Understanding the Leadership Tightrope: Leaders Who Ask vs. Leaders Who Tell

Pushing the rope

“Pull the string, and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.”    Dwight Eisenhower.

So, a good friend of mine has a 2-year old son. I was at his house last week and his wife Susie said to the child, “Ben, please put that back”. I know her well and was comfortable asking, so I posed this question, “Were you asking or telling Ben what to do?” “Telling”, was her response. I asked her why she said please, “Well, to be polite. I want Ben to be polite when he grows up.”

I understand her premise, but was giving an option to a 2-year old child what she really wanted? She wasn’t asking him if he wanted to do what she said, she was telling him to do something. To me adding please made it sound like an option. (If Ben could speak, “Please? Well no mommy, I am really busy.”)

I am exaggerating a bit to make a point, but I want you to see the difference between asking and telling. In business, when I need something done by an employee I tell them what to do. I am polite in my tone and may even occasionally say please (always thank you), but they understand the employee/employer relationship means please is a polite formality, not an option-giving word.

Employees who create vs. employees who follow

In searching for more information on this topic I came across the following mindset expressed in various ways – “Don’t tell the employee what to do, instead ask powerful questions. This allows the employee to create their own solutions.” But, is this what I really want or need? Do I want employees who create their own solutions or do I want employees who follow the path I’ve created? Depending on your business model, you may need one or the other…or somewhere in between.

The job of a great leader is to know which model is needed and then to employ in their business. If you own a nuclear power plant and have employees who operate and control the reactor, you have strict guidelines on how employees operate with little or no allowance for anything outside of established SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures). If you own a tech company and create solutions for your client’s marketing or websites, you rely heavily on creative employees in whom you give, and expect, a great amount of creativity in the job they do. The balance of “do it our way” and “get creative” varies from company to company and role to role.

Leadership is not synonymous with order-giving.

The example cited above shows employees in very differently structured roles, and yet either can have a boss/owner who is a good or a bad leader. Just because one boss tells an employee what to do exactly with no allowance for variation doesn’t mean they are a bad leader. Matter of fact in certain situations it would make them an exceptional leader. Conversely, when employees are allowed to have great freedom and creativity in their job, that doesn’t mean their boss is a great leader.

So how do we define a great leader? Asking or telling? Pushing or pulling? Please or “just do it”? A great leader will prove themselves by understanding which is needed to accomplish the overall goal or mission. My friend Susie would not say to her 2-year old, “Ben, please don’t step out in the busy road.” Great leadership would find her saying so very sternly. But, it may also find her saying, “Ben, would you please help mommy and pick up the spoon I dropped?” And if Ben did not help, it would be a good learning moment for him. “Hey Ben, when mommy asks for your help, it is polite to help.” That is good leadership. It is then the individual’s responsibility to learn and do “the right thing” even when not asked, which will lead them on the path of becoming a great leader.

So when should you ask and when should you tell?

I know you’d love have a rule that says if “A” happens do this and if “B” happens do that. There is no such guide. That is your job, the job of a great leader. To understand your business and your people and figure out when to ask and when to tell. To know what jobs require more asking and which more telling. To understand personalities and know which employee would respond best to the “please and thank you” way of communication and which simply need a “just get it done”.

When I  first opened JP’s, my first manager and I ended up working the bar together a lot – one of us on the cash register, the other on the espresso machine. On a busy night we spoke a lot and never said please or thank you. I respected Skip for his hard work, his good management skills and his ability to run the store. He respected me for being a “good owner”, paying him well and on-time, giving him time off when needed and treating him (and others) with kindness and respect. He never said please or thank you when he told me what he needed to keep the bar running. “I need a sleeve of 12 ounce cups” didn’t need a “please” with it. We understood each other, had mutual respect and got the job done. But, in wanting to lead well after a long and busy night I would say, “Thanks Skip, you run a great store.” He would say “You are welcome” and appreciated the fact I knew he could probably get a job pretty easily elsewhere, but chose to work for me.

