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.

How do we build community?

As business owners and people, why do we do what we do? How do we give back? What’s our responsibility? How do we build community?

Through my involvement with Leadership Montgomery, I had the opportunity last fall to visit the Montgomery County Correctional Facility in Boyds, Md. Upon speaking with the prisoners, I was struck by how bad decisions ruin lives and how some so continually fall through the cracks of our society. On the spot, and not knowing exactly how or why, I committed to get more involved hands on. A few weeks ago, I taught the first in a series of 90- to 120-minute classes at the prison. I was humbled by the prisoners’ gratitude, eagerness to learn and hope for their futures. I am not sure how or if the class affected them, but I know I will not be the same. I have given many presentations over the past 11 years, but none have been more impactful for me as was that class.

Leadership, Self-limiting Beliefs, and the Cost of Fear

Belief (n): something believed; an opinion or conviction: a belief that the earth is flat.

Fear (n): a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, or pain — whether the threat is real or imagined; the feeling or condition of being afraid

“Something believed.” Is the earth flat? This was something once believed.


A “belief” is easily defined — something we believe to be true. What’s great is that we can deepen positive beliefs, adopt new ones and change our current ones. The challenge is identifying and managing our negative beliefs — those that are self-limiting. Self-limiting beliefs prevent us from realizing our full potential. They limit our self view. They create fear, and they stifle our true expression of our development as leaders.

In my business experience, I’ve found seven common self-limiting beliefs:
•    I can’t trust people
•    I am not good enough
•    Conflict is bad
•    My family never had money so neither will I
•    I need to be right
•    I am too old
•    I am not smart enough

Where do these negative voices and thoughts come from? When did they start? How do they impact our strategic growth and focus?

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

The above words from Franklin Delano Roosevelt are perhaps the most patriotic words evoked in the chaos of the 20th century. Proclaimed during the president’s first inaugural address (amidst the reality of a devastating economy and lack of confidence), the words are well remembered, and often quoted. But they are seldom embraced and not fully understood.

The fear that we experience can be paralyzing and corrosive. It prevents us from reaching our full potential. It immobilizes us. It keeps us in our comfort zone. And it is entirely based on a story track looping inside our heads.

You have to wonder what these self-limiting beliefs and fears cost us in terms of sales or profits, employee and customer service, strategic planning and business growth, family, relationships, health, sleep and tension. The list can go on and on.

Where do these beliefs come from? How long are we willing to hold onto them? What is the payback we’re getting from holding onto them? How much comfort do we really get from staying in our comfort zone? How can we reframe these thoughts? We need to be committed to asking the right questions.

What questions are you asking yourself?


In his ancient military treatise, “The Art of War,” Sun Tzu says that true leaders stand for the virtues of wisdom, courage and strictness. They understand that true power lies in the ability to turn a negative belief into an uncompromisingly positive one by changing their response to it.

Leaders use not only their minds and bodies, but engage their hearts and souls as well. They have quieted angry and negative internal beliefs by learning how to reframe them. The brain is smart and won’t allow you to immediately transition from “I am not smart enough” to “I am smart enough.” The brain says, “after all these years you expect me to believe that?” But you can reframe these thoughts with a simple “if and/then” formula. Your new belief becomes: “if I am prepared and have stayed current on industry trends, then I will be able to deal with any situation that comes along.”

Ask the right questions, be fearless in facing beliefs that you aren’t necessarily profiting from, and be abundant in how you live and how you lead.

Limiting beliefs cause fear. Fear causes scarcity. Scarcity puts us in survival mode. Survival mode creates voids and paucity in leadership. Lack of leadership creates fear, and allows for the cycle to remain unbroken.

It is our obligation to break that cycle. We are leaders; we are strategic; we understand what leadership entails and the power it holds.