Being a leader means living as a constant student. I believe one of the most common misconceptions is that when you arrive at the leadership role you have been seeking, you automatically become a leader. That idea is false, and that false sense of confidence can hinder a person’s growth and opportunities. I would revise that statement to say: When you arrive, that is when things actually start to happen.
I love growing; it keeps you relevant and self-aware. During my time in leadership, and now in consulting and coaching, I have found there are very specific and consistent areas where a leader—upcoming or established—can truly hone their skills, time investment, and evolution. These areas can be encapsulated in four tenets which are really for anyone at any level to explore; from those looking to build a business and professionals seeking to incorporate more leadership values into their lives to individuals already in leadership who are hungry for the next stage in how they approach achievement and success.
The four tenets, or issues, of leadership that I speak of are teamwork, execution, excellence, and sticking to your values and guiding principles. I learned these from my own personal mentors and from experiences navigating my way through retail operations, fresh produce challenges, and the human politics that make us great—but can also get in the way of that greatness. I hope they can do as much for you as they have done for me and those I have worked with over the years. Let’s take a look.
One of the values I really strive to incorporate in business and in life is teamwork. I think it’s important to consider, no matter the business or the project. Great teamwork can never be overstated. At the end of the day, I believe those who execute the best win. It’s always been that way, and it always will be. I will expand on execution a bit more next, but for now, teamwork is key.
We’re all in this thing together. You have to understand that no single job is more important than another—we all just do different things, right? If everybody enacts their role’s responsibilities with excellence and passion, then the team wins and is successful. Every task and each responsibility builds toward success, and if you deem one more important than another, the ship falls apart and, suddenly, you realize the screw was just as important as the sail.
This leads me to execution, which teamwork really helps to define and support.
There’s been a philosophy I’ve always incorporated: Brilliant execution of a flawed plan will always outperform the flawed execution of a brilliant plan. This belief has played true every time, and I think that’s important to remember. Put simply, those who execute the best win. And that holds true in business and life. I think great execution is something for everybody to strive for, not only personally, but also when you’re working with your team and developing the business.
The means to the end matter. The project or business is never only about the outcome, and that kind of thinking is a short game. You want to exist for the long haul.
With great teamwork and execution, you can achieve excellence—a goal I believe we all aspire to.
I was fortunate to be brought up in an environment that really strived for excellence, and I was also very fortunate to, at an early age, go to work for a company where it was part of the culture. Working for The Save Mart Companies for 43 years was such a gift, and I find it is now my role to bestow those teachings I learned with those around me.
Save Mart and I strived to be excellent in everything we did. Please know that you cannot be perfect, but you can be excellent. I try to live up to that, even today, and instill that in people I work with, and also my kids and grandkids.
Excellence is about holding a very high standard in whatever you do, say, or think. I think it’s in that striving, that effort, in which excellence really happens. If you are able to execute with excellence, you’re likely to be successful in whatever you’re presently working on, as well as in life in general.
Excellence can be more than just a tenet of the workplace. Over time, it can be an essential piece of who you are. Your personal and professional values strongly come into play here and can coexist in any environment. If you are lucky and dedicated, those values are even the same.
I’ve always preached to my teams that you should and must embrace change. But, also, cling dearly to your guiding principles and values. This is so important. In the trials and tribulations of management, you find out your intuition is pretty darn good if you know what your values are. If you maintain and really make decisions based on your values and your guiding principles, things will always turn out better.
For me, these tenets are my guiding principles.
Overall, if you negatively approach leadership, you probably won’t be a leader for long.
Leadership is always just the beginning; it is not something to hoard and become territorial over. Leadership is not something you are owed; it is something you gain and continue to gain over time.
When I look back, I know I have always wanted to lead. And it was when I was a Director of Produce and Floral for Save Mart, interviewing with the President to become the Vice President of Operations for the entire company, that I realized this. This promotion was unheard of—for somebody out of the produce or fresh departments to take on that responsibility.
I remember he asked the question, “What do you think? What’s the most important part of this job you’re applying for?” It just came out of my mouth, and there it was, “to lead people.”
I wanted to lead my team—my crew—to greatness. I want that for you, too.