I would also tell Skip I needed certain reports. I did not ask him, “Hey, would you please get me a P&L this week?” I told him what reports I needed and how often. But, then as a good leader I would thank him for providing me with accurate and consistent reports. Again, I appreciated the fact he did his job well. That, to me, was of great value and I know finding an employee as good as Skip was was not easy and I did  not take it for granted.

What do “please” and “thank you” really mean and when do I use them?

When used as a verb, please is really saying, “if you wouldn’t mind.” Am I really asking this employee to please “drain the grease out of the fryer” (for those of you who have never done so, it is not something you would ever be pleased to do). Would he or she please mind doing the job I am paying them to do in the way I want them to do it? No. As a good leader, I expect them to drain the grease when it needs to be done in the way it needs to be done. That would show me as a good leader to the customers who expect fresh, golden-brown french fries.

But, I might ask a stranger to “please hold the door open” as I approach with arms loaded. This is optional: something they have a choice whether to do or not. Interestingly, if the person had good leaders as parents, they would open the door before being asked and say “You’re welcome” as I passed through. Their parents didn’t say, “Junior, please be helpful if you get the chance” they told them to help others in need, to assist when possible and go the extra mile to serve others. Please is a pleasantry to be used appropriately when following a suggestion is optional.

Thank you, on the other hand, is something to be employed often and with liberality. When a customer paid for a coffee and thanked me when I handed it to them, I responded with “thank you!” back rather than “you’re welcome.” Why? Because I recognized that without their patronage I was out of business. I was thanking them for choosing to spend their money with me, rather than the competition. And I received a lot of surprised smiles from that. Something they did not expect…especially when delivered with smiling eyes.

I also thanked my employees for their work. They too, could choose to work elsewhere…and probably make more money. They chose to work at my business and I was thankful for it. I relied on great employees to make my business great and always knew without them I was soon-to-fail. They responded with excellence and as our reputation grew as a great place to work, they appreciated the leadership exhibited at our place of business. It was a win/win with more and more great people looking to work for us because we had built a reputation as a great place to work with great people working there.

Bringing it home

So, while I cannot tell you exactly how to be a great leader I can share with you a few things I/we did regularly that made great leadership a part of our business:

  1. Paid our employees on time every week.
  2. Gave them the time off they wanted whenever they wanted with rare exception.
  3. Went the extra mile for employees, such as:
    1. Did a undesirable task for them.
    2. Filled in to allow them to meet a personal need.
    3. Followed the spirit of the law whenever it meant a plus for them, even when it meant a minus for me.
    4. Was polite and even keeled (not emotionally unstable) every day.
  4. Did not allow my personal life to effect them negatively.
  5. Never spoke bad of, or corrected them in front of others.
  6. Always protected them first, even when it meant losing a customer.
  7. Had a comprehensive training program.
  8. Always listened to their ideas and encouraged feedback.
  9. Operated with a high degree of integrity.
  10. Thanked them regularly for their work.

There are many more, but I’ll sum it up with this story. I had an employee, Trish, let’s call her (not real name) and she had been given a bonus certificate one Christmas along with the rest of the staff. It was good for 10 hours of regular pay and could be used at any time to bolster a short week. She had worked for us for a couple years and then left the state. A few years later she returned to the area and worked for us again. After unpacking her stuff she found this 7-year old certificate unused. She came to me with a bit of a chagrin and a giggle and asked could she turn it in (she fully expected a laugh and a, “No, that was years ago”). What she got was an, “Absolutely, we owe you that. Glad you found it and can use it.”

Let’s just say that response showed Trish who we were more than anything she had experienced in the years working for us. And the coolest thing is that she not only benefitted from that, so did we. I am sure it was an example she learned from and employed in her own career and told to her friends…who probably later worked for us because of it.

Why I agreed to Inc. Magazine’s @JohnWarrillow for an interview

Share my story?

A few months ago I was contacted by a company whose job is to secure guests  for various podcasts. The interested interviewer was John Warrillow, Inc. Magazine columnist and author of the book Built to Sell. They asked would I be interested in sharing my story with John’s audience.

