How the Best Organizations Develop Their Leaders

When an organization struggles, it’s easy to point at outside factors like market conditions, strategy, or the division’s performance. However, more often than not, a failing organization boils down to ineffective leadership.

In the not-so-distant past, every critical decision was left to the CEO or Management Team. In today’s rapid change environment, this practice can and will be detrimental to an organization’s existence. Organizations that are highly effective at overcoming adverse conditions have leaders at every level, not just at the top. 

Unfortunately, most organizations believe they have leaders at every level because they are designed hierarchically. But, just because you have managers doesn’t mean you have leaders. 

Just because organizations have managers doesn’t mean they have leaders.

Instead of going into all the differences between managers and leaders, let’s get on the same page about what it means to be a leader. As I defined in Building the Best, “someone whose actions inspire, empower, and serve in order to elevate others.” Want to discover you are elevating others in your leadership style? Take the free leadership style quiz here. Every manager can learn to elevate others, but it doesn’t mean they are. 

On a recent episode of the John Eades podcast, Dr. Garland Vance backed this up, saying, “Leadership is a set of skills that have to be practiced, developed, and honed over time. There might be people that are born with it, but the people who get really good at it are the ones who work at it. Just like Steph Curry is naturally a good basketball player, but he practices like crazy to become great.”

Just because you can lead doesn’t mean you are.

Why Some Companies Don’t Invest in Their People

It’s no secret that some organizations don’t invest in their people. The list of reasons is long, but traditionally training can be expensive, time-consuming, and ineffective. If that weren’t enough, organizations can spend a lot of time, money, and energy to help develop someone, and they could leave. I love the CFO to CEO-conversation around this:

CFO Asks CEO: “what happens if we invest in developing our people and then they leave us?”

CEO: “What happens if we don’t, and they stay?”

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Richard Branson backed this up by saying, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to.” While Branson is right, every organization would be more effective if professionals willingly invested in themselves as leaders instead of relying on their company. 

Most people won’t willingly invest in themselves, especially when it comes to their leadership development. 

Unfortunately, people avoid leadership development because there isn’t a clear and guaranteed outcome like money or entertainment at the end of the course or book.

Growth Takes Time and Action

The less talked about reason organizations don’t invest in their people is they aren’t patient, and they can’t control the outcome. The world has become so short-term focused, we forget that growth takes time. As much as we want to become great at anything, it takes repetition and experience. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut other than training, effort, and coaching, and even then, the outcome isn’t guaranteed.

Growth not only takes time, but it also takes action. Too often, leaders forget that growth isn’t a goal, it’s a byproduct of what happens when we take action. 

Growth isn’t a goal, it’s a byproduct of what happens when we take action.  

I constantly have to remind myself and others that great leadership doesn’t always show up in short-term results, but its impact is always realized in the long term in the people that experience a great leader. If you need a quick reminder about the importance of making an impact, watch this short video from my recent keynote.

Don’t Leave Leadership Development to Chance

Here are two simple strategies to ensure you don’t leave leadership development to chance on your team or in your organization. 

Create a Culture of Growth and Learning

Leadership, like many things, is a journey and not a destination. Many organizations know this and have built internal leadership development academies/universities. These include things like year-long courses, learning tracks, workshops, coaching, and mentoring, to name a few. 

Formal learning is fantastic, but learning can and should take place anytime. One of the best ways to embed this in a culture is to ask a simple question of yourself and others:

  • “What’s something you have learned in the last 24 hours?”

Promote the Coachable 

Since the best leaders are learners, being coachable is essential for any leader. More often than not, a person’s ability to say or do something significant is built on the backbone of hard work, dedication, and being coachable.  

What’s interesting about coachability is that it’s not a technical skill or inherent to us. It’s a mental mindset that anyone can embrace. Being coachable is how you show the world that you have a hunger to get better and are willing to put in the work and effort.

Being coachable is how you show the world that you have a hunger to get better and are willing to put in the work and effort.

Nick Saban, the legendary head football coach at Alabama, constantly preaches to his players and coaches to “respect the critical eye.” This means that instead of getting defensive, embrace when someone is coaching you with a critical eye because they are trying to improve you. 

Organizations that promote coachable and “respect the critical eye” professionals at every level will have more leaders than those who do not because coachable people eventually pour that knowledge into others. 

Closing

All kinds of strategies dramatically improve the effectiveness of leadership development programs. A few of my current favorites include:

  1. Provide proven content
  2. Include one-on-one or group coaching
  3. Subscribe to Cohort Based learning

Whether you use these tactics or not, great things happen if companies have the desire and commitment to developing leaders. Frontline employees provide a better experience to customers, managers will have healthier teams, and parents will have a stronger family structure outside of work.

Take the Free Leadership Style Quiz – Discover your current leadership style for free in less than 5 minutes.

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How the Best Leaders Focus on Execution

Flow management concept.

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 100 company or a manager of a small team, execution is at the center of your success. However, just because it’s essential doesn’t mean we do it well or know precisely what it is. 

Execution is simply the carrying out of a plan, order, or course of action. After studying and coaching high-performing and low-performing leaders, the gap between goals and outcomes is execution.

The gap between goals and outcomes is execution.

The loftier the goals, the more difficult they are to achieve, so the execution gap is never truly eliminated. The highest performing leaders understand they aren’t trying to eliminate the gap; they are working relentlessly to shrink the gap through elite execution. 

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Execution Isn’t Just Hard for You

Many external factors like a rapidly changing economy, technological advancements, hybrid-work environments, and multi-generations in the workforce make executing at the highest level more challenging than ever. 

When looking at internal factors, almost all execution failure comes down to leadership. Execution expert Monte Pedersen on a recent episode of The John Eades podcast, said, “leaders today must be execution accelerators and create a culture of execution.”

