Mark Cole: From Seeing to Seizing

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What are you doing
with the opportunities in front of you?

This might be the
most important question for you to ask as a leader. I know that’s a bold
statement, but here’s why I believe it’s true: no one can guarantee tomorrow and yesterday is too late. You don’t
know when you will run out of chances to take advantage of the opportunities in
front of you.

John Maxwell says,
“Opportunities do not multiply because they are seen. They multiply because they are seized.”

When it comes to opportunities, many
leaders have the ability to see them,
but only a few are bold enough to seize
them.

Moving from seeing
to seizing is not an overnight task, though—it takes time to train yourself to
anticipate opportunities and live with an urgency for today. As I think back on
my leadership journey, there are a few practical steps that really helped me
learn to seize opportunities.

1. Be the first to help.

As John likes to say,
“The people who most often make the biggest difference are the people who are
first to step up and help at a time when it makes a difference.”

You must have a
sense of urgency in order to be the first to step up when someone around you
needs help. Look around! I guarantee there is a door you can open that another
cannot, or an experience you’ve had that can benefit someone else. Being the
first to help is a powerful thing.

2. Take a chance on significance.

Don’t miss an
opportunity just because it has risks. Why? Because everything has risks. I
love how John puts it: “People most often regret the chances they failed to
take, not the chances they took that failed.”

Look for
opportunities where the potential for significance is high. The truth is, when
you begin to seek significance, you will find yourself outside of what you can
control. That’s the nature of significance because it’s bigger than you. But I
want to encourage you to take that step out of your comfort zone, because it’s
worth it!

3. Choose what is right, even when a return
is not guaranteed.

Without fail, the
return on my giving is always higher than what I give. This is what drives me
to do what’s right even when I am not promised anything in return. Just as the Apostle
Paul wrote, “Let us not allow ourselves to get fatigued in doing good. At the
right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up.”

In leadership, you
can trust this principle of sowing and reaping. Always pursue what is right,
and opportunities will present themselves for the seizing.

I am struck by
this reality—each of you has a family, a business, a neighborhood, a city, a
country. And today you have the opportunity to be an agent of transformation
inside of your sphere of influence.

But being able to
see opportunities is not enough! That’s just the first step. If we are going to
create positive change, we must be a people who seize opportunities of
significance. We must act on the opportunities in front of us because that’s what
allows us to make a difference.

Simply put, if we will see and seize the
opportunities before us, we can transform the world!

Does that get you
fired up? Are you as excited as I am about the opportunity to make a difference
in a world that is longing for transformational leadership?

Ask yourself these
three questions and let’s get started!

  1. What
    opportunities do I see that others don’t?
  2. What
    am I willing to say that others are afraid to say?
  3. What
    am I willing to do that others are afraid to do?

The opportunities are before us. The moment is
right. It’s up to us whether or not we’ll take that necessary step—and the
world is waiting.

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Never Leave Behind an Empty Chair

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The other day, Mark Cole, the CEO of all our companies,
asked a question to our leadership team that I thought was powerful. Looking
around the room at our executive vice presidents, he asked, “Who would fill
your chair if you weren’t here?”

Mark is one of the best and most capable leaders I know, and
I loved the way he connected with his team through this question. It provided
them with not only a clear picture of what it means to be in leadership with
our organization—but to be a leader, period.

If you want to lead, you must make sure you never leave
behind an empty chair. You must constantly develop other leaders to take your
place.

I’ve said it before, but it’s the responsibility of a leader
to reproduce other leaders; that’s the premise of my latest book, The Leader’s
Greatest Return
, but it’s also at the heart of my calling. Since 1976 I’ve
been passionate about teaching leadership principles and practices, not as a way
of building a name, but as a way of building up other leaders. I’ve made it my
life’s work to add value to leaders who multiply value to others.

I come by this conviction honestly. In my first leadership
role, I didn’t develop other leaders the way I needed to. As a result, an organization
that blossomed while I was there quickly fell apart only a few months after my
departure. There simply wasn’t enough leadership to sustain the momentum.

I don’t want that to happen to you, or to anyone. It’s why I
want you let Mark’s question echo in your life: “Who would fill your chair if
you weren’t here?”