Throughout his career as an entrepreneur, Warrillow has started and exited four companies. Most recently he transformed Warrillow & Co. from a boutique consultancy into a recurring revenue model subscription business, which he sold to The Corporate Executive Board (NASDAQ: EXBD) in 2008. He  was recognized by BtoB Magazine’s “Who’s Who” list as one of America’s most influential business-to-business marketers.

In Warrillow’s Built to Sell Radio podcast he gets former business owners to share insights, experience and wisdom on the topic of selling a business with his audience. I have always learned best by real life experience and “story” and to be interviewed on my experience would be my opportunity to share with others what I had learned.

Learn from other’s stories

Those of you who know me know I sold my businesses in 2014. It is a story with value for other business owners and when I am asked questions like “why did you sell?” or “what was the process like?” I love sharing it. Selling a business is not just an event that might happen, for business owners it is inevitable. It must be thought about, planned for and eventually executed – the only other option being closing it.

As soon as I found out about the podcast I subscribed to it – I love listening to real-life stories of business people. I was hooked from the very first podcast. John is an excellent interviewer and has a great ability to balance asking relevant questions for the content he is known for providing and allowing a guest to tell their story.

For the Built to Sell Radio podcast individuals interviewed must have the following qualifications:

  1. Sold a business within the last 2 years.
  2. Sale was an outright sale (not transferred between partners.)
  3. The business grossed at least one million dollars or more at the time of the sale.

Some of those interviewed were closer to me in scope, others were companies many times my size, but the reality is size does not matter. What matters is how a company is run, how good of leader the owner is, how well they plan and surround themselves with smarter-than-themselves people and finally maximizing ROI when selling. My story is unique to me, but the principles are broad and common.

Listen to the interview


About Built to Sell Radio

bts-radioBuilt to Sell Radio is a weekly podcast for business owners. Each week, a recently cashed out entrepreneur is asked why they decided to sell, what they did right and what mistakes they made through the process of exiting their business. A great resource for business owners.

About Built to Sell the book

Built to Sell book

According to Warrillow, the number one mistake entrepreneurs make is to build a business that relies too heavily on them. Thus, when the time comes to sell, buyers aren’t confident that the company-even if it’s profitable-can stand on its own. To illustrate this, Warrillow introduces us to a fictional small business owner who is struggling to sell his advertising agency and turns to another entrepreneur for help.

About Inc. Magazine

Inc. Magazine coverI am and have been an Inc. Magazine freak for 20 years. Inc. shares real life stories of business owners and the one magazine I have kept a subscription to for decades. One of my favorites, Norm Brodsky is a veteran business owner and has written in Inc. for years. His column is my favorite and I have learned from and shared dozens of his anecdotes and business lessons. (Norm actually personally responded to me on one of my tweets – I’ll never wash the “@” key again!?). Norm doesn’t know it, but my goal in life is to be his replacement when he finally hangs up his pen!

I hope you enjoy the listen and come back and share your insights and experience with others here!

Are you a Leader or a Boss?

You can choose your path

Leader – a person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.
Boss – a person who makes decisions, exercises authority, dominates, etc.

There seems to be little difference between leader and boss…at least by dictionary definition. But, in life and business there is a huge difference. We’ve all had bosses: some good, some bad. You may have had the great experience of having a real leader as a boss, but they usually don’t last long. Promotions follow a real leader as they move beyond their potential. Simple bosses stay in the same position for a long time.

Band of Brothers

One of my favorite movies is the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. It is the story of WWII’s Easy Company and follows them from paratrooper training through to the end of the war (if you haven’t watched it you must!). In it you will see so many clear examples of the difference between leader and boss and the ramifications of each.

Easy Company’s best example of a leader was Dick Winters. He was not only smart and compassionate, he was dedicated to those he led. He wouldn’t ask his men to do anything he wasn’t willing to do himself. He knew how to be under authority and yet was willing to risk his rank to do the right thing.

Want to be a leader? Do what leaders do and you’ll be one!

Winters #1 trait was integrity. The decisions he made, whether dealing with the men he led or those he reported to, were consistent. An interesting observation by author Tom Stanley in his book The Millionaire Mind, a study of deca-millionaires, was the largest predictor of financial success is integrity. Integrity is defined as the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness. Bosses do what is right at the moment, what is convenient, what is best for them. Leaders do what is right for the mission, for the situation and for others.

