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The Leadership Toolkit: 4 Fundamentals for Becoming a Better Leader in Your Business

In my 20-year journey of understanding leadership fundamentals, I have found change to be constant and adaptability to that change as the number one indicator of personal success.

We all understand that the world is changing. Technology alone reinvents itself in a compressed life cycle ultimately changing the way we conduct business, live our lives, and expand our leadership footprint. Ten years ago, nobody would have guessed that today's business leader would be able to receive e-mail, text, check-in for flights, manage a personal financial portfolio, and talk to others on one device.

This column is part one of a three-part series on projecting yourself forward into the new reality of change and the architecture of leadership. In this column, I will focus on your personal inventory and resources currently in your leadership toolkit.

Many of us have been fortunate enough to work with great people who have given us invaluable feedback throughout our leadership journey. Others rely on those close to us, including friends and family members. Still others rely on assessment such as 360-degree feedback, self-inventory and the current best seller in order to "fix" the issues that our leadership shadow projects and to bolster our strengths.

I have always been a firm believer in starting your leadership journey with yourself. Despite some of the current assessment trends and advice, I am a firm believer that a vast majority of who you are, what you project, and how you are received are known by you. Having the courage to be honest with yourself is typically the most difficult process in the leadership journey. However, the difficulty lies not with complexity but with the eagerness and knowledge of asking yourself the right questions.

Much of your personal development can come from knowing thyself and working on your own identified weaknesses and strengths. You may ask yourself, "But how do I know my weaknesses, or if I am overusing a strength without someone telling me what they are?" The answer is very close to you, and you do not have to far to understand who and what you are to others and, most specifically, to yourself.

It's In the Wood

Over a decade ago, I discussed operations with my divisional president over dinner. We were the number one region in the country on virtually every metric, operational performance, and financial measure, yet some of our people were disenfranchised regarding the pressure they were feeling to achieve results despite being the highest performers in the country.

My boss Dave, who was a gentleman and a very personable guy, asked me, "Tom, you were an athlete, right?" He knew that I had an extensive athletic background and played a professional sport at one time. He then asked me, "Did you ever think that your drive for results could be an overused strength and that you could be out-running your team?"

I sat back and pondered Dave's thought for awhile, and it dawned on me that the results we were achieving were just half of the equation and that how we achieved those results was as important and critical to the sustainability of our team's success.

Dave had a fatherly nature and went on to tell me, "Your drive is In The Wood." He explained to me that as the grain of wood follows a certain path, so do some core fundamental competencies and leadership dimensions within individuals. Whether it be past experience, or corporate cultures - we all define ourselves as we mature physically, professionally, and emotionally.

Dave said that although the grain runs through, it can be adapted, shaped, and taught to follow a path. These deeply entrenched grains could be harnessed and adapted to situations or leadership roles, without being eliminated.

As I continued to grow in different organizations and leadership roles, I began to look for my own opportunities to apply strengths that I was aware of in an appropriate degree while building upon areas that were dormant or underused. I continue to do this on a regular basis as I strive to be a better leader for J.D. Byrider. I push myself to ask questions. What would it be like to work for me? Am I doing everything I can be doing to help my people? Am I constantly aware of the shareholder, customer, and people proposition and the balance of them all? Am I producing the results I want - and if not, why?

Planning to Shape the New You

There is an opportunity today to shape the new leader you are to become. By reading this column, you have made an investment to become a better you. Where do you start, and how do you begin?

Start with the fundamentals:

  1. Plan to be Great: Get specific about what you like in your current leadership arsenal and what you would like to release. Make the choice to achieve success in core competencies you are weak in, and build on core competencies you display mastery in. Quantify those competencies in personal and business goals.
  2. Learn: Read everything you can on the skill you are trying to develop. Learn from people who currently display the competencies you are trying to learn. Weave their skill set into your leadership shadow.
  3. Take Action: The most important principle in Awaken the Giant Within, a book by world-renowned author and speaker Anthony Robbins, stresses the principle of ACTION. When we take action, one of two things happens: we produce the desired result or we learn from our mistake to take a different action.
  4. Measure Results: Once we have planned and set goals, how do we measure if we were successful? What milestones do we have in place? Are we patient enough with ourselves to realize behavioral change will not happen overnight? How do we change our path to refine our goals along the way?

In part two of this series, I will discuss how to gather feedback from others and incorporate that feedback to achieve business success, as well as how to improve your leadership competencies and capabilities.

Tom Welter is vice president of franchise operations for J.D. Byrider, the nation's largest used car and finance company franchise.

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