We talk about success as if it was a one-time-only event. We celebrate the overnight success of the startup entrepreneur without seeing the years of patient effort, change, modification and even failure that has taken place. In many ways, we have patience for the headlines but not the attention for the story.

Think, for example, of Tony Hsieh, the driving force behind online retailer, Zappos. It’s easy to be carried away by the $1 billion price tag Amazon paid for the revolutionary online shoe store. It’s simple to look at the stock valuation and how it grew beyond expectations. But there was a grander vision than simply growing and selling a business – back in 2005, Hsieh rebuffed Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos back in 2005:

… we told Jeff that we weren’t interested in selling at any price. I felt like we were just getting started.

Clearly, Tony Hsieh had a vision. There was an over-the-horizon prize that Hsieh was chasing – but it was one that not everyone could see. And the difference was leadership.

I believe that leadership while it can be awe inspiring, also comes with an aura of mystique. Leaders that we know and respect seem to project their presence into our lives in a “super normal” way that is beyond the understanding of many. But true leadership is anything but mysterious – and it boils down to some fundamental elements that anyone – and I do mean anyone – can apply to their professional and personal lives.

Inspired by David Cottrell’s book, Tuesday Morning Coaching, these five leadership tips can be used to start out your week:

  1. Go, go and go long. Leadership is action – and creating a do-able strategy can help you remain focused. There will be challenges and there will be problems along the road to success, but the leader knows that the only way ahead is to move forward. Remaining focused on your goals means that you actively choose a path towards success rather than unduly focusing on those issues which can derail you. Even a small amount of additional disciplined effort will yield dramatic results. Just think, if everyone you know reads one book a year and you read one book a month, in five years you’ll have read 60 books and they’ll have read 12. Will this give you a competitive advantage?
  2. Say what you mean and mean what you say. The path to miscommunication is paved with good intentions – and we can easily be tripped up by sugar coating hard messages. Similarly, praise and congratulation, where it is deserved, is vital. Leaders must push themselves to tell the truth and to act upon their words, after all, the buck stops with you. Follow-through is as essential to leadership as vision.
  3. Learn from bad leadership. We will all, at some stage, have experienced bad leadership. How did it change us? What did we learn from it? And what would we do better? These questions are vital for any leader – for we will all find ourselves in challenging situations from time to time. How we respond, our ability to learn and our agility to continue to move forward is the mark of our leadership. Make sure to learn from bad leadership.
  4. Only do what you can do. I have said this before, and I will continue to believe in it. Leaders must be ruthless in understanding their own capabilities. We must understand our vision, our goals and our priorities – and we must accurately spend our efforts where the most impact will be made. Understanding what can be delegated, what can be de-prioritized and what can be escalated is essential to the modern leader – work to build this ability.
  5. Strike the right balance. What is the role of empathy in leadership? It has been found that top performing leaders elicited laughter from their teams three times as often as mid-performing leaders. The challenge is in finding the right balance for you – and for your teams – balancing ambition, drive and intelligence with a powerful dose of empathy that keeps not only your eyes on the prize – but everyone else’s as well.

Nina Nets It Out:  Leadership is not some form of modern business magic. It’s a process that we must all work on. These five tips will help you and your teams keep your eyes on the leadership prize.

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