Leaders Go First!

Dov Baron works with leaders in creating teams that become fiercely loyal. He was named by Inc magazine as one of the Top 100 Leadership Speakers for Your Next Conference. His latest book is Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent.


leaders looking under the hoodWe’ve all had the unenviable experience of dealing with leaders who lack integrity. At the very least, that can be frustrating and demoralizing. 

On the other hand, great leaders have the ability to inspire us, and nothing is more inspiring than a leader who walks their talk. 

The invitation

In 2005, I was invited to speak at a global sales conference. I don’t often get the opportunity to do last-minute gigs, but that is exactly what this was. An executive I was mentoring at the time recommended me. The gig was taking place at the end of the week when I had a rather unusual opening in my schedule. Since synchronicity was at work, I took the opportunity when the call came. Because I didn’t have my usual prep time, I only knew the most basic of information about this company—that it was a global sales conference. 

When I arrived, I was introduced to the global sales team leaders, who each ran their own division in different countries, and to the CEO, Graham Kill. Graham had the poise of a leader and was obviously respected by the people around him. He seemed both grounded and approachable. I took an instant liking to him. 

Graham approached me after I had finished my presentation to thank me. He then invited me to join the team for dinner that night. I was honored and accepted his invitation. As I entered the restaurant, Graham motioned for me to sit next to him. Everyone was in a great mood, so dinner was lots of fun for all. 

During dinner, Graham and I got to know each other better. We shared some meaty discussion about a range of subjects including leadership in general as well as personal leadership styles. A point of real rapport happened when we spoke of how the foundation of great leadership was reliant upon self-knowledge and the necessity to lead one’s self. 

Graham is playful but also cool, calm, and collected, with a James Bond-esque demeanor. Being a true leader, he had done self-inquiry; and, as a quality leader, he understood there’s always another level of depth. 

Learning to be vulnerable

He asked about the strategies and processes I offered. We spoke about how I have worked with companies who were discovering the power of vulnerable leadership in generating fierce loyalty in their own teams. I told him about my Personal Excellence Architecture for Leaders process, which requires an individual to be with me exclusively, without interruption of any kind, for up to twenty-four hours. The process demands a level of open vulnerability with which most people are unfamiliar. Following that initial session, there’s six months of mentoring and coaching for integration. 

As you can imagine, that level of intensity alone is enough to sort out those who are genuinely committed from those who are merely interested. It clearly shows which true leaders are all about action and which are just “the tire kickers” who have a myriad of reasons why they can’t do it. 

Within a week, Graham called and said, “Let’s do this thing.” Within a month, we were meeting to review his personal excellence architecture for leaders. I, of course, won’t go into the specifics of the process, and I can’t share what Graham discovered. 

What I can tell you is that Graham became both deeply aware and extremely mindful of the beliefs and thought processes that he’d been having and the behaviors he’d been exhibiting that were either limiting or expanding him. He understood what was creating distance and disengagement as well as creating connection and engagement with others. Now he had the tools to use to move toward the latter. 

Bringing down the silos

The following summer, Graham brought us to Europe to work with his executive leadership team. This would be my opportunity to see the true level of integration Graham had applied around those he was leading. In the lead-up months before, Graham and I had discussed the outcomes he was looking for. Right at the top of the list was something so many leaders in his position face challenges with: silos. 

As a company grows, it’s natural to go from everyone wearing multiple hats and communicating about everything, to the development of departments and teams. As exciting as this can be, one of the most common challenges is that internal departments become adversarial, in essence, building silos around themselves. As a result, departments stop communicating with each other. Graham had made it crystal clear that he wanted me to find a way to pull the silos down and open up fluid communication between departments and the leaders that ran them. 

As we set up that morning, Graham and I caught up.

He asked me, “What can I do to assist so that this training will have the best possible outcome?”

My answer was short and to the point, “Leaders go first! So when asked to be vulnerable and open up, leaders go first and lead by example.” 

Without hesitation, Graham agreed to do so, and then did it. In doing so, he created the safe place his executive team needed to embrace the power of vulnerable leadership. People began opening up about the challenges they faced with their teams, with each other, and most importantly, with themselves.