Winters #2 trait was collaboration. He was a man who knew how to gain the cooperation of those he  worked with. An example of world-changing collaboration is Drs. Watson and Crick, who didn’t know each other particularly well before they began their work together trying to understand the structure of the DNA molecule. But, by building on the work of the chemist Dr. Rosalind Franklin, they were able to describe the double helix that we now know forms the framework for the basic building blocks of all life – and to lay the foundation for understanding the human genome. Bosses seek their own fame and fortune, see others as tools to be used in their own ascent and leave a trail of brokenness. Leaders value the strengths of others, recognize the importance of their own gifts and work to bring both together to a place of 1+1=3..

Winters #3 trait was influence. He knew that his position of leadership was not about him, but about his ability to influence others around him. At times, influence is strong, forceful and decisive. At other times it is encouraging, supportive and compassionate. But a leader’s influence is always used for the good of the cause, the good of others and the support of the mission. We live daily seeing the power of influence. You need look no further than simple TV commercials to see the power and effect influence can have. Leaders use their charisma and influence in the service of improving others, benefiting the overall goals of whatever endeavor they are involved in. Bosses manipulate and use whatever influence they can to benefit self.

Other traits exemplified by Winters were creating vision and organizing and managing his team to accomplish the overall mission and goals of his team. He led by example, but knew “being in charge” was not something to pat himself on the back for, but rather a position of service to others – both those he leads and those he reports to. Leaders view their role as being under, serving and supporting others. Bosses view “being in charge” as a chance to advance their own agenda, benefit their own cause and take it easy letting others do all the work.

Leaders lead, even if only themselves for a time!

Whether you currently are in charge of a large team of people or have yet to be put in that  position, you have the choice to be a leader or simply be a boss. I’ve seen companies where the owner was not a leader, but simply a boss. Many “dis’s” follow such a person: disfunction, distrust, disorganization…and eventually disaster. I’ve also seen leaders in the most humble of positions. The eventuality for most of them is they won’t stay in that position for long. “Pro’s” follow them: proactive, producer and eventually promotion!

Be a leader, not just a boss, and watch the lives of those around you improve…and then yours.

How To Build Value In Your Business and Sell it for Top Dollar

Three Sure Things

We’ve all heard there are two sure things in life, death and taxes, but for the business owner there are three – death, taxes and selling your business. That is unless you’ve figured out the whole “live forever” thing and haven’t told anyone. OK, there is one other option – to close it – but rarely is that a choice, usually it’s an ultimatum.

There are various ways to sell a business, but no matter who you sell it to or how you structure it, the more value there is in the business the more options you’ll have, the more money you can make and the greater likelihood there is what you’ve worked years or decades to create can have a life beyond you. Don’t forget this ugly little stat- 60% of business owners who want to sell their business can’t get a deal done. Not a fun thought.

Who Are The Most Likely Buyers Of Your Business?

Selling a business requires a buyer. Knowing where to look for a buyer before you are ready to sell will help you strategize, make decisions and prepare you and your business for the sale. Knowing the best buyer for your business can make what could be the worst situation in your life be the best.

