I caught up with Gordon Tredgold, the author of the new book Leadership: It’s a Marathon, Not a Sprint - Everything You Need to Know about Sustainable Achievement. Tredgold's highly effective leadership experience has been collected, throughout the years, from his activity and participation in sports, leading significant transformational changes, and managing global operations. He operates the Leadership Principles blog, which was rated the #6 ‘Most Shared Leadership Blog in 2013’, ‘Top 50 to watch in 2013' by Evan Carmichael and 'Top 30 Hidden Gem Leadership Blogs' by the (CMOE) Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness. In the following brief interview, he talks about how leaders are made instead of born, how to sustain yourself and the four key elements of being a successful leader.
Dan Schawbel: Do you believe that a leader is made or born and why?
Gordon Tredgold: I would say made. I think leadership is predominantly about how we behave and as behaviors can be learnt, then I think we can all learn to be leaders.
I also like the John Quincy Adams quote on leadership ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader’. So again, to me that says Leadership is more about what we do, rather than about who we are, and given that we choose what we do, we can choose to be leaders, and it’s not a just birthright.
I do agree though, that there are some personal traits that make it much easier to be a leader, or will help people be a better leader, and these are traits that we are born with and can be difficult to learn.
Personally, I have a very positive attitude, every day I wake with a smile on my face ready to take on the world and I have been like that’s since I was young child, so it's definitely something I was born with, and I know that this does help me be a better leader. Positivity is a great quality, people are much more likely to follow you if you’re a positive person, because it helps create belief and build confidence.
There are many other qualities, such as natural charisma, being creative, intuitive, tall, or handsome that can all help you to get people to follow you, but for every one of those qualities you can find a successful leader who didn’t have them.
Some skills such as being a good communicator are important, and it’s true that some people are just naturally great communicators, but it’ also true that this skill can be learned and practiced.
Schawbel: How can you sustain yourself as a leader over the long haul?
Tredgold: To sustain ourselves as leaders we need to keep pushing the boundaries; keep the teams we lead looking to aim higher; try and create a culture of continuous improvement. Once we decide that we have gotten as far as we can go, and effectively we are now looking to maintain our new level of performance, now we are no longer leaders, now we are just managing. Leaders take people to new places, so if we are no longer looking to go somewhere new, or better, then we are no longer leading.
When I have taken teams as far as we can go on one direction, say we have taken our performance levels from 67% to 99%; then we need to be looking for new goals, maybe in different areas, areas where there is room for improvement. It could also be that we set a goal of trying to achieve 99% for 3 years in a row.
Here, although we are looking to keep our current high level of performance, we have now created a new goal that is about longevity.
What I find is that with some teams you just come to an end with what you can achieve, and looking to make small improvements is no longer motivating. In these cases its time to move on time to find another big challenge that will inspire us.
As leaders if we are not inspired then it’s very difficult for us to inspire our team. So once we feel that it’s no longer working for us then it’s time to move on.
To sustain ourselves over the long haul we need to keep challenging ourselves over the long haul.
Schawbel: Can you talk about the four elements of a leader that you mention in your book and how to apply each to everyday leadership practices?
Tredgold: The four key elements of being a successful leader are Focus, Accountability, Simplicity and Transparency.
Focus is about the WHAT, what we’re doing, what is our objective, and what does success look like.
Accountability is about the WHO, who is going to do the work, who will be accountable and how will we hold them accountable.
Simplicity is about the HOW, what is the solution, how are we planning to deliver success. Is our solution simple or have we over complicated it.
Transparency is about How Far, How Far we have come and How Far we have to go in order to be successful, it’s also about our honesty about our progress and capability.