This was not about finger pointing at others or self-berating; it was about vulnerability and sincere accountability. 

When a team member struggled with another team member’s way of being or leadership style, instead of making the other person wrong, the first person voiced it as their own challenge and accepted responsibility for resolving it. 

At the end of the five-day retreat, the silos were down. Each person felt like they genuinely knew their team members. Certain team members—who had resigned themselves to the idea they would never get along with a particular team member—found themselves connecting deeply with that person, feeling trust and respect for them. 

Caring, Compassion and Vulnerability

The capacity for genuine caring, compassion, and vulnerability will define the leaders of tomorrow. 

One of the major roles of a leader is to inspire and motivate people, but that inspiration will wear off faster than a fake tan in a bubble bath if the leader hasn’t had the courage to go through—and continue to go through—a process of self-inquiry. They must be willing to look under their own hoods. 

Graham was willing to get comfortable being uncomfortable as leader. He was also willing to step forward into the power of vulnerability with his team and me. This willing made the training a raving success.  


Because genuine courage is contagious. 

Key Points to Remember

  • Great leaders go first! They bypass “interested” and go straight to “committed!”
  • Vulnerability and accountability are best friends
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable
  • Self-knowledge is the cornerstone of emotionally intelligent leadership
  • Commit to becoming brilliant at working out why you are actually upset about   any given situation. (Alternatively, get help in learning how to do so.)
  • Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t play the blame game, nor do they let rambling, negative self-talk take control of their minds
  • Make finding your drivers, motives, and moods an adventure.

Courage is not only inspiring, it’s contagious.

What do you think about leaders going first?

Image source before quote:  morgueFile.com





Use Wind In Your Sails to Accelerate Your Leadership

DJ Greer Wind In Your SailsJane recently wrote over at The Lead Change Group a post on Life, Love, & Leadership Lessons In Unlikely Places. In my book Wind In Your Sails: Vital Strategies That Accelerate Your Entrepreneurial Success,  I help push entrepreneurs into their own unlikely places.

Creating Challenges

In my recent Lead Change Group post Synergy, I wrote of the need to challenge people out of their comfort zones. Pushing people into their “purposeful discomfort” as Jane wrote in her post. We will only make really change, including accelerating our businesses and organizations, if we as leaders challenge those who work for us. We have to make people uncomfortable in order to push them and ourselves into new areas.

When we make it safe for people to be challenged, we create the opportunity for synergy. The ability for two people to create something much greater than either individual. Helping someone overcome their challenges creates connection and trust. Which leads to greater abilities to take on even more changes and challenges.

Choose Where You Are Going

Entrepreneurs want to be first. Every time. Yet being first at the wrong thing gets you nowhere.

I spend a whole chapter of Wind In Your Sails on corporate strategy. Strategic planning needs to start with a vision where you will be in 5-10 years, a clear set of focus areas to be accomplished in the next three years, and crystal clear measurable goals for the next year. The only way to achieve this level of planning is for the entrepreneur and their senior management team to get off site every quarter for two days of debate and decision-making.

When you have put the time in to do the planning, being first for the right goal can accelerate your business or organization beyond belief. 

Leadership Through Shared Values

Entrepreneurs creating high performing organizations have the right people, heading in the right direction, behaving on the same set of core values. Great customer experiences come when everyone in organization acts the same way towards the customer. Which only happens when everyone values the customer. Including the entrepreneur.

When people are aligned, working in an environment that matches their value systems, they cannot help but lead and grow. Combine that with an environment where they are constantly challenged towards clear and ambitious goals and you will find people who are leading and thriving.

If you want to lead, read Wind In Your Sails today and you will have three concrete action items to accelerate your leadership in the next 90 days.





How Savvy Are You About Office Politics?

Today’s guest contributor is Bonnie Marcus, author of The Politics of Promotion: How High Achieving Women Get Ahead and Stay Ahead (Wiley, March 2015). You can learn more by visiting her site or by picking up a copy on Amazon.


playing office politics wellPolitical savvy is critical for career success and the good news is that you don’t need to lose your integrity in the process.