  1. Competitor or synergistic buyer – many businesses grow by acquisition, purchasing businesses that either compliment or match their own industry. Do you have a competitor or complimentary business you would feel comfortable approaching? Set up a lunch with the owner or CEO and ask some big picture questions. You don’t have to ask the outright question, but you don’t have to completely avoid it either. A casual conversation will open doors and may even plant an idea leading to more conversations…and an eventual deal.
  2. Customer – sometimes a buyer is a regular customer who finds out a business is for sale or approaches the owner and asks. It’s usually not healthy to broadcast to customers you’re selling, but a careful examination of your current customer base could reveal someone worth having a conversation with.
  3. Financial – many companies are purchased by a person who recently sold a business or inherited a large amount of money, or by an investment group. The amount of money floating around looking to buy a business is astronomical – something like a trillion dollars!! A great motivator to make sure your business is spit shined and ready to sell.
  4. Individual – your business can be marketed by a broker or otherwise listed for sale and a potential buyer is simply someone looking to get into your particular industry without having to build the whole thing from scratch. Using a broker could be a great way to find a buyer, but know any broker may get a fairly large piece of the sales price…and at the end of the day you still need to have all your ducts in a row to see a deal through to the end.
  5. Family members – kids, siblings or other relatives may want to be the buyers of a business…or the owner may see them as the best or only option available. This option reminds me of the old Clint Eastwood movie The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. It may be a beautiful solution, it may cause strain in the family, or it may destroy it. 30% of family businesses go to 2nd generation, 12% to 3rd and only 3% to 4th or beyond. If done correctly this can be the strongest, most healthy business there is. If not, well, Thanksgiving dinner will never be the same.
  6. Employees – This option is often seen in businesses in specific industries (manufacturing and construction are most common) and usually done through an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan). Reasons for this method being less typical are many, but include corporate culture, highly profitable P&L, strong management, and an owner willing to sell their shares at “fair market value”.

What Is Important To A Buyer?

When my kids were little I told them the same thing you did. Sweetie, that baseball card/video game/bicycle is only worth what someone will pay you for it.” Buyer’s motives vary, but the goal of any transaction is called win-win. The process of negotiation, due diligence and finalizing a deal includes each party “giving in some”, but the hope is a seller who can feel like they received a fair, albeit less than desirable deal and a buyer who paid more than intended, but knows they can build what they bought into something even greater.

  1. Profit – everyone who buys a business needs to see profit in the business. The final sales price will vary depending on a number of factors: what industry is the business in, what are gross revenues, how much attention will they need to give it and more. The range and reasons for a purchase price can be extreme – from a simple asset sale to a strategic buyer willing to pay top dollar for a desirable business, but a good rule of thumb is a 20% ROI annualized and 3-5 year payoff.
  2. Owner is dispensable – Some businesses are so reliant on the owner it couldn’t possibly succeed if the current owner were to leave. From a buyer’s perspective, that’ a red flag. If the business depends entirely on the owner, the business is not salable.
  3. Systems – knowing a business is well run and has systems in place to follow is incredibly valuable. This gives a new owner the assurance once the current owner is gone, the employees have a road map to follow. They may change things a little…or a lot, depending on a number of factors, but a systematized business is a valuable business.
  4. Best practices – if your business has a visible accountability loop, it will attract the best buyers. A track record of setting expectations, training and resources for employees, performance assessments and appropriate feedback/consequences will not only build a great business, it will make it an attractive acquisition.
  5. Brand – this category is often misunderstood. An owner thinks their company has an amazing amount of goodwill (brand value), attaches that to the sale price and overestimates what the company is worth. The buyer may see value in the brand, what it is and what it can be, but without their continued efforts and hard work, the brand will be worth nothing in a short time. A strong brand has value, but more in ‘added value’ than in tripling the purchase price of a company.
  6. No skeletons – any company that has lawsuits against it, has lost an audit, has labor issues or other problem areas may make a company hard to sell. Keeping things above-board, having accurate financials, great employees, a clean and organized workplace and more will make a company desirable.

It’s Not Too Late!

If you didn’t build your business with the intent to sell it is not too late; there are many things you can do to increase the chances you’ll be able to sell your business. Just as one can lose weight, get in shape or become well-read, a business owner who has failed to implement good practices can change.

The reality is it is harder to change these things after a track record of not doing them has been in place for a long time. But it can be done! It will be hard and may take outside involvement and cost a lot of time and money, but the alternative is not good.

Make Money On The Sale

If you are going to sell your business for top dollar you may need to wait a while before doing so. If after you read the list below you have most everything in place, you may only need a few tweaks and you’ll be ready to sell. If you read the list and each paragraph makes you more and more uncomfortable with the position of your company, you should put a plan and timeline in place and not sell your business until it is in top shape.

Just like selling a car is much easier if it is detailed before the buyer looks at it, a company that has been spit shined is more attractive to a potential buyer. And if you list it too early you may lose the chance to sell to the one or two parties that have a real chance of being the final buyer.