Regardless of your role, or age, or stage, you should be
thinking about developing someone to take your place.
As part of the launch
of my new book, we partnered with my publisher, HarperCollins Leadership, to
survey hundreds of leaders about developing other leaders.

One of the best findings was that younger leaders—between
the ages of 25-35—were not only rising into leadership positions, they were
pouring into others along the way. On average, young leaders were mentoring or
developing anywhere from one to five potential leaders!

My friends, we should all have the same disposition as
leaders. Our attention should be on investing in the right people who have the
talent and aptitude to step into our role. It doesn’t mean we have to have
designs on a different role—we don’t invest in others as an escape plan. We
invest in others because we want to bring out the best in them, which frees us up
to ask, “What’s next?”

Because, if leadership teaches us anything, there’s always
something next, and we should be ready to answer the call.

That’s only possible if we’ve done the work of preparing
someone to take our place. We cannot leave behind an empty chair—we owe it to
our teams and ourselves to make sure we’re developing other leaders who can
step up. We care best for the people we lead when we prepare people to step up
and into leadership.

Good leaders never leave behind an empty chair. Instead, they leave behind a legacy of leaders who develop leaders.

Can that be said of you?

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Mark Cole: For Your Dream, Believing Isn’t Enough

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There was a popular song in the 90’s called “I Believe I Can
Fly.” The song has made its way around the world, inspiring millions of people
to believe in themselves. It’s of a similar theme to the old saying you’ve probably
heard many times from a parent, mentor, or teacher: “If you believe it, you can
achieve it.”

The truth is, just believing something doesn’t make it so. A
pig will never fly, and neither will you. There’s a big difference between a
fantasy and a dream. Fantasies exist only in the imagination, but dreams…well,
dreams can come true.

But it takes work to make a dream a reality. After all, a dream
that has no chance of becoming reality is nothing more than a waste of time.

That’s the tricky thing about dreams—by definition they are
not supposed to start with reality. The best dreams are bold and ambitious full
of hope and possibility. But what makes a dream worthwhile is your ability to
bring it into reality.

Rudy Ruettiger said it best, “Reality…is the enemy of
fantasies but not of dreams.” The difference in a fantasy and a dream is
reality.

We don’t have the ability to achieve whatever we believe. It
doesn’t matter how much you believe you can fly, if you jump out of a plane
without a parachute, it’s all over.

Think about the difference in fantasizers and dreamers:

  • Fantasizers rely on luck. Dreamers rely on
    discipline.
  • Fantasizers wait. Dreamers initiate.
  • Fantasizers make others responsible. Dreamers
    take responsibility.
  • Fantasizers focus on the destination. Dreamers
    focus on the journey.
  • Fantasizers minimize the value of work. Dreamers
    maximize the work they do.

Successful people don’t leave everything to chance. They
focus on what they can do, and do it.

I love this quote from Coach John Wooden, “I welcome good
luck just as anyone does, but I worked extremely hard to avoid being in a
situation in which luck was necessary to produce a favorable outcome or where
the luck of an adversary could defeat us.”

If your dream is unrealistic, you will depend on things that
are outside of your control to make it a reality. There must be a balance
between the boldness of your dream and the reality of your situation.

Successful people, like Coach Wooden, have mastered the art
of reaching beyond what they’re capable of while depending on factors within their
control. This is called aligning your dreams with your talent.

John Maxwell says, “When people’s talent does not match
their dreams and they fail to recognize it, they will be forever working but
never winning.”

I want to challenge you to look in the mirror and be honest
with yourself about your dreams. Are you trying to do things that you really
aren’t suited for?

Reality is never the enemy of a dream as long as you are depending
on factors within your control. Factors like your ability, your habits, and
your potential.

Ask yourself these questions as you seek to find that place
where dream and reality meet:

  1. What is my dream?
  2. What are my strengths?
  3. What are my weaknesses?
  4. What are my positive habits?
  5. What are my negative habits?
  6. How long must I practice my positive habits to
    reach my potential?

Believing in your dream isn’t enough. You must understand your reality if you want to see your dream come true. I want to encourage you today—dream big, dream bold, and dream beyond imagination!

