Becoming an Indispensable Leader by Transforming Your Business Relationships (Part One)
by Rod Robison
None of us is irreplaceable but we should all strive to be indispensable to the business we work for or own. As I drove away after receiving and accepting my first job offer in broadcasting 40 years ago, I still remember a promise I made to myself. I would always give my employer more value than they paid me for so they could never afford to let me go. And they never did. I’ve continued to apply that same commitment to my magic and mentalism entertainment business – give more value to the client than the compensation I receive.
Over the past few decades as an executive, consultant, and corporate speaker and entertainer, I’ve seen companies thrive and others flounder. I’ve witnessed people who have grown professionally in rewarding careers and others who have stagnated and grown frustrated. The line between the two extremes is usually drawn by whether or not a few leadership basics – that are often forgotten or ignored – are adopted.
Whether you own your business, manage employees working for you, or you’re an employee with a passion to achieve a higher level of responsibility, leadership is required. Becoming an indispensable leader isn’t magic in that it’s not some formula for success that’s more theory than reality. But the following strategies, when applied consistently, will transform your leadership skills “like magic.”
You may well have already incorporated some of these strategies into your leadership mix. Maybe some of them have simply slipped off your radar and the following few paragraphs will be a reminder that it’s time to focus more of your mental and emotional energies on them. Or perhaps most or all of these are new to you. Regardless of where you are along the leadership continuum, I think you’ll find these strategies to be powerful yet simple ways to make your career as a leader more rewarding financially and especially emotionally and relationally.
Appreciate others lavishly.
Nearly a century ago Dale Carnegie, in his ground-breaking book How to Win Friends and Influence People, said, “Be hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise.” Appreciation expressed sincerely and often goes a long way in your interaction with your employees, co-workers, clients and, if you’re an entertainer or speaker, your audience members. After all these years since Carnegie penned that advice, people are still people. Their personal felt needs are basically the same, including the need to feel appreciated. If you haven’t read Carnegie’s book, grab a copy and soak in the wisdom. It’s one of the best books ever written on building relationships. And relationships are what successful businesses are built on.
Your business is NOT your life.
Early in my executive leadership career a friend gave me a book the title of which I can’t recall. It’s just as well. It was a study of the most successful leaders in the United States and what it would take to be great like them. In short, the book’s author suggested that to be among the greats one had to live, sleep, and eat business. It had to be Numero Uno in my life, the author opined. At that point I closed the book and determined that if that was what it took to be one of the greats I wasn’t interested. Of course, it’s not. Our lives are much more diverse and there are higher priorities than making the next sale, signing the next contract and the next and the next. Yes, your business deserves and requires your best. But to be your best so you can effectively build your business, you have to keep a balanced life. A burned out leader leads to a burned out business.
Clearly define the “Why” of your business.
In Simon Sinek’s popular Ted Talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action he reveals a simple but profound approach to building a business. Start by defining the Why of your business. And by that, he doesn’t mean making a profit. That is a necessary result of your business. But your customers don’t care if you make a profit. However, they do care about what you can do for them that will tap things they care about – their “felt needs.” Things that can change their lives for the better and/or that ignite their passion. Sinek nails it: “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it. And if you talk about what you believe you will attract those who believe what you believe.” And when your business is all about the Why, you’ll be more energized to lead your business to greater heights.
I’ll give you an example. The Why of my Mentallusions magic and mentalism show is not to fool my audience. That would be rather self-focused wouldn’t it? Rather, my focus is on the felt needs of the audience – giving them a few moments of amazement, fun and escape from everyday life and, even more importantly, inspiring them to believe that what might seem on the surface to be impossible is, in fact, possible.
Be passionate about your Why.
Passion is contagious. If you’re totally sold on your company’s cause – which ultimately is your Why – you’ll be much more effective when you communicate it to your employees and customers. As an entertainer, I strive to exude passion from the stage or, in my strolling magic and mentalism, up close and personal at a cocktail party. That’s pretty easy for me because I am, in fact, passionate about giving my audience an experience they’ll talk about for days. Whatever you offer your clients, offer it passionately and with their best interests in mind and they will remember you.
If you’re not passionate about your Why, find another Why.
Hopefully, your business is doing life-impacting work that positively affects people’s lives. Immerse yourself in your Why and the stories of people whose lives are being impacted. But if you find that you’re not passionate about the Why, that’s okay. Find one you are passionate about. If you own your business, take focused time to examine and, perhaps, reorder your Why with guidance from Simon Sinek’s classic Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action.
Relational vs. transactional sales and leadership.