Critical Areas For Selling Your Business

  1. Financials – having accurate and complete financials is number one to making the most money from a sale. If an owner says, “Well, I took out an additional $50K every year, I just didn’t report it on my books“, that really means, “You can’t trust anything I say because I am a cheat“. Have a complete accounting of all income and expenses, an up-to-date P&L and balance sheet, and be able to financially justify your selling price. Show what you made as owner, the perks you received from the company and the profit the business produced. Every business, profitable or not, will benefit from at least 2 years of accurate and clean financials.
  2. Take time off – If you work 80-hour weeks, haven’t had a vacation in years and keep your phone on at all times, you have a business too dependent on you. A buyer must feel they can run the business. They can choose to work as hard as they want, but if they see a business that runs without the direct and daily involvement of the owner, that’s worth a lot!
  3. Systems – Everything your employees do on a daily basis should have a system to train, guide and oversee them. New employees are trained without needing to pull from the tribal knowledge of an owner or employee. Get all the good stuff out of the brains of the employees and on paper. Make everything trackable and accountable and a potential buyer will see the business can run under them as well as it can run under you.
  4. Reputation – Many buyers doing due-diligence will contact customers or suppliers, look for online reviews, contact the BBB or look for other apparent service or reputation issues. While all 5-star reviews is not necessary, service or product issues apparent to a potential buyer will lower the value of the business and the price they are willing to pay.
  5. Brand – This is tied to reputation, but not exactly the same. Brand is contained in so many areas of a business, not just a sign or letterhead or logo. Brand is what the company represents to the public and is expressed in many things. Having a clean logo and up-to-date website are helpful, but bad service, a messy building and dirty vehicles are as much a smirch on your brand as an out of date website.
  6. Clean out the cobwebs – My wife, an author, has always said, “Only a slob leaves it to the editor.Even if you are selling to your kids, you owe it to the buyer to pass along the best business you can. Go through your business from front to back, side to side and top to bottom and create a list of things to clean, repair and update. You may not get to all of them, or even want to, but anything you take care of is one less thing a buyer will use to knock down your asking price.
  7. The right buyer – Knowing who the most likely buyer would be for your business will help you maximize your salability and sales price. If your industry is rife with acquisitions, strategize to make your company the most desirable acquisition on the market…or off the market. My business wasn’t for sale, but a buyer came for it anyway. I had created something of real value and the buyer didn’t wait for a For Sale sign. And even if no one approaches you prior to you listing it, owning a well run company until you sell is a good place to be (the new owner of my former company had two offers to purchase it immediately after he bought from me).

The “Clean Car” Syndrome

Yes, it is true that once you go through your business and take care of all of these things, it may be like detailing your car prior to selling it. You could end up saying, “Wow, I kinda like this car. I’m not sure I want to sell it anymore.” But, recognize that attitude and confidence will put you in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating and will make you money!

If you know your business is worth what you are asking for it, you will be able to walk away from a buyer who is simply testing your resolve and trying to lower your price. Your power in negotiating is your willingness to walk from a deal. If you come across as desperate or needy you will get less for your business or possibly even scare off a solid potential buyer.

Put a plan in place, set a timeline for achieving your improvements and then set a date to list your business. I guarantee success. Your company will be in a better position, your buyer will be happier and you will make more money, guaranteed!

Why I Sold My Business Podcast

What I learned by selling my business.

Not long ago, I was approached by a friend who used to own a business close to mine. She recently started a podcast where serving the entrepreneurial spirit is raison d’être and asked would I be willing to be interviewed.

Selling a business is still a fresh topic for me and I was excited to be able to share with others what I had learned through the process. It is the third installment in her series “Buying and Selling a Small Biz” and you can listen to it here.

If you are planning to sell your business in the near future, I know you will benefit from listening. If you are not planning on selling your business, you must start now.

On Leadership: 21 Traits of a Leader

Leadership and the business world

Although leadership is not limited to the confines of business, the business arena is a place where leadership has a great platform. Owning a business is more than just getting to a place of being your own boss, it contains within it the opportunity to influence the lives of hundreds of people: employees, vendors, suppliers, customers, family, friends and your community. The goal of a business is success, but it doesn’t happen overnight. Success comes over time and is the result of thousands of decisions.