But more than that, I want to see you accomplish your dreams. And I believe that is possible—with a lot of work. So what are you waiting for?

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Mark Cole: The Difference Between Average and Achieving

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Do you know people that are just a little bit better than
everyone around them? Have you ever wondered what their secret is?

It reminds me of a scene in the movie Space Jam, starring Michael Jordan, where the Tune Squad is losing
by a large margin at halftime and go into the locker room with very little hope
of winning.

In the scene, Michael Jordan is doing everything he can to
encourage the team, but it’s not working. So Bugs Bunny takes matters into his
own hands by secretly writing three game-changing words on Michael’s water
bottle: “Michael’s Secret Stuff.”

The bottle is quickly passed around for every player to
drink. And, naturally, the team goes
on to come back and win the game.

Unfortunately, a story like this is only possible in
Hollywood. There is no secret stuff
in life. Luck and good fortune are not enough to propel you above the pack.

So, what is the difference between average people and
achieving people?

John Maxwell says, “The difference between average people
and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.”

I believe this is 100% true. The way you see failure and the
way you respond to it makes all the difference.

Here’s the truth: The question of life is not if you will have problems, but how you will respond to them.

Think about it…

  • Average people blame others; achieving people
    take responsibility.
  • Average people expect never to fail again;
    achieving people know failure is a part of progress.
  • Average people are limited by past mistakes;
    achieving people take new risks.
  • Average people quit; achieving people persevere.

J. Wallace Hamilton said, “People are training for success
when they should be training for failure. Failure is far more common than
success; poverty is more prevalent than wealth; and disappointment more normal
than arrival.”

High achievers have learned how to confidently look the
prospect of failure in the eye and move forward anyway.

No one achieves success
without first going through failure.

I want to challenge you to think back on a recent setback
you experienced:

  1. Identify the specific thoughts you had about the
    setback.
  2. Try to recall your attitude towards the problem
    and how you chose to respond to it.
  3. Finally, ask yourself, “Why did I choose to
    respond that way?

No matter how difficult your problems are, the key to
overcoming them isn’t in changing your circumstances. It’s in changing yourself.

Let me say it this way: Circumstance isn’t the key to high achievement. The key is how you choose to respond to failure.

What are you waiting for? The choice is yours!

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Mark Cole: Own Your Dream

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This week on the John Maxwell Leadership Podcast, we’re talking about dreams. Specifically, your dreams. John is taking us through the first question from his digital course Put Your Dream to the Test, which is The Ownership Question:

Is your dream really your dream?

Most people don’t live out their own dreams. They find it
safer to please their parents, their spouses or others in their lives. They
constantly live under a yoke of duty and begin to define success by how much
money they make or how many people approve of their decisions.

While this pattern of life is common, it keeps me awake at
night to know that so many leaders are giving up on what they were created for
in an attempt to find success inside someone else’s dream.

Les Brown was right in saying, “Find out what it is you want
and go after it as if your life depends on it. Why? Because it does!”

Is your dream really your dream? Your life depends
on it.

Here are a few hints that might help you answer that question:

When your dream is someone else’s:

  • It will be a weight on your shoulders.
  • It will put you to sleep.
  • It will be fulfilling to others.
  • You will need someone else to make you do it.

When your dream is your own:

  • It will put wings on your shoulders.
  • It will keep you up at night.
  • It will be fulfilling to you.
  • You will get out of bed excited about doing it.

Nobel Prize winner Joseph Brodsky said, “ One’s task
consists first of all in mastering a life that is one’s own, not imposed or
prescribed from without, no matter how noble its appearance may be. For each of
us is issued but one life, and we know full well how it all ends. It would be
regrettable to squander this one chance on someone else’s appearance, someone
else’s experience.”

So how do you take ownership of your dream?

1. Bet on yourself!

As John Maxwell says, “You may succeed if nobody else
believes in you, but you will never succeed if you don’t believe in yourself.”
Simply put—if you want to succeed, you need to believe that you can.

2. Lead your life;
don’t just accept it!

Most people sit back, wish, and wait for life to happen. I
can assure you that no successful plan has ever included that strategy! Oprah
Winfrey said it this way, “Understand that the right to choose your own path is
a sacred privilege. Use it. Dwell in the possibility.” I love that—dwell in the
possibility! It will propel you to lead your life.