To shrink the execution gap, requires leaders to take ownership, translate strategy, and use time and attention to their advantage. Unfortunately, it turns out most managers aren’t doing it well. 

Research by Forbes found that 82% of Fortune 500 CEOs feel their organization is effective at strategic planning. Only 14% indicated to be effective at implementing the strategy. If that wasn’t sobering enough, Harvard Business Review found only 16% of top leaders were rated as very effective at either strategy or execution, and only 8% were effective at both. 

This execution thing is challenging not just for a few but for many. So if you are looking for ways to improve your team’s execution, here are a few pillars of effective execution to evaluate. 

5 Pillars of Effective Execution

The best leaders constantly look for ways to shrink the execution gap between their goals and outcomes. Here are five pillars to help you. 

1. Create Clarity Around the Purpose Trifecta

Every great team is clear about its purpose, and in Building the Best, I called it the purpose trifecta. Its name comes from horse racing, where a bettor can make a wager on the outcome of a race through a trifecta bet. The bettor must have all three horses picked- who will finish first, second and third in the correct order. If the horses do this, the best yields a higher payout than any other form of wager in the sport.  

The same is true for clarifying a purpose to lay the foundation for effective execution. The purpose trifecta is made up of values, vision, and mission. These tend to be evergreen and rarely falter because the strategy may change, but the purpose will not. 

The strategy may change, but the purpose won’t. 

Clarifying these three cornerstones will increase your odds of team buy-in and successful execution. 

2. Define Stretch Goals with Deadlines

The verb form of the word team means coming together as a group to achieve a common goal. Setting a clear goal for your team is instrumental in attaining your mission and vision. However, the team is far more likely to succeed if the goal is specific and each team member gets behind it. Research by Dr. Gail Matthews found people are 42% more likely to achieve a goal if it’s written down. 

Have a stretch goal for your team that has a deadline. I use a formula in our leadership workshops that’s simple:

Clear objective + Completion Date + Carrot = Team Goal

The fastest path to improve execution is defining the targets for your team or individuals. 

3. Have a Clear Plan and Strategy 

Once we have a stretch goal defined, planning and strategy enter the picture. For a football coach, this would be their game plans, playbook, and formations. For a sales manager, this would be their messaging, compensation plans, sales process, and targeting of accounts. 

Monte Pedersen believed strategy is where most managers make mistakes. He said, “The #1 cause of execution failure from leaders is they don’t effectively translate strategy across the organization or team.”  

Pederson is right because executing without a plan or strategy is nothing more than hoping success will happen. While it’s possible success does happen, it certainly won’t have any consistency. 

Execution without a plan or strategy is nothing more than hoping success will happen. 

Using performance management tools like Peoplebox to house OKRs or Asana to track tasks and actions is essential in the modern workplace to be clear on planning and strategy, so it bleeds into execution. 

4. Make Modification in the Moment

Mike Tyson famously said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” One of the critical pillars of execution is knowing that plans will change, and making modifications at the moment is essential. Leaders who are slow to adjust or pivot will be left behind and will hold their team back from being successful.

Adjusting, pivoting, and being flexible are requirements for leaders to be successful today.  

If that wasn’t enough, if you are going to create a culture of execution, you can’t let things go beyond the moment of impact. For example, if someone on a team is failing to meet the team’s execution standards, they must know. The longer leaders let it slide, the longer it will take to recover. 

Have the courage to modify the plan based on new information and be willing to communicate with your team when they fall short. 

5. Align Team Members and Resources 

Many organizations fail to properly allocate resources (time, people, money) to implement strategies successfully. This causes teams to splinter and go at different speeds and in alternative directions.  

To counter this, yearly, quarterly, and monthly alignment sessions or what some call “strategic planning sessions” are essential. These dedicated times allow leaders to work on the business as much as in the business. To take a step back with their team to identify where they need to start, stop, or continue doing. 

Closing

Regardless of your role, execution is at the center of your success. Ideas are great, but action will always be more important. If you focus on these five pillars, you will be on your way to shrinking the gap between your goals and optimal outcomes.  

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About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Caring Yet Demanding: How Great Leaders Succeed

The temptation for leaders to lower the bar has officially arrived. The combination of the “great resignation” and a two-year run of an employee-driven market has caused many leaders to have an easy-going mentality. While it’s essential to care profoundly and treat people with dignity and respect, lowering the standard required for success will hurt everyone involved.  

Take Gabrielle, a sales manager, at a large technology company, as an example. She had been in leadership for 10+ years and her teams consistently performed at elite levels. However, due to higher than normal turnover and a fear she was demanding too much of team members, she lowered the bar on expectations. Specifically, she began tolerating lower activity levels, below average work, less than outstanding effort, and bad attitudes. 

It didn’t take but a few months for the results of her changes to show up on the scoreboard. Instead of being at the top of the sales team rankings, they had moved to the bottom. In Gabrielle’s attempt to appease her team, unfortunately, she demonstrated a key leadership principle from Building the Best:

The instant you lower the standard, the instant performance begins to erode.

You and I are just as susceptible to act or behave like Gabrielle. However, to be a great leader, demanding excellence while demonstrating the highest level of care is a part of the job. In my work studying, interviewing, and coaching leaders, it’s evident that people need help and assistance from others to perform at their best consistently. 

The best leaders demand excellence while demonstrating the highest level of care

Before we get off track, let’s get on the same page about what it means to be demanding yet intensely caring as a leader. Demanding is best defined as ‘to meet high standards.’ It comes from the Latin Word Demandare, which means to “hand over or entrust.” Being demanding with care isn’t a negative; it’s to help others meet high standards by entrusting them and encouraging them. However, most leaders demand excellence from others, but they forget an essential element. 

