leader, how executives define who they are and where they want to go evolves over time and is dependent on cultural, economic, and political trends.

Top 5 Strategic Challenges

I believe the following five issues are among the top strategic challenges that business leaders must tackle head-on today:

  • Globalization
  • Recruiting & Retaining Employees
  • Impact of Technology and Social Media
  • Short-term vs. Long-term Strategy
  • Adaptability & Change Management

L2L Reader Survey 2014


Today, almost any company can have a global reach.

Even if they choose not to operate globally, they will likely have global competition and will be forced to deal with globalization issues at some level. Some issues which can impact the success of any organization are awareness of and sensitivity to cultural diversity among employees and customers.

Additionally, more issues occur with currency fluctuations which may affect any portion of the supply chain or value chain, and logistics or managing the delivery of products and services to any location, at any time, and better than the competition.

To help leaders with globalization challenges, Business without Borders  offers the “Global Opportunity Tool”, which provides information about global markets and is designed to help members identify opportunities for international expansion.

Developed by The Economist Intelligence Unit and brought to members by HSBC Bank USA, N.A., the tool lets businesses explore different international markets based on data from their own industries.

Recruiting and Retaining Employees

Job seekers today are very demanding of their employers.

The impetus behind this workforce trend is a younger generation -sometimes dubbed “the entitlement generation” – with differences in expectations about work/life balance, the ability to have a virtual workplace or great flexibility in when and where they work, employee benefits, workplace culture, and upward mobility.

Employers who aim to satisfy these demands have higher expectations about the caliber of employees they hire, which makes recruiting and retaining employees a growing challenge.

Interestingly, the Cisco worldwide study of 2,800 college students and young professionals intended to determine what the “millennium generation” wants from employers and what they consider to be an equitable work/life balance.

One-in-three of these prospective employees said that access to social media sites like Facebook and the ability to choose their own workplace technology devices was more important to them than salary when considering a job offer.

More than 40% went so far as to say that they would accept less money for a job that accepted social media use at work on a device of their choosing if it also included working remotely.

Impact of Technology and Social Media

Managing the reputation of a company is more difficult than ever.

This is because of viral communication made possible by social media and instantaneous online interactions. The voice of a single unhappy customer or client can resonate across the world in an instant.

This threat, combined with requirements for keeping up with and staying ahead of competition with technological advances and developing employee training that keeps up with technological changes so the work force maintains efficiency and expertise, requires a focus on structuring/re-structuring the organization so that it can effectively manage and implement technology changes.

It also requires an evolving customer communication and response strategy.

At Crowdcentric’s latest global Social Media Week, Sandy Carter, IBM VP of social business and collaboration solutions sales and evangelism, noted this:

Today, social is not just about leveraging public platforms like Facebook and Twitter; it’s about embedding social into all parts of an organization.” 

Further supporting technology’s importance in growing a “social” business, Rod Smith, IBM VP of emerging technologies, adds this:

There is so much opportunity to communicate the potential social analytics presents for businesses of all sizes and all industries…We are just at the tip of the iceberg with people’s knowledge of the impact this advanced analytics technology holds.”

Short-term vs. Long-term Strategy

Another ongoing challenge is managing the firm’s capability to satisfy investors and shareholders with short-term strategy.

At the same time, firms must balance short-term goals with an evolving long-term vision to allow the company to grow and remain relevant, particularly in competitive environments where business models can be copied much more rapidly than in the past. Employers must also keep the workforce aware of and actively involved in achieving that long-term vision.

According to Ray Perry, Executive Director of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants:

“If companies are to survive and thrive in such a challenging landscape, they need to be able to create a meeting point where short and long-term needs connect. Abandoning short-termism for the longer horizon has been exhorted as the antidote to the recent crisis.

But what is really needed is a return to perennial principles of good business practice, with short-term operational actions that are congruent with the long-term vision.”

Adaptability and Change Management

Market changes are occurring much more rapidly, and product life cycles are much shorter than in the past.

This demands the ability for leaders to manage change effectively and adjust business models and practices rapidly enough to keep up with the competition, while balancing the management of change with rapid growth potential.

Adaptability of any organization is highly dependent on the effective handling of the other four key strategic challenges: globalization, recruiting and retaining employees, technological advances, and balancing short-term/long-term strategies.