Political savvy involves developing relationships and a sensitivity to the culture of the organization.

This can be accomplished over time with the use of keen observation and listening skills.

Using Lisa Mainiero’s work as a guide, I have identified four stages for development of political savvy.

4 growth stages in playing office politics wisely and well

Stage 1: Naiveté

In Stage 1, you are completely focused on your work. In fact, you spend most of your time in your cubicle or office. You most likely work long hours and are not tuned into or even aware of the politics around you. You can be in Stage 1 at the very beginning of your career or when you transition to a new role or company and need to learn the rules of the game all over again.

Then something occurs that catches you off guard and opens your eyes to the culture and decision-making process. Maybe you were passed over for a promotion or see others less qualified than you being promoted. At this point, you begin to move toward Stage 2.

Stage 2: Great Work

In this stage, you see the importance of developing your personal brand and creating visibility and credibility across the organization. You still work very hard, but now you see that relationships are also important for your advancement.

However, you are not actively building relationships for your career or prioritizing this. You are aware of the politics but do not yet engage. You recognize that if you want to get ahead, you need to focus on your career, not just your work. You have yet to figure out how to fit this into your work schedule.

Stage 3: Career Strategy

The next stage, Stage 3, is about becoming strategic. You are looking at where you want to go and creating a strategic plan to get there. Your plan includes building relationships with key stakeholders and influencers.

You are aware that if you want to succeed, you need to delegate to and empower your team and develop your own personal influence and self-promotion skills. You recognize the importance of working with a coach or finding a mentor and sponsor.

Stage 4: Political Savvy

In Stage 4, you have reached a leadership position by leveraging your talent and hard work along with the relationships you have built across the organization.

Now at the top of your organization, you see politics as a way of maintaining your status, promoting your ideas, and helping others to move up the ladder. It’s more competitive on top and you spend much of your time and energy working the politics. Women in this stage are great role models for other women in the company and should actively mentor other men and women to achieve their goals.

Where are you in terms of your political savvy?

What stage best represents where you are right now?

What do you need to do to move to the next stage of political savvy?



Image source:  Dreamstime | A longer version of this post appeared 2/3/15 at forbes.com.


Women, High Heels and L.E.A.D.

Today’s guest contributor is Debora McLaughlin, CEO of The Renegade Leader Coaching and Consulting Group, executive coach, and author. Debora helps business owners, executives, and managers ignite their inner renegade leader to unleash their full potential, drive their visions, and yield positive results both in business and in life.  


women leadersI’d like to see business women celebrate Women’s History Month by taking the L.E.A.D. and embracing their inner Sofia Vergara.

There’s more to her than meets the eye.  

She’s been the top-earning actress on television for three years running and is a wildly successful entrepreneur who embraces herself, including her own beauty, her 40s, her health as a thyroid cancer survivor, her previous status as a single mother, her multiple endorsement deals from corporations that reflect her life—and she does it all with swagger. She represents a new face in business leadership. Multiple studies have found that personality traits formerly thought of as “feminine” are now seen as preferred leadership features in business.

Solitude: a surprise tool for making important decisions

Edward G. Brown is today’s guest contributor. He is the author of The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had and co-founder of Cohen Brown Management Group, the #1 firm in culture change management consulting and training for the financial services industry. You can connect with Edward on Twitter.


“What? You’re not meditating?” demanded a recent article.

The article went on to explore today’s “mindfulness meditation” mania, so popular that it has already sparked the backlash that we fickle beings accord anything that captivates us for longer than a news cycle.  

(I’ll say this for our hyper-connected world: These days the backlash comes so fast that there’s less danger of your having overinvested in the original craze it’s lashing back at.)  

Gender equality: what will it take to make us pay attention?


gender equalityThe national movement that’s begun in sports to hold domestic violence abusers accountable is gratifying and long overdue.

I live in South Carolina, which for too long, has been one of the worst states for violence against women. State government is currently on a (hopeful) path to finally enacting some meaningful legislation.