Relationships Always Matter in Leadership

At LearnLoft, we researched extensively how the best leaders elevated others by using high levels of love and discipline in their leadership style. If team members don’t feel cared for before a leader demands, it will have an inverse effect. The reason is simple:

Leaders must connect before they correct.

Or said differently, rules before relationships lead to rebellion. Not understanding or believing these two simple leadership principles cause many leaders to fail and are the reason research shows 65% of employees would give up a salary increase if they could fire their boss. 

I covered some specific strategies for quickly and effectively building relationships and connecting with others in a recent episode of the John Eades Podcast, titled, “Connection Isn’t Just Nice, It’s Necessary.”

Demand with Care vs. Demand with Neglect

Even using the word demanding as a leader is extreme in today’s work culture. With so many employees struggling with burnout, stress, and anxiety, how demanding a leader is at a given time is a critical decision to make. The mental and physical health of people must always outweigh any short-term achievement that comes because a leader is demanding.

The mental and physical health of people must always outweigh any short-term achievement that comes because a leader is demanding

Mental and physical health removed, all demanding seems a cause, not for joy but pain; later, when paired with care, it provides great fruit.  

Below is a visual example of those leaders who demand with care vs. demand with neglect

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How to Demand with Care

There is a fine line between confidence and complacency. No one is immune to being complacent or giving less than optimum effort. The best leaders recognize this in themselves and others which is why they demand with care. 

One of the best and often overlooked strategies is to pair communication with an expression of care. An example of this would be coaching a team member hard but giving a handshake or a pat on the back before they leave. Another example in a virtual environment would be pairing tough feedback with, “I am telling you this because I believe in you, and I know you can do it better.” 

The “5 Love Language” Advanced Care Strategy

An advanced leadership strategy I teach leaders is knowing a team member’s “love language” in a non-romantic way. This allows you to express your intense care for team members in alignment with how they most recognize it. If you’re unfamiliar with Gary Chapman’s five love languages here, they are: 

  • Words of Affirmation – Encourage, Affirm, or Appreciate
  • Physical Touch – Use Handshakes, Fist Bumps, or High Fives
  • Receiving Gifts – Thoughtful gifts or gestures
  • Quality Time – One-on-one time or uninterrupted attention
  • Acts of Service – Alleviate their workload or help complete a task

Closing

One of the most potent questions any leader can ask is, “how would others describe you?” While there is no correct or perfect answer to this question, if there isn’t a strong consideration for the words “caring” and “demanding,” there is some work to be done. 

Effective Leadership Communication Workshop – In less than 1 hour, refine your communication skills. Sign up for the next live workshop or access the OnDemand Course.

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Leadership Focus Tool There is nothing easy about staying focused. So we put together a quick tool to see how focused you are. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How to Leverage Clarity to Dramatically Improve Your Communication

Wooden toy Blocks with the text: clarity

Communication is essential in every aspect of life that deals with relationships. However, when it comes to leadership, a failure to communicate consistently is the beginning of the end. However, just because it’s critical doesn’t mean most leaders are good at it.  

In research from the SkillsLoft assessments, clarity is the most common leadership skill plaguing high-performing and low-performing leaders. When leaders struggle to communicate with clarity, it creates confusion.

Leaders who struggle to communicate with clarity create confusion.

What is Clarity and Why Do Leaders Struggle?

For clarity (see what I did there), let’s get on the same page about what it means in the context of leadership. Clarity is the ability to be clear, concise, and impactful when communicating verbally or in writing. Leaders tend to struggle with clarity for one of three reasons:

  1. False Assumptions – Leaders live so much in their heads that they assume people know, and often they don’t.  
  2. Premature Thoughts – In our fast-paced business environment, it’s almost encouraged to say or write something before it is well thought out or complete.  
  3. Incomplete Information – There is a growing sense to communicate regardless of whether managers have all the information or not.  

Of the three, false assumptions are the most important to unpack and solve. “Clarity is not only kind, it’s essential. Clarity brings oxygen into the room, so it isn’t filled with worry, doubt, blame, and fear,” said Jason Barger, author of the new book Breathing Oxygen, on the latest episode of The John Eades Podcast. His words are wise because, in the absence of clear communication, team members will fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories.

In the absence of clear communication, team members fill the gaps with their own incorrect stories. 

Too often, leaders make assumptions that they have communicated with clarity. In one of my favorite books of all time, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, he wrote, “Assumptions set us up for suffering.”

Assumptions in Communication Set Everyone Up for Suffering

Small Changes Make a Big Difference

Since each leader might be transparent in their communication one day and struggle with it the next, small changes often lead to big gains. For these small changes to take effect, they must be made prior to communicating instead of after. 

Small changes in communication can lead to big gains in comprehension and execution.

A straightforward strategy I coach leaders to leverage is to ask themselves one of three questions before communicating. These questions take less than one minute and

  • Is what I am about to say or write helpful? 
  • What action do I desire others to take?
  • Is this making the waters clearer or murkier?

While these three questions are simple, it doesn’t mean they are easy to answer. However, if you get in the habit of asking yourself one of these three questions before hitting send on an email or text, I promise you will improve your clarity. 

Here is the tricky part, this is much easier to do with written communication. Verbal communication is much more difficult. Often you are speaking off the cuff or after an emotional response, thus making it exponentially more difficult. 

A tiny strategy you can use is to ask the person or people you are communicating with a simple question when you are finished speaking:

  • “What was your main takeaway from what I said?”  

While this technique might make you feel a little bit like an elementary school teacher, it dramatically reduces the likelihood of assumptions taking place. 

Closing

Being more clear in your communication won’t be easy. The challenge to you this week is to get in the habit of asking yourself one simple question before communicating. I promise others will thank you. 

