Three Skills Every Leader NeedsThe traits that make up a good leader vary depending on the organization, team, or work environment. If you want to thrive in a management position, it’s important to recognize the qualities good leaders share.

There was an interesting Inc. article by Peter Gasca about his experience working with a CEO who didn’t have any experience in his industry. He had reservations about how her background and management style could lead his business.

The “higher-ups” brought in someone from the outside to run the company he worked for at the time. She was a female CPA named Kathy. A CPA running a construction company wasn’t something he expected, however as time wore on she led the company to growth and they became one of the top home builders in their area.

“Kathy was able to lead our team and achieve this success by having a set of skills that trumped any specific skill needed to build a home or develop a piece of property,” says Gasca.

She did a few things to motivate her team, and these are things any leader can easily put into practice.

Engage with Your Employees and Surroundings

Leaders value their time as well as that of others. They have structure to meetings and add substance to discussions.

In Gasca’s case, Kathy knew how to manage people. She had weekly manager meetings, and maneuvered around difficult constructions issues through engagement with the managers.

“She knew everyone's strengths and weaknesses, and she allocated "us" accordingly. Maybe more important, she did everything in a manner that was personable and often humorous, but never disrespectful or derogatory,” Gasca adds.

Leaders need to be available for their employees. Although Kathy was at the top of the organization, she made it a priority to spend time with everyone in the company.

Encourage Your Team

Yes, vision is important, but you have to encourage the people around you to believe in that vision. Kathy encouraged Gasca to stay at the company, without any promises, when he was recruited. She shared where he stood with the company and encouraged his growth and development.

“The ultimate encouragement came when she promoted me to director of purchasing,” he adds.

Demand Accountability

When your team has deliverables or tasks due, hold them accountable, but know you are accountable for things as well.

For example, Gasca and his team would wait for a phone call or visit to their desk if they hadn't met a deadline. If it was around the time of a manager meeting, they knew they were in the hot seat and had to accept responsibility for their missed deadlines.

Kathy “had a way to instill fear for missed deadlines, which always motivated us to get things done. She also took a great deal of responsibility herself, and we never wanted to let her down,” he says.

Successful leaders not only build their business, they lead people. No matter what size your business, you need to be a leader to whom they’ll commit. Kathy served her team and put them first. When you do this, you’ll receive their loyalty and hard work.

Do you think these traits trump all others? What traits do you look for in a leader? 

Leadership Lessons from the GridironIn 2011, the Academy Award for best documentary feature went to “Undefeated,” which follows coach Bill Courtney and the Manassas Tigers high school football team.

Bryan Burkhart, a regular contributor to The New York Times, felt so inspired by this compelling film, he contacted Courtney to learn more about his philosophy on building and leading a team.

A little background first: Up to 2003, the Manassas Tigers held a less-than-impressive record of 5 wins and 95 losses. Six years later, it made its first playoff appearance in team history. The team was led by a successful entrepreneur, the founder of Classic American Hardwoods, which Courtney started out of his living room in 2001. His small business anticipates sales of roughly $40 million this year.

So what does a hard-driving entrepreneur and the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary have to tell us about leadership?

Four Leadership Lessons from the Gridiron

Always Be Recruiting

Courtney walked the halls of Manassas High School on a daily basis, “with a smile and a pat on the back for students as they walked by.” Students responded favorably to his unbridled enthusiasm for the team, as did the nine men who volunteered to serve on his coaching staff, drawn by “the vision for what we could do for the kids.”

Practice is Key to Success

Courtney approached practice on the field the same way he runs his business. It should always be  “organized, on time and on schedule,” he says. Through practice (and more practice), he and his fellow coaches taught the promising young athletes to develop the basics for “both general skills and specific positions.”

Motivate by Example

Courtney, dubbed by Esquire as “Coach of the Year,” believes in working hard and figuring out how to make everyone else do the same.

The most effective way to achieve this is by setting the right example. “At Manassas, the kids knew that I was running my own business … but they saw me working hard every day, volunteering at the school to be their coach,” says Courtney. Seeing how much he cared about them, the young athletes felt motivated to do the same for him.

Focus on the Fundamentals

In business and on the gridiron, Courtney adheres to the fundamentals:

The key is “knowing the talent on your team,” he says. “Players win games, not coaches.”

Leadership qualities can be found in all walks of life, from the board room to the locker room. When opportunities arise to glean some insights from successful leaders, it’s always worth hearing what they have to say.