In Merriam-Webster’s dictionary leadership is defined as the, “capacity to lead, the act or an instance of leading”. While this is true, most would agree there are many who lead who are not leaders (I’ve often said, “anyone can be a boss, not everyone is a leader“). Being a leader is critical to long-term success in business. Plan to have your values tested, your character stretched and many opportunities to lead–or not lead–placed in front of you.

In listing leadership traits my goal is to inspire you to embody these traits though your owning a business. To live them daily and to be the source of positive change in the lives of those you lead. The first trait in leadership is so vital to not have it will eventually lead to failure in business, as well as friendships, marriage and personal reputation. Without it, all else is lost.

21 Traits of a Leader:

  1. A Person of Integrity – Tom Stanley, author of The Millionaire Mind, demonstrates from his research that first generation deca-millionaires (those with a minimum net worth of 10 million dollars) statistically had 38 behaviors or traits in common. The number one value across the board was integrity. Their vendors, friends and even fiercest competitors all noted that they had fanatical levels of integrity. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “The supreme quality for a leader is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible… If a man’s associates find him guilty of being phony, if they find that he lacks forthright integrity, he will fail. His teachings and actions must square with each other. The first great need, therefore, is integrity and high purpose.
  2. A Decision Maker – a leader decides and does not wallow in fear. They take constructive criticism and correction on the chin and are willing to change. A leader uses prudence, good reason and good judgment in decision-making.
  3. A Guide to others – someone who inspires others to trust in them, to follow them, to buy into their vision for what needs to be done. Leaders do on a daily basis the things that make others believe in them.
  4. A Servant – a leader is willing to clean toilets when appropriate. It is not their daily job, but they are willing if and when necessary to do such things.
  5. Not arrogant – a leader is one who cares, who is interested in the welfare of others.
  6. Controlled – a poor leader uses their position for selfish means; a good leader uses their position for the good of the vision, others and themselves.
  7. Inspirational – a good leader must to be able to inspire others with a vision, a cause or something to believe in. They set the bar high and encourage others to achieve greatness.
  8. A Delegator – leaders gather others smarter and more capable than they are themselves and empower them. Leaders realize others need to see their own potential. Leaders see what can be done by others and through doing, will grow and learn and improve.
  9. An Encourager – a leader encourages others to move out on their own – all the while knowing they may be helping, training and teaching someone who may eventually compete against them.
  10. An Optimist – leaders believe in the potential of others. They see the possibilities in, and the change they can effect, in others.
  11. A Learner – leaders are always in search of, and willing to gain, information and knowledge.
  12. A High-Road-Taker – when faced with a moral or ethical decision, leaders make the right decision, even at personal cost. If it costs them everything, a leader will choose right over expedient or profitable or easy or good.
  13. Passionate – people admire and are attracted to those with passion. People do not follow passion-less people.
  14. Not easily frazzled – leaders are cool under pressure and recognize that negativity is a thief. They have answers and when they don’t, they find them.
  15. A communicator – leaders always share appropriate information with those around them.
  16. Concise – leaders do not ramble on. They are not afraid to make a statement and let the chips fall where they may.
  17. A listener – listening to others is rare. Leaders focus on others and what they are communicating. They value the thoughts and opinions of others.
  18. Able to say no – when the situation needs a no, a leader will not shy away. They have the ability to say no to others and not apologize for it.
  19. Committed – when the chips are down, the future looks bleak and the personal cost is high, a leader does not waver from commitment. They have the ability to bear pain.
  20. Persistent – a leader does not give up easily. When others would have thrown in the towel, a leader will continue. When it all is falling apart around them, a leader will stand their ground and fight, encouraging their troops to rise up and conquer.
  21. Thankful – a leader is thankful. This is expressed through humility, knowing they have benefited from the assistance of others. This is also expressed in thanking others for their work and passion benefitting the cause they lead.

If you don’t feel like this list describes you, that’s OK – for leaders truly are not born, they are made. Make a personal commitment to embody the traits of a leader and watch yourself become one. If you do the things a leader does, you will become a leader.