Effective Communication Workshop – In less than 1 hour refine your communication skills. Sign up for the next live workshop or access the OnDemand Course.

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Leadership Focus Tool There is nothing easy about staying focused. So we put together a quick tool to see how focused you are. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

5 Beliefs You Must Embrace to Be a Successful Leader

Leaders embrace a different set of beliefs than managers. As much as CEOs and Human Resource Executives want all of their managers to think and act like leaders, it happens so rarely.  

While leaders possess a plethora of skills, capabilities, and competencies, there is often something missing from managers that are required to lead; the right beliefs.

A belief is a reinforced pattern in your brain.

This definition is important because it shows that we aren’t born with beliefs; they’re developed when things are experienced and reinforced until they become patterns in our brains. When it comes to leadership and life, our beliefs are fundamental because our beliefs become our behavior.

Beliefs become behaviors

Take a 25 MPH speed limit in a school zone as an example. Most drivers will slow down and drive the speed limit through the school zone because they believe speed will keep kids safe. Thus their belief becomes their new behavior. This is the good news. The bad news is that most of our beliefs might be wrong.  

Research from the book The Four Agreements found that 95% of the beliefs we store in our minds are lies. Many people have beliefs about themselves or situations that aren’t true, and this holds them back from practicing the right kind of behavior. 

Leadership Beliefs to You Must Embrace

Based on our research of thousands of leaders, we’ve found that the best leaders carry a few common beliefs, regardless of their roles, circumstances, or situation. 

1. People Can Change and Improve

There is this common misconception that people can’t change. We have all heard the quote, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and it couldn’t be more wrong. People change all the time, and it’s required to be successful.  

Leaders assume that people cannot change when they try to force changes on others instead of empowering those people to unleash it.

Too many leaders force change instead of looking for ways to unleash it. 

Of course, change requires a willingness to be coachable and to put in consistent effort. Often, people rely too much on excuses and hold themselves back from making the changes necessary to thrive.

Reject the thoughts of putting your people in a box. So many leaders make the mistake of passing judgment on who a team member is or what they can accomplish. Be the kind of leader who challenges others’ thinking and coaches them to become a better version of themselves.  

2. Good Things Will Happen 

Jon Gordon, famously said, “Being positive won’t guarantee you’ll succeed. But being negative will guarantee you won’t.” Tony Robbins backed him up:

“Stop being afraid of what could go wrong, and start being excited about what could go right.”

As easy as that is to say, believing good things will happen and choosing positivity is difficult. The reason is simple; research from the late Trevor Moawad found that negativity is 4-7 times more powerful than positivity. When you say something negative, it’s 40-70 times more likely to end with a negative result than if you didn’t say anything.

The great news is that you can change your beliefs. Start with the daily habit called the Rule of Three Positives. The rule is simple; each day, write down three positive things you did or experienced. 

3. Failure is Not Final; Failure is Feedback

Achieving business success isn’t easy, regardless of your industry. Great leaders not only know this, but they embrace it. A breakthrough isn’t going to happen without some failure along the way. 

I wrote about Callaway Golf CEO Chip Brewer’s story in Building the Best. He told his team early in their transformational journey, “I do not care how we have to do it and how many things we have to fail on, we aren’t going to launch products that aren’t demonstratively superior and pleasingly different.”

Brewer believed failure was not final; failure is feedback. It’s not if you or your team members will fail or make mistakes, it’s when. Carry the belief that “failure is not final, failure is feedback” with you moving forward. 

4. Responsibility Lies Where You Have Control

The best leaders take extreme ownership. However, they don’t take this kind of responsibility for everything, only the things they can control. If I only had one belief that I could transfer to every leader in the world, it would be this:

Be ruthlessly responsible for the things you can control. 

There are simple things every person has control over; things such as attitude, effort, and mindset are good examples. Too often, we forget this simple truth and try to control things like the decisions of others, markets changing, or adversity. 

One of the most common characteristics of the highest performing teams is when each team member embraces this belief as well.  

5. Patience is a Virtue

Patience is hard for many people, and it’s become even harder in the world of “what have you done for me lately.” 

The word patience means the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. The keywords here are “accept or tolerate delay.” This doesn’t mean you shy away from aggressive goals, but that you’re willing to accept or tolerate delay because you know you’re playing the long game.  

This mindset allows you to make decisions that are in the long-term best interest instead of the short-term.  

Closing

While all leaders who have had success might not have the same beliefs, there is a good chance many carry these five with them daily. Since beliefs are a reinforced pattern in your brain, you can embrace these beliefs. They aren’t only meant for the select few. 

What beliefs do you carry that help you be an effective leader that isn’t on the list?

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Leadership Focus Tool There is nothing easy about staying focused. So we put together a quick tool to see how focused you are. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why the Best Leaders Refuse to Lose Focus

When you lack focus, you’re going to grow resentful. You will be frustrated with failing to meet unrealistic expectations of yourself and others. You eventually start to question whether you are good enough or even have the talent to achieve positive outcomes. 

Unfortunately, this is the situation many leaders find themselves in today. Aggressive revenue and growth plans have caused most leaders to try and accomplish too much at once. If you take nothing else away from this column, take this: 

Talented teams will achieve ordinary results with unfocused leadership.

Common sense tells us that being open to more will provide more. But that rarely is the case. Bill Gates backed this up by saying, “Only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are.” There isn’t an in-person or virtual leadership workshop that goes by that I don’t reinforce his wise words by telling participants, “leaders often don’t lack talent; they lack focus.” What I have learned from observing and coaching leaders is there are three levels of focus:

Three Levels of Focus

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Level 1 Wide Focus: Wide Focus, the lowest form of focus. Leaders and professionals with level 1 focus have difficulty prioritizing what’s most important. They aren’t sure which direction to go, so they often go in whatever direction looks most accessible and most appealing at a particular time. Usually, the wide focus creates a “shiny penny” view of their business or team. Unfortunately, due to their lack of focus, everything looks appealing or worth exploring. There are times when “diamonds in the rough” are found, but it’s few and far between. 