“Indeed, this is a time when organizations will invest in change to better adapt to emerging market opportunities, to more successfully engage with customers, employees and stakeholders, rethink systems and processes, and ultimately, revive the company’s vision, mission and purpose,” ~ Brian Solis, author and Principal at Altimeter Group.

In his defining of trends for business transformation and leadership, Solis adds:

“We can’t innovate if those who experiment are not supported. Organizations need to focus on cultivating a culture of adaptation rooted in customer- and employee-centricity and more importantly, empowerment. Culture is everything. It is and should be intentional. It should be designed. Those companies that invest in the development of an adaptive culture will realize improved relationships that contribute to competitive advantages.”

Do you believe there are any other, or more relevant, strategic challenges that business leaders currently face in 2012 or should be prepared to face in the near future?


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Establishing Your Personal Pillars of Leadership

Pillars of Leadership

Successful leaders are crafted over time with a firm foundation that add essential elements along the way.

According to Dr. J.W. Fanning, Advisor-Emeritus of Leadership Georgia and commemorated by the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute,

“Leaders are doers and leadership does not just happen. It stems from a purpose. It grows with involvement. It becomes stronger more exciting and effective and it makes use of those qualities proven successful by wise and creative leaders over the years–qualities undergirded by “Pillars” which provide support and purpose for leadership that makes a difference.”

Pillars for Success

Personally, I feel that to achieve true leadership, a leader must engage in self-reflection and define his or her own guiding principles or “pillars” for success.

Leadership Advantage, a Maryland-based company that provides consulting services in Leadership Development, Executive Coaching, and other areas, refers to value-based leadership related to the pillars of leadership it has defined for sustainable leadership success:

“A leadership that comes from central and universal principles that transcend the inconstancy of fads and the latest book. It is a leadership that is much more a compass than a weathervane.

It is a leadership that strives for the common good, is honest, reliable and trustworthy. It is a leadership that inspires and uplifts, is courageous, and makes choices based on integrity.

And, it is a leadership that is focused on results.”

While a leader’s pillars for success may need to be revisited and refined over time, focused self-reflection will enable you to define the guiding principles that define you as a leader.

These pillars will be grounded on a solid foundation that transcends organizational, cultural, and personal change over time.

My Essential Pillars of Leadership

I’ve established the following as the pillars of my own approach to leadership. Although it’s been nearly four years since I defined these, I revisit them often and each time find that they still serve sufficiently to define my approach to leadership and my goals for achieving success.

Be myself, but keep re-inventing myself

This requires me to know myself, where I’ve been, and where I want to be, all of which are the result of ongoing self-reflection.

Such as we are made of, such we be.”  ~William Shakespeare

Inspire trust in all relationships

I cannot build strong relationships or nurture them without mutual trust. This is accomplished by promoting open and continuous communication and ‘no surprises,’ demonstrating unquestionable integrity, and allowing others to see my humility when I falter.

“Leadership without mutual trust is a contradiction in terms.”  ~Warren Bennis

Dare to take risks

I will always miss 100 percent of the shots I don’t take (and so will the company I am leading). I should embrace the successes, and realize that failure is necessary to grow.

Progress always involves risk; you can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.” ~Frederick Wilcox

Aspire to “Super Leadership”

My goal has been and will continue to be to lead people to lead themselves through empowerment and accountability.

“It takes leaders to grow other leaders.”  ~Ray Blunt

Always aim higher

I won’t settle for what is easily attained or achieved. I will set goals that will challenge my determination and character.

Celebrate what you’ve accomplished, but raise the bar a little higher each time you succeed.”  ~Mia Hamm

How You Gonna Be

In his book, On Becoming a Leader, Warren Bennis says that people begin to become leaders at that moment when they decide for themselves how to be.

He also says this:

“After appropriate reflection, the meaning of the past is known, and the resolution of the experience—the course of action you must take as a result—becomes clear.”

I challenge you to reflect on your own personal and professional experiences and define your own essential pillars of leadership.

What elements do you believe are essential to achieving success as a leader?  What are your “Pillars of Leadership” that define your personal leadership approach and philosophy? Do you agree that with focused self-reflection, such guiding principles that you define for yourself will transcend time and rarely, if ever, need to be radically changed?


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Learn, Grow & Develop Other Leaders

Rob Wolfe is Consultant at Towers Watson
He help with engagement, solution selling, relationship management & social media
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