3. Love what you do
and do what you love!

My friend and former CEO of Hewlett- Packard, Carly Fiorina
said this, “Don’t make a choice of any kind, whether in career or in life, just
because it pleases others or because it ranks high on someone else’s scale of
achievement. Make the choice to do something because it engages your heart as
well as your mind. Make the choice because it engages all of you.” Successful
people see and seize their dream because they love what they do and do what
they love.

I was recently reminded of a commencement address delivered
by former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, Anna Quindlen in 2002 at Sarah
Lawrence College. She encouraged the graduates to own their dreams by saying,
“When I quit The New York Times to be a full-time mother, the voices of the
world said I was nuts. When I quit the paper again to be a novelist, they said
I was nuts again. But if success is not on your own terms, if it looks good to
the world but does not feel good in your soul, it is not success at all.”

Did you catch that? I don’t want you to miss this…

If your success looks
good to the world but doesn’t feel good in your soul, it is not success at all.

Own your dream! There is a great chance that it will seem
outrageous to the onlookers, but don’t let what they think slow you down.

Let these words from poet John Greenleaf Whittier sink deep into your mind: “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, ‘It might have been.’” You will never find the perfect time to pursue your dream, so you might as well start now. If you wait another year you will find yourself a year older and not a step closer to your dream.

What’s holding you back from getting started today?

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5 Takeaways from the Launch of The Leader’s Greatest Return

Yesterday, my team joined me in New York City for the official release of my new book, The Leader’s Greatest Return. As part of the day’s events, we hosted a panel of other authors and leaders to talk about developing people, and it was a blast. We even broadcast it via Facebook, so if you missed it yesterday, you could go back and watch it today.

I was joined on the panel by Dave Hollis, CEO of The Hollis Co; Adrienne Bankert, National News
Correspondent, ABC News; Tom
Golisano
, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Paychex; and Gerard Adams, The Millennial
Mentor™. The panel was moderated by Kimberly
Weisul
, Editor-at-Large at Inc.com.

It was so much fun. I had a blast sitting there with friends old and new talking about leadership and what leaders need to do in order to develop other leaders. The conversation only lasted about an hour, but it could’ve gone much longer—but even within that hour, we packed in so much good stuff that I just had to share a few of my takeaways with you.

Here are my top five takeaways from The Leader’s Greatest Return panel:

  1. Conversations on leadership should be
    inclusive.
    Yesterday’s panel was so much fun because it was composed of
    such different people. My story was very different from Adrienne’s, hers was different
    from Tom’s, who’s story was different from Dave’s and Gerard’s. By bringing that
    wide range of experience, insight, and interest to the stage, our conversation
    was able to go places no one could’ve imagined—and yielded so many great
    thoughts I wanted to stop talking midway through so I could take notes!
  2. Only growing leaders can (or will) grow
    leaders.
    Dave Hollis said it so brilliantly when he shared a story about how
    he addressed his leadership team at the Hollis Co. Dave said that when he assembled
    the team, he told them, “No one currently at this leadership table has the skills
    needed to remain at this table five years from now. Including me. If we want to
    stay, we must grow.” It’s no secret that I’m a huge believer in growth, but to
    hear my fellow leaders affirm that their own personal growth precedes their
    ability to grow other leaders did my heart good.
  3. Leaders must give their people what they
    need.
    We had a spirited discussion about what the people on our teams need
    from us. Adrienne made the point that restoring heart to leadership—kindness,
    empathy, human connection—was what modern workers needed most, and Tom chimed
    in, “Yeah, but a good salary and stock options aren’t so bad either!” While we
    all laughed, I thought Dave did a wonderful job of tying it together by saying,
    “The basic needs of an employee include a paycheck but go beyond it as well—our
    people want to be seen and treated well.”
  4. Mentorship matters. One of the best
    conversations of the day was around mentorship—who we mentor, who mentored us,
    and what we learned by being mentored. Gerard said something so profound,
    something I wish everyone would just write down and remember: “I wanted to be a
    mentee who brought value to my mentor.” I love that statement, because it reminded
    me of my relationship with Coach John Wooden—whenever I went to see Coach, I always
    wanted to be prepared so he would see how much I valued his time and wanted to
    make it valuable for him too. I didn’t meet with him for the chance to get a
    picture or a signed basketball; I wanted to have a relationship with him that would
    make a difference in both of our lives.
  5. Attitude is the difference maker. One of
    the final things we discussed was what to look for in a leader, and Tom said
    something I just loved: “When it comes to people, I hire for attitude and train
    for skill every time.” The whole panel lit up over that idea, because that’s so
    often what hinders a person’s opportunities in leadership. You can find people
    whose skill sets complement and support one another; a small skill set isn’t a
    deal breaker. But a person with a negative attitude is nearly impossible to overcome.
    People with a healthy mindset, a positive outlook, and a willingness to grow are
    exactly the kind of people who will learn a new skill if that’s what it takes
    to help the team win.

