The three pillars of growth every leader should know

Assess. Design. Implement.

In business and in life, true leaders must have the ability to assess the situation, design a plan of attack, and then implement that plan. Over the course of my next few blog posts, we will examine each of these three components in depth.

Pillar 1: Assess

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses makes little calculation beforehand. Thus many calculations lead to victory and few lead to defeat.”  Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“There is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away.”  Winston Churchill

While seemingly obvious, the beginning of any campaign needs to be an accurate assessment of the situation. One cannot design an appropriate plan without a truthful assessment. Unfortunately, on too many occasions, we have all witnessed poor leadership due to a faulty or delusional view of reality.

As leaders, business owners, and members of our community, we have the responsibility and privilege to conduct assessments that look at the gaps of where we are and where we need to be. But the questions asked and the answers we derive must be based on the reality of what is, not the fantasy of what we want it to be.

In Good to Great, Jim Collins’ seminal work, he interviews Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a prisoner of war (along with Senator John McCain) from 1965-1973. Held at what was referred to as the Hanoi Hilton in Vietnam, he endured years of torture and brutality. When Collins asked which prisoners didn’t survive, Stockdale answered: “the optimists…they were the ones who said we’re going to be out by Christmas and Christmas would come and go…and then Easter would come and go…and then Thanksgiving would come and go…and then it would be Christmas again and they died of a broken heart.” According to Stockdale, the critical lesson is “…never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

We are obligated to create a culture and an environment that supports and demands that we are constantly looking for those “brutal facts.” Easier said than done, and it is a process that we at times self-sabotage.

To avoid the pitfalls of self-delusion, you must ask yourself seven questions:

  1. Is your assessment process driven by making popular or accurate decisions?
  2. Are you empowering your people to communicate honestly?
  3. Are you more concerned with ‘looking good’ rather than looking in the mirror?
  4. Do you allow conflict to play an effective and constructive role when making decisions, or are you always looking for 100% consensus?
  5. Are you more concerned with how you are viewed than results?
  6. Do you surround yourself with people or confidants who will call it as they see it and not by what they think you want to hear?
  7. Do you have the courage to hear the truth?

Here is an exercise that will test your will: once you answer the questions above, do you have the courage to ask your team, your friends and your family if they agree with you?

The great motivational speaker and author Jack Canfield talks about how to change outcomes from negative to positive. The event is what it is, we can’t undo it. Things happen. Ceilings collapse. The only thing we can change is our response to it. Assess the new situation, make hard decisions based on it and take action. It is a powerful lesson. One that applies equally as strong in business and leadership.

In our next article we’ll cover the second pillar of leadership growth: the design process.