Level 2 Moderate Focus: Moderate Focus is good, not great. Leaders and professionals with level 2 moderate focus have a good sense of direction and find it easier to say no to things or opportunities that would have them lose focus. They typically have a solid list of priorities, but sticking to them and working on the right things daily can be challenging. 

Level 3 Narrow Focus: Narrow focus is the highest form of focus, and it’s precise. Leaders and professionals with level 3 narrow focus have priorities and perspective. They know precisely where they or their team are trying to go. They are on a mission, and it’s challenging to get them off of it. They have a daily and weekly system they rely on. They communicate that plan to ensure everyone stays on the same page and executes at the highest possible level.  

Regardless of what level of focus you find yourself or your organization in today, there is no judgment because staying focused is hard work. The reason why is because it’s harder to keep focused than to explore distractions.  

It’s harder to stay focused than explore distractions.

It takes discipline, accountability, systematic thinking, and vision to reject opportunities to explore distractions. If that wasn’t enough, according to research, our attention span has markedly decreased in just 15 years. In 2000, it was 12 seconds. Now, 15 years later, it’s shrunk significantly to 8.25 seconds. In fact, scientists believe we now have shorter attention spans than goldfish, who can focus on a task or object for 9 seconds.

However, just because it’s hard to stay focused doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive for it. Here are a few ways to help you, including Leadership Focus Tool. Download it for free here.

1. Know the Mission 

Alone is a documentary show produced by The History Channel and streamed on Netflix. The premise is that ten people are sent into the wild independently at the same, and the one who survives being alone the longest wins $500,000. It’s a fascinating show about human resolve, problem-solving, and overcoming broken beliefs.  

Beyond these, it’s all about the mission. Each participant agrees to take on the challenge because the mission is clear, “last the longest in the wild and win $500,000.” Because they know the mission, they create priorities to improve the odds of winning.

2. Define the Priorities

It isn’t easy to achieve any mission without knowing the priorities required to get you there. In the case of “Alone,” each participant immediately focuses their priorities on safety, food, and shelter. It doesn’t matter what you do, what size organization you work in, or what size team you lead; if there are more than five priorities, that’s too many to execute well. 

If leaders have more than five priorities, that’s too many for a team to execute well. 

What priorities allow you to do is “keep the main things the main things.” Personal priorities might look something like this:

  1. Faith
  2. Fitness
  3. Family
  4. Work

An example of Work Priorities that I wrote about in Building the Best look something like this:

  1. Excellent Employee Experience
  2. Exceptional Customer Experience
  3. New Revenue Generation
  4. Innovation and Development 

3. Execute Key Initiatives 

In the end, it’s not intentions that matter its execution. It’s not the plan, it’s the execution of the plan. Many excellent books like Eat the Frog, The 5 AM Club, or Atomic Habits highlight habits, actions, and execution as keys to success. One of my favorite lines on the subject is from author Austin Kleon, “Lots of people want the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.”

Lots of people want the noun without doing the verb. – Austin Kleon

The best leaders and elite teams execute key initiatives against the priorities. They aren’t afraid of doing the verb because they know it’s what’s required for them to be successful.  

Closing

The most exciting part of focus is it’s entirely within your control. Dwayne Johnson said, “Success at anything will always come down to this: focus and effort. And we control both.” 

Regardless of how focused you have been in the past, what I want you to be concerned with is how focused you will be starting today by knowing the mission, defining the priorities, and executing key initiatives.  

Keep leading your best.

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Leadership Focus Tool There is nothing easy about staying focused. So we put together a quick tool to see how focused you are. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

The Leadership Skill That Causes Utter Failure

Noir movie character

The list of skills one must possess to sustain leadership success is long. But the list of skills that causes a leader to fail utterly is much shorter. It almost always boils down to one; character. 

Recent examples like Jeff Skilling, the CEO who caused the collapse of Enron, or Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated one of the biggest Ponzi schemes in history, point to the lack of character as a fatal leadership flaw.  

Conversely, the presence of high character in a leader has a positive effect. For example, one study asked participants, “what’s the most important quality a leader must possess to follow them or turn the other way?” The most popular answer was summarized as character.  

Before we go any further, it’s always tricky writing about character, because it has a natural connotation that you have mastered it yourself. While I think long and hard about the leader and man I am becoming, I don’t pretend to have the skill mastered. However, in my work studying and coaching leaders, it’s the most essential leadership skill that doesn’t get enough attention.

Character is the most essential leadership skill that doesn’t get enough attention.

What is Character in Leadership?

Character is an engraved set of disciplined habits, a settled disposition to do good. I simplify it as “The mental and moral qualities distinctive to a leader.”

It comes from a Hebrew word that means statue. This means character is predictable because it doesn’t change regardless of the circumstances. Character is proven when people can predict what you’re going to do. 

A mentor said something recently that made me stop in my tracks, “You can always have a preference for better character.” 

People follow people, not titles, so you can always have a preference for a better character.

Too often, we settle for leaders with average or below average character by saying, “That’s just him or her,” or “That’s just, insert your leader’s name.” 

The Benefits of Character

If you haven’t considered your character as a leadership skill or it’s something you want to improve upon, here are the three enormous benefits:

1. It’s What Really Matters

Achieving short-term outcomes like winning a deal, helping solve a complex problem, or making a lot of money are great things. However, how you go about doing it matters more. A great way to think about what really matters is through this simple leadership lesson: 

Character doesn’t produce results, but it counts more than them.

