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The ONE thing ALL great leaders do––and you can do it too!

Every day in my inbox I get messages about the 5, 6, 8 or 10 “things great leaders do."…

Sometimes these are traits, sometimes they’re strategies, sometimes they’re specific habits, rituals or disciplines…

And quite often they’re very good. But long ago I realized there is ONE thing that ALL great leaders do––and every one of us can do it to.

At some point, all great leaders put down those damn lists and actually DO SOMETHING!

Too many people are addicted to lists, books and articles but never actually put any of that wisdom into practice. That’s too often the missing step.

Before every SENSEI LEADER Workshop we provide a self-assessment tool for leaders called the “SL 15.” It’s a set of 15 short questions to stimulate thought and help leaders think about their performance in 3 essential human-centric leadership areas: Courage, Compassion and Wisdom.

There is also a comments section where respondents share additional thoughts, questions or requests for items to cover at their workshop. When I got the responses from a recent workshop one of the questions was this:

“How do you get people to actually do the things we learn at a conference?”

I gave my answer at the workshop. “That’s YOUR job! Not mine!”

We did go a little deeper…

Of course that’s one of the central themes at every SENSEI LEADER event. Our primary focus is how to Inspire, Empower and Guide people to their very best. That includes how to effectively share your knowledge, experience and wisdom with the people you serve so they’ll enthusiastically fulfill your organization mission. It doesn’t matter where you got all that great information––the process is the same.

Having said that, I do stand by my answer. It starts and ends with you. Unless you embed me in your organization, the best I can do is share what I know and hope you carry it forward. It’s up to you to embrace and share my philosophy, the strategies we develop at an event and the ideas you find valuable.

It’s up to you to inspire action by walking the walk––leading by example…

By empowering others by sharing the knowledge you gain generously…

By guiding them through mentoring and personally helping others implement new ideas.

These are action steps. Put down the list and get to work!

There’s a great moment depicted in the movie “The Razor’s Edge” starring Bill Murray. A man in search of enlightenment after a traumatic war experience, Murray’s character retreats to a Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas. One exercise he’s given is to climb a mountain with only a small supply of firewood and several books. He’s told to sit there until he finds enlightenment.

As he’s scouring his texts for the meaning of life, he soon runs out of firewood. To keep warm, he starts to burn the pages of one of his books. He then realizes these books, which he has already read several times, are now more valuable as fuel.

What he really understood at that moment is that the meaning of life was not in isolation or continual study, but in fully engaging. He leaves the monastery and commits himself to service––to action.

Now of course I’m not trying to devalue books. As I write this article, I’m surrounded by shelves full of them! Neither am I putting down those lists of things you should do to be a more effective leader. Hell, I read and share plenty of them and I teach sets of strategies too.

All I’m saying is to know when to put down the list and roll up your sleeves. Don’t leave knowledge in books––apply that knowledge in life. Don’t leave the conference with wishes and hopes––turn those ideas into actions.

I’ve learned that one of the main reasons people have a hard time transforming ideas into action is trying to do too much. Pick ONE item from the latest list. Take ONE idea from that last conference…

And do it.

Long ago Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Take that ONE step, and you’ll do just fine!


By the way––if you want a list of things that WILL help you become a more effective leader––start with these 8 STRATEGIES…

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