What Leaders Do Differently

I recently interviewed a group of seasoned executive leaders representing companies ranging from Fortune 10-500 organizations, and I asked them about what successful leaders do differently.

What they shared could just as easily be called the


Here’s a summary of what they told me:

1. Do the hard thing.

We live in an instant gratification society. Got a headache? Pop a pill. Getting hungry? Hit a drive thru. Want to lose weight? Begin a fad diet. You get the idea: people want EXTREME RESULTS with minimal effort.

Lasting results often require commitment, sacrifice, and investment. One leader reported to me that the defining moment of her career was when she said YES to transplanting her family as an expatriate to Singapore for 3 years. Easy? No. But rewarding, YES! As a result of her sacrifice and the experience she gained, she returned to the US to take a promotion over the US, Latin American, and Asian markets.

Another told how she took a small promotion that yanked her out of New York City and transplanted her to a tiny town in Iowa. After that stint, she returned to NYC to a much bigger role.

Growth comes with the courage and determined mindset President Kennedy spoke of when he said,

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

2. Know your values and the values of the business.

Recently, I conducted practice job interviews at a local college to help prepare students for finding a job after graduation. During a panel interview, we asked a student this question:

What would you do if your boss asked you to do something unethical?

The student responded that he’d point out that the request was unethical and to follow it would have consequences.

Then we asked a follow up:

What if your boss pushed?

The student caved: “Then I’d do what he asked me to do to the best of my ability.”

Know your personal values and commit to them so that when you’re confronted with temptation or pressure, you don’t fold like $2 card table.

And know what’s valued in your business. Understand what your company does to make money…or lose money. Know your products, your market strategy, your competition, and your differentiators. Knowing the values allows you to add value.

3. Don’t Say YES just to get along.

Every relationship involves compromise. And I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with saying YES to your spouse’s request to eat at a certain restaurant or watch a certain movie on date night. In those cases, it’s more than acceptable to say YES just to get along.

But don’t say YES to things that compromise you. Peer pressure causes teenagers to cave on things ranging from cheating on tests to smoking, drinking to having sex. Recognize that saying YES puts you on the hook for both the intended and unintended consequences of that YES.

One leader told me that he was asked to outsource the entire HR function. He didn’t like the idea, and he know in his gut that this was the wrong decision. But he didn’t speak up. Rather, he did was he asked to do. The company nearly folded a year later, and it was at that time that the decision was made to bring the HR function back in house.

When I asked him why he didn’t speak up earlier, he answered with great candor: “I didn’t have the courage to tell my boss that I disagreed. If I had, I might have saved the company millions of dollars.”

There’s a proverb that says, “Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy.”

Work translation: You get paid to have and offer your best opinions and thoughts, not to suck up or play to get along. 

4. Be a company advocate.

Don’t become an employee advocate. Does that sound like a way to create a disengaged workforce? It’s not. Actually, when you become an employe advocate, you often end up playing King Solomon where you’re asked to serve as referee. Or you end up becoming a surrogate union steward. That’s not the role of a leader. And by trying to please every employee, you end up providing a disservice to the majority.

Instead, be a company advocate. If an employee quits, the company will survive. If the company goes under, every employee goes under. Know your priorities.

Oh, and if you can’t be a wholehearted company advocate and ambassador, you owe it to yourself and your organization to find another job.


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