What you can do now is not nearly as important as who you are. So, when the praise and accolades wear off from your most recent achievements, will you be able to look in the mirror and say, “I did it the right way.” 

2. It Creates Better Relationships

If what matters wasn’t enough, character is the foundation of having great relationships in your life. People that spend enough time with you eventually figure out the kind of character you possess. That matters because without character, there is no trust, and without trust, there is no relationship. As I wrote in Building the Best:

Trust is a function of competence and character repeatedly expressed over time. 

Since relationships are the key to leadership, one could argue that without character, all other essential leadership skills like coaching, vision, and communication would be hollow or irrelevant. Warren Bennis said it well, “Successful leadership is not about being tough or soft, sensitive or assertive, but about a set of attributes. First and foremost is character.”

3. It’s the Foundation for Effective Decision Making

One of the most critical skills for leaders to develop is discernment to make effective decisions. While this seems obvious and easy, it turns out decision-making is challenging. Some research suggests we make as many as 35,000 decisions every day. While it’s hard to imagine the number is that high, it’s impossible to make effective decisions without the foundation of a strong character. The reason is simple;

Character is foundational for effective decision-making.

Poor and selfish decisions follow if leaders don’t have a strong belief in right and wrong, a matured moral compass, and a deep concern for the greater good.  

Closing 

There isn’t a magic pill to improve your character. However, the desire to engrain a set of disciplined habits to do good and wanting to be predictable for doing the right thing consistently is the best place to start.

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Leadership Guide to More Effective Listening There is nothing easy about listening. So we put together a quick reminder guide to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How the Best Leaders Shift the Energy on Their Team

leadership

The energy on a team is no accident. When it’s in the room, it can’t be mistaken. People are engaged, excited and strive to perform at their best.  

The tricky question is, where does it come from, and what is it?

Energy is defined as the strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity. In the context of leadership and teams, I simplify it as “the ability to do great work with optimistic effort.”  

When teams have the right kind of energy, it impacts the consistency, intensity, and speed at which members give effort, work together and perform. On a recent episode of Work-Life, Hubert Joly, the former CEO of Best Buy credited energy as a key to the company’s transformation and turnaround. He said, “I needed people’s help from the beginning, and that created energy to attack the real problems together.” Joly facilitated this by asking associates and general managers three simple questions:

  1. What’s working?
  2. What’s not working?
  3. What do you need?

What Joly understood was traditional thinking about energy on a team only coming from results wasn’t entirely true. Energy ultimately comes from people. If you take nothing else away from this column, I want you to take away this;  

One person can completely change the energy on a team or in a room.  

This principle can be positive or negative, depending on the situation. 

Energy Roles on a Team

John Wooden, one of the best college basketball coaches and examples of leadership, said, “Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm. Our energy is infectious, whether it’s lethargic or enthusiastic is a choice we make each day.”  

What this ultimately means is the energy each person, especially a leader, brings to a team can be positive, negative, or even neutral. I summarize these into three roles. 

The Reducer- A reducer is an energy suck at its core and is destructive. People who choose to be a reducer enhance feelings of doubt, worry, and frustration. They cause team members to get negative and blame each other for mistakes or bad outcomes. These people are what my friend John Gordon, the author of the Energy Bus and Power of a Positive Team, calls an “energy vampire.” 

The Neutralizer – A neutralizer, doesn’t bring energy one way or another. They rarely create positive or negative energy, but they go along with the current energy or what they experience around them.  

The Enhancer – An enhancer is constructive, lifts people up, and encourages themselves and others to look for opportunities in every situation. Enhancers aren’t blindly optimistic. Instead, they embrace reality but choose hope. 

Regardless of your role on your team, there is one certain thing. The best leaders find a way to enhance energy, not reduce it. They find ways to build up, not tear down. They find creative ways to elevate the energy of their people. 

Great leaders find a way to elevate the team’s energy.

However, it’s easy to tell yourself and others to be an enhancer, but that doesn’t mean it will happen. Intentionally choosing and being a leader that constantly thinks about and modifies the energy of a team isn’t easy. Creative methods and techniques often are required to trick your brain and others into looking at the light instead of the dark. Here are a few ways to make it happen:

1. Cultivate Energy in Yourself 

While it’s true some people wake up with excitement that mimics the energizer bunny, most people don’t have that luxury.  

What’s required is doing and consuming life-giving, not life-depleting things. While each person is different, the shared examples include exercising, writing, reading, praying, journaling, competing, meditating, and fueling (diet). Since energy, like motivation, is a depleting asset, creating daily habits that cultivate energy in yourself is required.  

2. Appeal to Emotions Through Mantras

Mantras may only be a few words long, but they can have a powerful stirring up emotions that create energy in an individual or team. After studying great leaders in different industries, it’s clear they tap into their power to help inspire their team. I refer to these in Building the Best as “Maximizing Mantras.” With just a few words, you create the inspirational drive that helps inspire future successes.

One of the most recent (and well-known) maximizing mantras was college football coach P.J. Fleck’s “Row the Boat,” which helped bring the previously overlooked Western Michigan football team into the limelight with a winning record and a spot in the 2017 Cotton Bowl. The mantra has come to define the coach and his teams, even after moving to a new job at the University of Minnesota.

In an interview with MLive, Fleck explained that the mantra referred to three parts: the oar, which provided the energy, the boat, which represented the sacrifices that team members, administration, and fans were willing to make for the program, and finally, the compass, which symbolized the direction the team wanted to go. Combining all these ideas into a single phrase served as a powerful motivator for the team.

When you find short, simple phrases that encapsulate big ideas, you can quickly create an energy in yourself or in a team that didn’t exist before.