How do you use the fundamentals to build your team?

Four Lessons in Leadership from the BeatlesIn just seven years, the Beatles made a string of unforgettable albums. They set new standards for composing, performing, and recording popular music. They broke new barriers, showed reluctance to compromise, and defined a generation.

“The Beatles' early career was actually a series of failures--a record that culminated in their unsuccessful audition with the leading record company of their era, Decca Records. This particular failure nearly caused the band to break up,” says John Greathouse, contributor to Inc.

They faced all kinds of setbacks, but ignored the music “experts” and worked hard to improve.

As a leader you will come across many setbacks on your way to success. Greathouse offers some lessons you can take from the Beatles’ biggest setback.

Know the Product

The Beatles’ let their manager, Brian Epstein, choose the material for the Decca audition. Epstein curated the record section in his father’s furniture store. Those were his musical credentials.

If you want to sell your product, know it inside and out. Advisers are helpful, and sometimes necessary, but they don’t know everything. Do your homework.

Know the Audience

Know and understand the consumers’ point of view. Spend time and think more creatively about what would appeal to the audience. Then develop your messaging and marketing.

Get the Right Team

A key to the Beatles’ success was the creative tension and balance they achieved once Ringo Starr joined the group, Greathouse says.

Don’t compromise when you establish your core team. Whether you start a new venture or create a new product or service, it’s important to surround yourself with the right team. Quite often we become like the people we’re around. We must be cautious about whom we surround ourselves with because of the short- and long-term implications.

Set Expectations

John Lennon said he thought Decca expected the Beatles to be all polished when what they were doing was just a demo.

To run a successful business, it’s essential to set firm expectations. Establish appropriate expectations and deliver. It’s that simple.  If the Beatles had set expectations for Decca, things may have turned out differently.

You will face setbacks in your career. Embrace them and learn from them. How you allow setbacks to either build you up or tear you down, is what matters in the end.

What other leadership lessons have you learned from musicians?

Leadership Lessons from Tim CookTim Cook stepped into the most challenging role in tech history, following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs as Apple CEO. In his first 16 months on the job, Apple has released next generation iPhones and iPads. Apple has also seen its stock price rise 43 percent.

Cook has changed Apple with his calm and steady influence. He’s showed a human side of the company with how he handled Jobs’s memorial service and putting out the company’s first ever public report detailing the environmental and labor conditions at its contractors’ facilities.


Eric Markowitz, contributor to Inc. said Cook’s interview with BusinessWeek offered a rare glimpse into his life as CEO of Apple.

He provides five leadership lessons you can learn from the CEO of the world’s most valuable company.

Diverse Background

Having a diverse team brings different experiences to the table. “Companies that can harness the most amount of creative experiences will be more innovative in their approach to business,” says Markowitz.

He goes on to say Cook recognizes this fact and has made diversity a cornerstone of his management philosophy.

Admit When You’re Wrong and Apologize

Every leader has these moments. Some things won’t work out despite your best intentions, plans, and efforts.

Cook overestimated the readiness of the Apple Maps app, but he admitted the problem and apologized. It’s more important to own a problem with humility than to attempt to prove your competence.

Be Transparent

Apple has had much criticism about the standards of their global employees, particularly through their manufacturing partner Foxconn.

Cook invited the world to see how Apple operations worked and by doing this he has created goodwill around the company. He has shown they don’t hide anything and in turn have set industry standards for other manufacturers.

Build Relationships with Customers

Take the time to read customer emails or, if you have a retail shop, talk to customers face-to-face.

Cook makes the time to do this and he says to not allow yourself to become insular. It was one of the most important things he’s learned as a CEO.

Focus On What You Do Best

Apple doesn’t have many products, even as large as it is. Cook says, “If you really look at it, we have four iPods. We have two main iPhones. We have two iPads, and we have a few Macs. That’s it.”

Apple knows they can only make a few products great and that is where their attention and focus goes.

When you inherit a leadership position from a visionary such as Steve Jobs isn’t an easy thing to do gracefully. Cook has risen to the challenge and is forging his own path for Apple. Whether you love the company or hate it, you have to admit Cook has imprinted his own leadership style and we can all learn a thing or two from him.

What leadership lessons have you learned from Tim Cook?

Image: aditza121 via Flickr, CC 2.0

Rewards and Incentives Can Improve Poor Employee PerformanceEvery workplace experiences poor employee performance at one time or another. You may have a stable of high-functioning workers, but it seems there’s always one or two who constantly struggle or fail to live up to expectations.