Build genuine relationships with your co-workers and customers. Care about them. Ask them how they’re doing. Listen to them. Dare I say it – love them genuinely. (Yeah, I know that’s very hard to do with some people, but get over yourself.) When your view of others is based primarily on what they can do for you you’ll either burn bridges or burn out your own character and self-worth. There is a richness of life that is rewarded to those who build up others. As one of my former staff members used to say, “Don’t treat people like a wallet.”
When I interact with a corporate client who is hiring me to entertain at their event, I make it clear that I’m not going to just show up and do the show. I ask them how else I can help them make their event a huge success. Then at the show or as I perform from table to table I’m focusing on relational experiences for my audience through interactive mentalism and magic rather than simply doing some clever tricks to fool them. That would be a mere transactional experience for them – and not a very satisfying one at that.
As a business leader, you have an “audience” in a real sense, whether they’re your employees, clients, or your boss. Be genuinely interested in them (relational), not just what you can receive from them (transactional).
Focus your people and yourself on their strengths.
It’s far more effective to allow your team members to focus on leveraging their God-given strengths than to focus on improving on their weaknesses. That’s not to suggest that some critical weaknesses shouldn’t be dealt with – they should in some cases. But people are more energized and enthusiastic when they know they have the freedom to live in their sweet spots while making a positive impact on others.
When I first began developing my magic and mentalism skills decades ago, I determined to specialize in a branch of magical entertainment that not only would ignite my passions and that of my audience, but would capitalize on my strengths. For instance, I’m not and never will be a dove-producing, coin-manipulating, rabbit-in-the-hat type magician. I know magicians who are, and some of them are very good at what they do. But I found that mentalism (mindreading) in a humorous, audience-interactive context was something I could do well, I thoroughly enjoyed, and that my audience loved. So, that was the strength I focused on and continue to capitalize on.
Taking the time to examine and focus your own passions and strengths and those of the people you lead is well worth the time and effort.
Adopt Situational Leadership principles for your business.
Everyone has varying degrees of expertise and responsiveness to different styles of leadership. Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership II is an excellent approach to adjusting your leadership/management style to the needs of your team members. Strong leadership is not “one size fits all, like it or leave it.” Some employees require more direction throughout a project’s progression simply because they haven’t done it before. Others only need broad direction then be allowed to do what they do best with minimal oversight. Indispensable leaders understand and act upon the reality that they, as well as their employees, will achieve better results when leadership style closely aligns with the employees’ level of expertise. Of course, it also requires flexibility and willingness to adapt to the situation.
In a similar sense, I customize my programs – whether after dinner platform or strolling entertainment, motivational speaking, or emceeing an event – to the situation and needs of the client and their audience. I was hired a few years ago by a large real estate agency to fill in for an emcee who had a last minute emergency. The situation called for some quick rework of my normal show to fit the unique format of their event. It was an easy transition for me and I had as much fun as the audience did.
As you adapt your leadership style to your varied situations and employees’ strengths you’ll find that your outcomes will improve and you’ll have more fun and less stress in the process.
Set SMART goals.
This simple goal-setting method is a game changer. You can avoid fuzzy, subjective goals by making each one of them Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-based. If you’re not familiar with setting SMART goals, there are plenty of good articles on-line to help.
Track your SMART goals.
It can be as simple as setting up an Excel spreadsheet to track monthly progress toward achieving your goals and your team’s goals. Or you can adopt more sophisticated software if your business warrants it. Review the SMART goals regularly with your team corporately and individually. Then keep them accountable to their SMART goals while coaching them for success.
Reward your employees for meeting their SMART goals.
The reward(s) for meeting or exceeding agreed-upon goals should be clear up-front, then followed through with not only the reward(s) but with genuine, stated appreciation. And to show your appreciation even more, from time to time surprise your employees with a reward they weren’t expecting. Like…oh, I don’t know… maybe a show by an entertaining mentalist and magician.
I performed for a well-known law firm in Phoenix not long ago. The company owner took the time following my after dinner show to passionately and genuinely tell his employees that they – not he – were the reason the firm was so successful. The sense the pride of ownership and appreciation for their boss each of those employees felt and expressed was palpable. Rewards with sincerely expressed appreciation build loyal, passionate employees who will follow you – and help lead everyone – toward the success you all richly deserve.
The beauty of these leadership strategies is that you can launch them today.
I would encourage you to choose a few that you feel will be most effective for you, your team, and your business. Begin incorporating them into your personal and team culture. Then adopt a few more and launch them in earnest as well.
In my next blog, we’ll reveal a few more strategies for becoming an indispensable business leader.
About Rod Robison
Rod Robison’s executive leadership career spans four decades with network broadcast companies, as a consultant, and as an event entertainer and speaker. His comedy magic and mentalism show Mentallusions is featured at some of the country’s finest resorts and has entertained corporate audiences for the past twenty years. Rod, his wife Jeannie, and their family enjoy life in the desert at their Tucson, Arizona ranch home.