There were a lot more takeaways that I could share, but it’s probably better for you to just click on the link and watch the video for yourself. And once you do, I’d love for you to post your favorite takeaway in the comments so I can learn from you as well!

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Developing the Power of Perspective

Next week, my book The Leader’s Greatest Return officially releases. I’ve shared some ideas and pieces of the book’s content on the blog over the past few months, but today I want to give you a sneak peek from Chapter 3.


If you’re a leader, you should be developing other
leaders
. It’s the single-greatest investment you can make because it
produces the single greatest return. Nothing helps an organization like more
leaders; in fact, I’ve never once had an organization tell me, “You know, John—we
just have too many leaders.”

In order to develop leaders, however, you must understand
them.
Good leadership requires a perspective shift; you must go from seeing
things through your leadership lens to seeing things through the eyes of those you
lead.

So how can you, as a leader, acquire the perspectives you
need to better understand your people?

  1. Learn Perspective Thinking

    When I first started out in leadership, I expected everyone else to adapt to my way of thinking. I wish I’d done the opposite—trying to think the ways others did would’ve helped me avoid a few mistakes! Learning to approach an idea or opportunity through someone else’s mindset is helpful because it allows you to appreciate their view of things, and then lead them from where they are instead of trying to lead them from where you are.

    Where they are as an emerging leader is often a place of looking forward. As I began thinking through things in this way, I quickly learned that many people struggled with insecurity, so I gave them confidence. Many people longed for a bright future, so I gave them hope. People wanted to be understood, so I gave them a listening ear. People wanted to be included, so I asked them for their thoughts.

    I knew what to give my people when I learned to think from their perspective.

  2. Practice Perspective Seeking

    It’s one thing to try and think like your people; it’s another thing to ask your people what they’re thinking. As I’ve grown in my leadership, I’ve developed the habit of asking the leaders on my team for their perspective and takeaways after significant meetings or events. By listening to them, I not only learn how they think, I get deeper insight into other areas, like the leadership dynamics of a room, or the effectiveness of our communication.

    When I’m developing a new leader, I’m especially keen to ask for their perspective first. It allows them to share without feeling the pressure to affirm my thinking. Then, once I’ve heard from them, I can share my takeaways, and perhaps teach them something that will help them go further in their leadership journey.

  3. Engage in Perspective Coordinating

    The final thing I do when I’m developing leaders is coordinate the different perspectives that my leaders give me. After allowing everyone to have their say (including me), I’ll then go back around the table and connect the dots—pointing out how one team member’s ideas relate to another’s. Then, I’ll tell them how those ideas connect to my own thinking, and to the vision of the organization.

    When I do that, I’m trying to expand everyone’s vision and perspective. I want to sharpen their leadership thinking and come up with a new shared leadership perspective. Once I’ve done that, I’ll ask how this new perspective can make us better collectively and how it can make us better as individuals. It prompts everyone to process the ideas and think broadly—not just through their own filters.

When you as a leader—and the leaders you’re developing—can see things through the eyes of others, you’ll know maturity as a leader is starting to develop. The power of perspective is an intentional discipline. It takes time and commitment, but it creates an understanding between you and the people you lead that allows you to move forward, faster—and with increasing success.

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