3. Shrink Negativity to 1 Minute or Less

Most people would say to eliminate all negativity regardless of the cost. In a perfect world, this is excellent advice. But this isn’t possible since you lead yourself and others in an imperfect world. Instead of trying to eliminate negative energy, look to shrink it.  

A negative comment or a poor reaction to an unfortunate situation won’t eliminate all positive energy, especially if you shrink it to one minute or less. What ends up happening is both you and your team will become more self-aware of their comments and reaction that hurt future performance versus help it. 

Closing

The best leaders understand that energy on a team isn’t an accident. It’s something they constantly monitor and intentionally choose to enhance daily. If you prioritize cultivating energy in yourself, appealing to emotions through a maximizing mantra, and shrinking negativity to 1 minute or less, you will be mimicking the best leaders. 

Will it be easy with all the negative news of a possible recession or uncertainty in the business world? No, it will not. But you wouldn’t be in the position you are in today if you weren’t capable of elevating your team’s energy. 

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

Why Coaching is a Skill That’s Essential for Leaders

Key - life coaching, solution

Success as a leader is never achieved through your efforts alone.  

Too often, managers promoted because of their previous achievements as individual contributors forget this critical lesson. 

One of the ways a leader separates themselves from being a manager is by coaching their people. A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. I define it in Coaching for Excellence as, “Coaching is improving the current and future performance of others to achieve higher levels of excellence.”

Leaders who coach others effectively have never been more critical than they are today because behind every excellent professional is a leader who acted as a coach and refused to settle for anything other than their best. 

Behind every excellent professional is a leader who acted as a coach and refused to settle for anything less than their best.

As easy as this is to write, its application is complex. Most managers default to typical management activities instead of coaching. Ray Smith said it well, “to create a high-performance team we must replace typical management activities like supervising, checking, monitoring, and controlling with new behaviors like coaching and communication.” Not only is Ray Smith correct, he exposes a drastic shift in that managers must make in today’s workplace around their core responsibilities.

Core Responsibilities of Every Manager

Managers have many responsibilities regardless of industry or company. However, if you boil it down, there are two core responsibilities every manager on the planet must focus on:

  1. Recruiting
  2. Coaching

Instead of going deep on the recruiting piece today, let’s keep our focus on coaching. One of the reasons managers don’t coach their people is because the outcomes of their effort aren’t guaranteed. They can spend countless hours teaching, challenging, and asking great questions, and the team member’s behavior doesn’t change. Since other people’s behavior is out of their control, they retreat to focusing on things they can control, like setting expectations and hiring different people. While expectations and getting the right people on the bus are essential to sustained performance, refusing to act as a coach is an enormous miss. 

The managers who consciously choose to act like a coach are doing the right thing for their team members. Because when a professional is fortunate enough to have a manager who acts as a coach, it dramatically increases the chances of reaching their potential. 

When you are fortunate enough to have a manager who acts as a coach, it dramatically increases the chances of reaching your potential.

If you are ready to take your coaching skills to the next level, here’s a playbook to assist you.

1. Choose the Right Moments

Timing is everything in coaching because every moment isn’t a coaching moment. So many managers who struggle to coach their team treat every moment like a coaching moment.

As painful as this is to write, I am guilty of overcoaching my team. But, thanks to a courageous team member, she brought overcoaching to my attention, allowing me to make changes.  

Do your best to choose moments like one-on-one’s, performance reviews, or training sessions to provide coaching in the right moments. 

2. Focus on the Individual 

Coaching might appear like a group activity, but it’s about the individual. While there are scenarios like a basketball coach where group coaching is essential, the focus should be on each person more often than not. 

One of the things I have learned in my leadership coaching practice is how essential it is for managers to identify where team members are currently in their development and align their coaching appropriately. The reason is that the goal is simple, to help each team member reach a stage of development that exceeds where they are today. 

The goal of coaching is simple: help each person reach a stage of development that exceeds where they are today.

3. Go Beyond Work

Coaching in the areas you are comfortable with isn’t all that difficult. What’s remarkable is when managers coach their people beyond their current role or responsibililty. While it may seem a little odd to coach your people beyond their current role, the best coaches don’t only help improve performance, they help improve lives.” 

The best coaches help improves lives, not just performance.

As I wrote in Building the Best, the simplest way to implement this type of coaching is to ask your people about their goals, dreams, and aspirations inside and outside work.

Coaching people beyond their role isn’t easy, and it often doesn’t show up in immediate results. This means most managers will ignore it because they believe it’s less important than the other things they do. Instead of taking on this mindset, embrace the challenge of understanding your people beyond the job and relish the opportunity to help them make it happen. 

Coaching for Excellence Ready to take your coaching skills to the next level? Register for the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.

How Leadership Impacts Organizational Culture

Wooden toy Blocks with the text: culture

Getting leaders to care about culture because it’s is a battle worth fighting. 

Organizational Culture, by definition, is the shared values and beliefs that guide thinking and behavior. If your mind just shifted by that definition, you are not alone. Most professionals think about the office building, ping pong tables, or cool perks that come with the job.  

Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Drucker didn’t mean the strategy wasn’t necessary, but he did know that when a group of people are aligned with their values and beliefs, their habits and behaviors would be a more promising route to sustained success. 

Most employees want to be a part of an elite culture, but organizational leaders lack the knowledge and ability to make it happen. Instead, they pawn off the responsibility of culture to a company committee, HR team, or worse, ignore it altogether.  

If only more leaders grasped the leadership principle from Building the Best:

Culture starts with leaders, and their people prove it.  

Said differently, leaders create the culture which ultimately becomes the result. Embracing the responsibility that you both shape and impact the culture of your organization, team, or family is one of the most critical mindset shifts that happen in any leader’s journey. The reason is simple, when leaders prioritize culture, team members will gladly give the best version of themselves daily. 

