“The Algebraics of Leadership”

This post is the first in a three-part series from my most recent speaking engagement at the Texas Travel Industry Association Tourism College. The attendees asked that I blog about each presentation since not everyone was able to attend all three sessions.


Being a leader has very little to do with telling people what to do. Matter of fact is has nothing to do with telling people what to do. It involves things like being a team player, being unselfish and putting your team in position to be successful. As I thought about leadership, the normal people came to mind, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Welch and the like. But when I thought about the idea of making your team successful, and seeing as though we just crowned a new NBA Champion, two people came to mind who are great leaders – Tim Duncan and LeBron James.

Tim Duncan was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs in 1997 as the overall #1 pick. He is considered to be the greatest power forward of all time, is a five-time NBA champion, two-time NBA MVP, three-time NBA Finals MVP, and was the 1998 NBA Rookie of the Year. To add to it, he is a 15-time NBA All-Star and the only player ever to be selected to both the All-NBA and All-Defensive Teams in every one of his first 13 seasons. After 19 years in the NBA, Tim still continues to be a leader on the Spurs, despite diminishing basketball skills. And while his skills have continued to diminish, he also made the decision to take less money so that the Spurs organization could continue to pursue championships. But one area that has never wavered about Tim is his character. He is one of the most upstanding NBA citizens, and has never been involved in any off-court issues – and while he is not very vocal, he leads by example.

LeBron James, could one day go down as the greatest NBA player of all-time, but only time will tell. LeBron too was the overall #1 pick in 2003 by the Cleveland Cavaliers. He left Cleveland to pursue a championship ring with the Miami Heat, and delivered…twice. He then made the decision to come back home to Cleveland and bring the city an NBA championship, of which the city had not won a major sports championship in 51 years. When LeBron announced his return, he said, “But what’s most important for me is bringing one trophy back to Northeast Ohio.” His return wasn’t about him, it was about the trophy. And yes, he delivered.

These two gentleman are a very small sample of the greatest leaders in the world, and they both offer different ways to be a leader. After thinking about some of the greatest leaders that I have met and/or read about, I compiled this list of four characteristics you need to be a great leader:

Advisor > Dictator [ Advisor is greater than Dictator]
As a leader, you should be careful not to criticize or undermine your team. The team knows their tasks better than you, which allows you to take on an advisory role. Dictators don’t know a lot, but act and treat others as if they know everything and don’t share information. Advisors know a lot, but share that same knowledge with their team, so that they are equally educated. People work best when their leaders respect their work, and empower them to make their own decisions.

Character > Skills [ Character is greater than Skills]
Often times, people think that the greater your skills, the better leader you will become. But it is actually the greater your character, the better leader you will become. If we look at some of the world’s greatest leaders, none of them have ALL the skills, but they build a team around them that balances out their shortcomings. Great leaders work on their character more than their skill set. Character flaws have brought down many great leaders of the past, and we are seeing that play out firsthand during the 2016 Presidential election.

Mission > You [Mission is greater than You]
As a leader, it is not about you – it’s about the mission. And the mission is greater than you. You can substitute the word mission for objective, goal, vision or whatever else you want…but in the end, whatever it is, it needs to be bigger than you. When you work towards something outside of yourself, it allows you to fully commit, because you won’t care who gets the credit.

Transparency (to the nth degree)
As a leader, you have to be clear with your team. During your team meetings or your one-on-one meetings, your job is to make sure that the team understands how their roles play into the overall organization. You also need to take time and share news about the challenges and progress of the organization. Be open about where you are in your daily tasks as well, and allow the team to be able to bring the most pressing issues to your attention so that you can help.

Photo courtesy: http://under30ceo.com.

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