Interest and action in South Carolina were spurred by a tremendous series by the Post and Courier—articles were graphic and full of hard-hitting (no pun intended) domestic violence statistics. The movement in sports took off after the horrific video of Ray Rice punching his fiance went viral.

Work on the menace that’s racism is gaining traction and coverage as well. Thanks in no small part to several people sadly losing their lives.

While the engagement and attention are welcome and rewarding on both of these fronts, the need for the proverbial sharp stick in the eye before something happens is puzzling.

Why is that so?

On another front, a recent Pew Research Center study reported that the delta in the numbers between women and men in senior leadership positions is based on perception and gender discrimination. As Aliah D. Wright writes in a SHRM article about this research:

“According to the research, ‘most Americans find women indistinguishable from men on key leadership traits such as intelligence and capacity for innovation, with many saying they’re stronger than men in terms of being compassionate and organized leaders.’ Yet, four in 10 Americans said there is a double standard for women who want to climb into the upper echelons of management because they ‘have to do more than their male counterparts in order to prove themselves.’”

Like domestic violence and racism, sexism has been around for a long time. The dismal statistics about women’s lack of representation in senior positions, on boards, and in politics gets reported over and over—without any significant social movement or business initiative taking root.

Why is that so?

Women in business know, all too well, the gender inequality impacts of unconscious bias, stereotypes, and covert discrimination—impacts that fuel frustration and broken spirits but that don’t leave black eyes, broken bones, or loss of life.

What is it going to take to jolt gender equality to the front page, to a trending social media topic, and to the top of every CEO’s to-do list? Thoughts?

Image source before quote:  morgueFile.com



IWD 2015: Women & Men Make It Happen

women making their voice heard“In 2015, ‘awareness’ is out—action is in” — reads a TIME post for International Women’s Day.

Agreed, it is time for more action around gender equality, but let’s not totally discard the awareness! Paying attention keeps men and women focused on the issues. Being under the microscope is good because without it progress slows, even stops. (And without it, South Carolina politicians will continue feeling free to think women are *sigh* lesser cuts of meat.”)

I work to challenge stereotypes and gender bias, and see three ways for women and like-minded men to “make it happen” in 2015:

3 things to do next time


what to do next timeEach month without fail over the last several years, I’d volunteered for this group. So seeing a new monthly schedule that didn’t contain my name was a surprise. 

In rapid succession, surprise was replaced with anger (how dare they!), then doubt (don’t they want my help anymore?), followed by reflectiveness (is there a message buried somewhere in here?), and finally, curiosity (what’s going on?).

Years ago depending on where I was in my personal development, I would have gotten stuck somewhere in that chain.

Include Girls in the Boy’s Club

Today’s guest post is from Ritch K. Eich, PhD, a retired U.S. Naval Reserve captain, former chief of public affairs at Blue Shield of CA and Stanford University Medical Center, adjunct professor, management consultant, and author of two books: Real Leaders Don’t Boss and Leadership Requires Extra Innings. Ritch has served on 10 for-profit and non-profit boards of directors and trustees.



women in the old boy clubWhether it’s Hollywood movie studios and their paucity of female directors, the tech industry and their alarming exodus of frustrated women, or the stifling male fraternity culture that dominates Wall Street, women continue to be marginalized in the business world.

The vast majority of CEOs responding to a McKinsey survey noted that hiring females is essential to “getting the best brains.” Sounds pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Despite increasing awareness of this issue, meaningful change remains agonizingly slow—less than 20 of the Fortune 500 CEOs are women, and on average, women earn just 77 cents for every dollar earned by their male counterparts.  

Do’s and Don’ts for Leadership Development


Today’s guest contributor is Ivan Serrano, a business, finance and social media journalist living in Northern California. 


leaders go firstThere are many styles of leadership just as there are many situations that require leadership. At one end of the spectrum of leadership there are aggressive, autocratic individuals like George Patton and Margaret Thatcher. On the other end, there are leaders like Mohandas Gandhi and Mother Teresa whose styles are characterized by empathy and empowerment. Most leaders have a style that is somewhere between these two extremes.