Five Steps for Making Your Leadership Like a Blast of Fresh Air

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In his book, Leapfrogging, Soren Kaplan reminds us that, “the human brain is wired to appreciate positive surprise.” He goes on to say that, when we experience such a surprise, three things happen:

  1. We want more of it.
  2. We want to find out how and why it works
  3. We want to tell others about it so we can take a little credit for the smile that will soon be on their face.

In a recent leadership seminar with a client group in New York, I asked the assembled group of senior business leaders to recount a time when they were positively surprised (make that amazed) by a product, service, or experience.

A few iProducts came to mind along with things like ice cream, Cirque du Soleil, the ability to “swipe” a digital tablet (or other) display page, and, we can’t leave out sex can we? One fellow proudly held up his Windows phone, and even in a room dominated by Seattle residents, I thought for a moment that his life might be in danger.

Then, we posed a related, but different question: How would it impact your business, and indeed your life if people found your leadership to be a positive surprise on that same order? What would it be like if people wanted more of your leadership? If they wanted to better understand it and to tell others about it? How might that affect your ability to recruit, engage, and retain talented staff members? Huh? What about their willingness to part with Discretionary Effort? Interested?

The principle of positive surprise applies every bit as much to leadership as it does to products, services, and other experiences. If we want to achieve it, there are five (5) things we must do:

  1. Understand first and foremost that leadership is NOT about you. It’s about THEM, your team… the folks you’re responsible for leading.
  2. Invest heavily in every team member, not just with organizational assets, but with your own personal store as well – your time, talent, trust, and political capital.
  3. Maintain high standards. No one, least of all high performers wants to work with turkeys.
  4. Be quick to own your mistakes. People don’t expect you to be perfect. They do, however, expect you to be genuine, and that means fessing up when you’ve stepped in it.
  5. Have two expressions on the tip of your tongue, ready to be used genuinely and often: Thank You; and Tell Me What You Think.

And on that last point, tell us what you think. We appreciate your comments, suggestions, and even a little push back now and then.

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