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Many business owners and managers take for granted the responsibility that comes with leading their business and their people. True leaders are more than just day-to-day managers. They lead with vision and purpose and inspire those around them to do the same. For many of us, leadership is often a blind foray of trial and error. We work with our gut and are lucky to succeed. We learn from our mistakes and adjust. Sure, there are a few “natural born” leaders out there, but most business owners and managers can benefit from purposeful leadership development to help them capitalize on their capabilities, develop the future business leaders needed to carry on their legacy, and attract quality customers, vendors, suppliers, and employees.

Leadership development is not the same thing as leadership training.1 Many businesses use a combination of providing internal leadership training and partnering with an external leadership development firm to enhance their organizational leadership. Leadership training is typically pragmatic and often proposes using “checklists” to manage day-to-day operations. Leadership development is a broader, more forward-looking approach where experience, knowledge, and wisdom are springboards to developing a goal-based, purposeful leadership plan.

If you have already taken a leadership training program, that is certainly a helpful start, but cultivating a leadership development mindset has a different focus. Although the benefits of hiring a leadership development firm for guidance and an outside perspective cannot be underestimated, I have identified a number of leadership development themes to help you get started. These themes are consistent among the highest performing businesses and companies I have worked with over the last 20-plus years.

  • START WITH THE END IN MIND. Before you start a leadership development program, you have to make sure your business has a crystal clear vision and laser sharp goals and objectives. This seems like a no-brainer, however, way too many companies blow right past this critical first step. As business leaders, we cannot ignore the most basic of questions:
  • What do we value?
  • What do we believe in?
  • What do we, as a business, stand for?
  • What positive behaviors do we want to recognize and reward?

Your answers to these questions will be unique to your business. Use them to establish your vision, goals, and objectives in S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) terms. This is the “destination” that will guide your leadership efforts.

2. K.I.S.S. Keep It Stupidly Simple! I have to remind myself of this all the time. Leadership Development MUST REMAIN simple, direct, focused, and on-track.

3. KEEP AN OPEN DIALOGUE. There is a major difference between communicating and telling. Maintaining an open dialogue is a core component of quality leadership development. Open dialog provides tremendous opportunity for clarity and improvement—benefitting your business operations and your people. To keep an open dialogue, leaders must be able to express themselves effectively, listen to and understand others, comprehend the value of the input received, and respond accordingly.


BUILD SOME MORE! People are ALWAYS your greatest resource! Clients, customers, vendors, and employees are all tremendously important to your ongoing success. Find ways to strengthen the level of trust you have with everyone involved in your enterprise. Focus on motivating, equipping, and transforming behaviors over time. Putting employees through leadership development workshops, seminars, and conferences can help re-motivate them, boost morale, and create new opportunities that stimulate creativity.

5. IT ROLLS DOWNHILL. It all starts at the top! Company culture, attitude, values, standards, and ethics all come from the top down. A passionate and compassionate leader can energize an entire company just as a dispassionate, self-absorbed leader can destroy one. Set an example of cooperation, fairness, trust, and openness. Focus on solutions and positivity instead of blame and backstabbing.

I promise you this. You can spend a bazillion dollars on external consultants and “leadership gurus,” and it will always, always, always come back to the owner’s and business leaders’ approach. If you’re motivated, equipped, and happy in your role, then others will follow your lead. If you come in with a bad attitude, don’t expect any different from your employees.

6. NO WHINING! Here is one of my personal secrets: When someone starts to whine, I set a timer—for real! I allow three minutes (like an egg). You can whine and gripe and complain for three minutes and then it’s DONE! FOREVER! After the timer is up, we MOVE ON, and we focus on finding a SOLUTION!

Generally speaking, NO complaining. Not from you. Not from your team. Whining will mess up your team faster than anything! A divisive, grumbling spirit destroys morale and severely limits results. If you have people who do nothing but complain, a good leadership development program will help to identify them, motivate them, and, if necessary, GET RID OF THEM! There are over seven billion people on this planet, and I GUARANTEE there will be someone who has the expertise and wisdom you need who isn’t a whiner.

7. FOCUS ON THE FUTURE. When is the best time to plant an apple tree to get fruit? Yep … five years ago! If you truly want to drive your business to the highest level, then it’s time to start investing in leadership development today. Swear to yourself TODAY that you will permanently remove the “we have always done it that way” phrase from your vocabulary and start steering your business toward a better future. Successful leadership development requires purposefully doing the right things at the right time in the right order for the right reasons. Leadership development is an ongoing process that must be promoted companywide through awareness of the goals, objectives, challenges, opportunities, etc. of your business. A successful and sustainable leadership development program involves an ongoing high level of internal and external accountability.

A quality leadership development program is no longer an option in today’s market—it’s a requirement to motivate business owners and leaders to take charge in shaping their role and their company. A recent report on leadership development by the independent research firm Bersin & Associates2 put it this way:

“The message is clear – leadership development matters. It is hard to find a company or organization which has survived many economic cycles that does not have a [sophisticated] leadership development strategy in place. While it may take many years to develop and refine, the results clearly pay off.” A quality leadership development program will help you to grow yourself, grow your team, and grow your organization!

1 Look for John Hawkins’s follow-up article in the next issue of

2 Quoted in: Center for Creative Leadership. (2008). Driving Performance: Why Leadership Development Matters in Difficult Times. Available from