If leaders prioritize culture, team members will gladly give the best version of themselves daily.

The Four Elements That Make Up Any Team’s Culture

Whether you are the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, lead a small team, or guide a family, four consistent elements make up any team’s culture. 

No alt text provided for this image

Safety

Before people can perform at their best, they must first feel safe and protected. How does the current environment make your people feel? First, are the working conditions physically safe? Second, do team members feel psychologically safe to share ideas and feeling without fear of judgement or repercussions?

Unity

Inclusivity and people feeling like they are a part of something bigger than themselves help feed productivity and innovation. Does each person on your team feel like they are integral to your ultimate success? At the center of unity is mutual respect amongst team members and a feeling of belonging. 

Positivity

Beliefs drive people’s behaviors, and behaviors drive results. If your team’s beliefs are optimistic, the chances of a good things happening in the future are drastically higher than the alternative. Positivity is driven from the top-down, and it’s contagious. The late Colin Powell said it well in his book, It Worked for Me, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” The best leaders know that achieving higher success levels is impossible without optimism and belief. 

Energy

Energy keeps your team going and impacts the speed at which people perform. High energy yields high performance. You can always tell the energy of a team by what they’re doing midday. Have they settled into complacency, or are they revving their engines to power throughout the day?

It’s called an elite culture when all four of these elements are achieved simultaneously at high levels. Leaving the development of your team or organizational culture to chance will lead to thinking moving in a direction you may not like because culture is being shaped every day, whether you like it or not. If you do not mold and guide it, your team will end up disengaged, voluntary turnover will increase, and a lackluster attitude will develop. 

What Holds Leaders Back from Focusing on Culture?

Like many things, most leaders and organizations start with great intentions, and culture is no different. But when immediate results aren’t realized, people default to their old way of leading. 

When immediate results aren’t realized, people default to their old way of behaving.

Research from Quantum Workplace shows 65% of employees say their company culture has changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the workplace has changed, culture has too—for better or for worse. One of the downsides of remote work is the challenge of creating and sustaining the workplace culture. It’s difficult to build momentum and energy without being in the same room. However, just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it can’t be done. The ramification of leaders not focusing on culture, whether remotely or in-person, is steep. Disengaged employees are 3.8 times more likely to cite organizational culture as a reason for leaving than engaged counterparts. 

While each organization is a little different, the commitment to culture separates those who adopt and sustain it from those who do not.  

How to Create an Elite Culture

If you or your organization is committed to creating an elite culture, here are a few strategies to adopt.

1. Start with Core Values

It is a lot easier to create an elite culture when the core values of the team or organization have definition and are mutually agreed upon. Core values are a group’s fundamental beliefs and guiding principles. Here is a step-by-step guide that’s useful from BetterUp. 

It’s easy for an organization to say they have core values, but I look for proof beyond a few words written on walls or on an “about us” page. A good barometer is when leaders not only live them out consistently, but celebrate those who choose to live them out daily. 

Defining core values isn’t nearly as important as exercising them.

If you have core values, put them to the test. Ask your team the following:

  1. Can you define our core values?
  2. Can you tell me a time recently when I lived them out?

If you haven’t looked at your core values or talked about the previously defined values of your organization or team in a while, don’t do another thing before you do. 

2. Create a Culture Award

Most organizations have awards for top performers and top salespeople. However, just because you might be a great individual contributor doesn’t mean you help improve the culture. To further embed an elite culture into the fabric of your people, create a culture award.  

Take James Franklin, the head football coach at Penn State University, as an example. Hired in 2014, one of the first things Franklin did was establish four core values for his new team. His entire coaching staff and team members were measured against these values. They were plastered on walls, shirts, and in team binders. Franklin knew it was not the words themselves that were important, but rather the living out of those values.  

To help embed the values into the culture, he knew he had to reward, recognize and talk about them in a public setting. Each week during the season, Franklin gathered the entire team and gave out an award to one player in front of the entire team who best lived out the core values. It didn’t take long for the behavior on the team to shift. Players, hungry for their peers’ respect and recognition, wanted to win the culture award. They made choices to live out the core values in and outside their football duties. 

The moral of the story is to create a culture award on your team or organization for the member who best lives out the culture on an ongoing basis to sustain excellence. The best ones are names after a former colleague who embodied the values so it can live on long after you’re gone. 

3. Coach and Give Feedback Often

There is nothing easy about sustaining culture and energy. One of the best ways is to lean into people who are having challenges. Instead of passing judgment on team members who struggle to perform and contribute to the culture, get curious and start coaching. 

Instead of passing judgment on team members who struggle to perform, get curious and start coaching.

Bob Nardelli said, “without a coach, people will never reach their maximum capability,” and I couldn’t agree more. To help others achieve higher levels of excellence, check out Coaching for Excellence

Closing

Each organization and its leaders will go about creating an elite culture in slightly different ways. Regardless if you establish core values and principles or some alternative method. The key is that you must care about your culture and prioritize it daily. It’s absolutely a battle worth fighting.

The only question remaining is what are you doing to mold and shape your culture in a positive direction?

Coaching for Excellence Ready to take your coaching skills to the next level? Register for the next Coaching for Excellence Workshop

John’s New Book Sign up to get early access to John’s new book. By doing so, you will be entered to win a free signed copy when it’s released Sign up here.

Free Downloadable Coaching Cheatsheet There is nothing easy about coaching. So we put together a list of eight of the best coaching questions to help you. Download it for free here.

About the Author John Eades is the CEO of LearnLoft, a leadership development company helping executives and managers to lead their best. He was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Management & Workplace. John is also the author of Building the Best: 8 Proven Leadership Principles to Elevate Others to Success. You can follow him on Instagram @johngeades.