What can you do about them?

Design an effective reward and incentive program to encourage employee performance, says Jennifer Vecchi in an article for Talent Management Magazine.

She offers several tips to jump-start a lagging employee performance through the use of enhanced communication, and a personalized approach to “fixing” the situation.

Get to the Root of the Problem

You need to know what issues the employee has before you will be able to figure out how to correct them. Is the problem related to a lack of training or the absence of skills needed for his or her specific job duties?

See How the Employee “Fits In”

Successful employees are good at finding their place within their company's culture. Poor performers may experience difficulties because they fall outside what Vecchi calls the “core demographics”—resulting in a lack of engagement with the business environment, other employees, or both.

“Continuous training and interoffice gatherings, social or business related, can help alleviate feelings of not fitting in with peers,” she says.

One-Size-Fits-All Won’t Work

If several employees aren't performing up to standard, a “one-size-fits-all” approach to rewards and incentives will likely fall flat.

Instead, gather information about each employee’s particular interests or hobbies. Do they enjoy camping or water sports? Do they read a lot?

As Vecchi notes, “By matching rewards to their interests, (you) can create a more personalized approach to demonstrate caring and motivate employees.”


Sometimes even the appeal of a reward isn't enough on its own to fully correct poor performance. “For some, the prize may seem too far from reach,” Vecchi says. “Remind employees that their small, daily efforts can have a huge impact."

It’s important to keep the lines of communication open and help chart progress toward the goal.

Consider an Alternate Solution

There will be times when the reward and incentive program just doesn’t work because an employee has become too bored or complacent to change. In this case, one useful alternative is offering them a different role, “Perhaps one featuring newer experiences to remind them what they liked about the company in the first place,” says Vecchi.

As unpromising as this may sound, Vecchi reminds us it’s a lot less costly to reposition an employee, rather than replace him or her outright.

Sometimes Employee Performance Isn't There

If employee performance does not improve for an individual and he or she can’t be motivated by a reward or incentive, you run the risk of allowing their negative attitude to infect the rest of your team. An individual like this probably should be terminated. It’s the best action to take for both the unmotivated employee and the good of your team.

Employee rewards and incentives are one method you can use to motivate employees to change work habits. When employee performance improves, so does your business.

What reward and incentive program for employee performance works for you?


Eight Hallmarks of Great LeadershipJamie Dimon is chairman, president, and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, and Time has named him one of the world’s most influential people on four separate occasions, particularly because of his great leadership.

In a LinkedIn article, Dimon shares his thoughts on what goes into great leadership.

“Good people want to work for good leaders,” Dimon says. “Bad leaders can drive out almost anyone who’s good because they are corrosive to an organization.”

Here he shares some of the essential hallmarks of great leadership.

Jamie  Dimon on the Hallmarks of Great Leadership


Great leadership means the person in charge must constantly strive for improvement. This means holding scheduled business reviews, talent reviews, and team meetings.

“Leadership is like exercise; it has to be sustained for it to do any good.”

High Standards

Standards of integrity and high performance are not intrinsically embedded in an organization. It’s up to the leader to set those standards—“at a detailed level and with a real sense of urgency.”

Perhaps the most important standard is to treat customers and employees the way we want to be treated ourselves.

Face Facts

Self-delusion has no place in the leader’s make-up. They must seek and fix “the negatives” whenever possible (while, of course, celebrating key successes), and guide efforts toward problem resolution.


“The best leaders kill bureaucracy—it can cripple an organization—and watch for signs of politics, such as sidebar meetings after the real meeting because people wouldn’t speak their minds at the right time.”

The right people and the right structure. Effective leaders ensure the right people are in the room, throughout the organization. Setting up the right structure also minimizes the need for “political” decisions—a recipe for failure, not success.

Building Morale

Employee morale is boosted when workers see problems get fixed and issues are dealt with directly and honestly.


Dimon advocates loyalty to the institution, not to an individual (“frequently another form of cronyism”). Because leaders demand so much from employees, they should be loyal in return—by “building a healthy, vibrant company; telling them the truth; and giving them meaningful work, training and opportunities.”

Fair Treatment

Everyone within the organization deserves to be treated properly and respectfully, “because everyone’s collective purpose is to serve customers.”

In Dimon’s view, great leadership means they are always working to build something both they and their employees can take pride in.

These leaders “set high standards because as long as leaders are going to do something, they are going to do the best they can.”

What traits do you see for great leadership?


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