Originally published May 9, 2018 by The Montrose Daily Press 

My dad always told me not to do a half-a$$ job. My grandfather said education is everything. And … always leave something better than you found it. My mom told me to make my own way financially and otherwise; never depending on others. These values pop into my head often, especially when faced with a difficult decision.

When we are “coming up” in our careers, we develop another set of values. Perhaps through something we’ve read, listened to, or experienced on our own. When we think about our operating principles and the bumpers that keep us between the proverbial lines, those “leadership-isms” rumble around our psyche on a daily basis.

Today, we explore the “cliff’s notes” version of what I consider to be my little black playbook of leadership. These are the voices in my head as I make decisions professionally, and often personally.

“Lead from behind.”

I do not know who originally said this, however, “Leading from behind” suggests leaders are in the trenches, not the spotlight. They are prominent, but not essential. This type of leader believes the most important employee in the organization is the one on the front line, not the corner office. Good leaders function in the background without need for recognition. Leaders build a system where success looks like the system functioning, if not thriving without them.

“Hard choices, easy life. Easy choices, hard life.”

This comes from a man named Jerzy Gregorek. I sometimes change the word “choices” to “conversations,” “sacrifices” or “tasks.” The end point being: Leaders must do the hard things in order to make an impact. Hard choice: Fire toxic employees. Easy life: A better work environment for everyone else.

There’s no shortage of examples on this. If the founding fathers and mothers of Montrose didn’t stand up and make the hard choice of fighting for the Gunnison Tunnel, Montrose would look a lot like the desert between here and Grand Junction. These leaders endured a long, hard fight so future generations could enjoy a valley full of beauty and prosperity.

It’s the hard conversation. It’s leaving a job that’s comfortable for something that is unknown and likely more challenging. It’s asking for what we need at times. Other times, it’s silencing our own needs. Whatever’s hard, whatever is the road least traveled, it’s at the end where we find the fruits of the battle fought and they taste oh-so-sweet.

“The enemy of great is good.”

This one comes from Jim Collins. It’s kind of an “ah-ha-ism,” but there is more depth than meets the eye. After all, no one can be great at everything all the time. Leaders must choose what is good enough being “good” (but not do a half-a$$ed job- thanks dad). But, the big things, the real things that matter — those must be great. If we settle for good enough all the time, we will never achieve the top rung of success for our organization or ourselves.

Here’s a little secret: “Good” is where there is the most competition. Everyone is competing over the same customers, the same promotions, the same market share. But when you are great, there is very little competition. Few are fearless and hardworking enough to get to great, therefore the playing field is wide open.

If it is within your power to make someone happy, do it.

Generosity in leadership is the most valuable tool in the toolbox. Leaders in my life have been generous with their time, wisdom, money and their willingness to invest in my career. As leaders, we have the power to make people happy.

Leaders find reasons to say "yes." They find ways to pay people better. They find reasons to let their team leave early sometimes. Leaders find time to listen to the dreams of their staff and help them accomplish those dreams. Leaders recognize others. They thank them. In a world full of hard stuff, leaders can be the light.

Leadership is inspiring actions in others.

This ties it all together. This isn’t glorified delegation. It is being the type of leader who is so inspiring and so good that people are energized by the passion. Excited by the vision.

You’ll know you’re leading when they’re inspired to carry out the dream because you’ve led from behind. Because you’ve made the hard choices and showed people their value. You’ve reached for great and cast aside “good.”

And finally you’ll know you’re leading when people are inspired to act because working for a great leader excites them. They have purpose in their work and they wake up just as passionate on a Monday as they do on a Friday.