Imitation: The Easiest Path to Leadership Success without Starting from Scratch

Find Awesome and Copy It!

Inspiration is contagious. 

Oprah Winfrey started out as a small-town newsperson and became a media mogul. 

Mother Teresa served the poor in the worst conditions. 

Gandhi, Steve Jobs, Malala from Pakistan, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Albert Einstein—the list goes on. 

Each of these people had drastically different personalities, values, and vision, yet they all inspired millions.

Of course, you don’t have to meet a tech giant or join the Peace Corp. to find those electric people who inspire leadership success.

One of the first people to speak deeply into my life was a guy named Jim. He put a John Maxwell book in one hand and Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People in the other and began to teach me about leadership. As one of my first mentors, he told me he believed in me and saw amazing talent in me. 

It changed me and made me want to elevate my game.  And it made me realize—no great leaders are 100% original. 

It’s shocking, but true. 

We all model our lives after somebody. The difference is who and what do we choose to model. That decision changes everything.

mother-teresea

Inspiration Is Everywhere—If We Only Look

Inspirational people have a way of affecting our souls and changing our thinking. 

As kids, we model what we see in our parents and older siblings. Our word choices, actions, attitudes, and way of viewing the world all are shaped by what we see modeled for us. 

As adults, we encounter more and different viewpoints, we get to choose new patterns to imitate and replicate. 

So who inspires you? You may have never given it much thought. 

I encourage you to pause and consider it now. Who are your heroes? What leaders inspire you? It could be a… 

  • Teacher
  • Mentor
  • Boss
  • Coworker
  • Friend
  • Podcaster
  • Family member
  • Community figure
  • Spiritual leader
  • Author 

They could be your closest friend, but could also be someone whose perspective you value, whose work you’ve read, whose smile you pass everyday and take encouragement from. 

Great leaders have a way of bringing out the best in us. It’s the simplest way to gain your own leadership growth without starting absolutely from scratch! 

(I call it, “Copying Awesome!”)

They encourage, uplift, and inspire. Their presence inspires you to bigger and better things. You want what they “have” and are willing to listen up to find out how they got it. 

PRO Tip: Inspired From Afar

You don’t have to know someone personally to gain wisdom from them. You can engage some of the best mentors in the pages of books or via an online course or video. Use it all. 

Read voraciously, take notes, and apply what you learn to your own life to equip you for your own leadership journey.  

online-course

Key Markers of Inspiring Leadership

When you know who inspires you, you can identify the individual components that make them who they are and find things to replicate in your own life and leadership.

Some key characteristics may be:

Passion. They know why their work matters. They have a spark that comes from real engagement with their mission— if they lose their way, it always guides them back to what’s important.  

Honesty. They share ideas and opinions without fear of what their peers might think. They aren’t working in the spin room, but from a place of authenticity. 

Positivity. They don’t see failures, they see lessons. Unexpected changes are opportunities to grow. These people inspire hope, progress, and a big-picture mentality in the middle of seemingly discouraging circumstances. 

Inclusivity. They value the perspectives of others—even people who disagree with them. They actively encourage communication, creativity, and team thinking from every player. 

Wisdom. They may not be the oldest or the longest-working team member, but you can tell they don’t just bring knowledge to the table, but perspective and wisdom. 

Patience. They create space for trying, failing, and trying again. They are the listening ear you want to take frustrations and struggles to. 

Determination. When others want to quit, they dig deeper. They ask questions. They make moves. They have the grit and willpower to endure the dry spells and still reap the rewards of hard work. 

And this is only a starting list! Inspiration can strike from any direction. 

Now it’s your turn. 

As you think about leaders who’ve inspired you, ask what it is about them that speaks to you on a deep level. What is it about them that energizes you and makes you want to make them proud?

(Everyone’s life can be a lesson if you understand how to let it teach you.)

If you want to take it one powerful step forward—start a Board of Inspiration. Here’s how. 

  1. Get a posterboard, whiteboard, or personal journal. (Something with lots of room.) 
  2. Whenever you notice an encouraging, inspiring, or challenging characteristic—in anyone, friend, coworker, public figure—put it on the board! 
  3. Add books, articles, or resources that catch your attention.
  4. Add quotes that encapsulate your personal brand or mission. 
  5. Keep it somewhere you can see it! 

Imitation isn’t just the sincerest form of flattery, it’s also the quickest way to get remarkable results.

Why reinvent the wheel when so much of what you need to live an inspired life has already been modeled for you? Why start at the drawing board when leadership success is there in front of you in full color? 

Find awesome and copy it.

3 Keys to Execution Excellence in Your Organization

How to Consistently Get More Done without Losing Your Mind

You could probably study for the rest of your life—and still never finish all the books, articles,  editorials, and contradictory perspectives on how to execute with excellence. 

Thankfully you don’t have to sift through it all to find a process that just works.

One of the most helpful—and beautifully simple—leadership processes I learned was from a group of seasoned, Alaskan mushers. 

They didn’t have to get fancy or annotate. They got right to the point and shared with me something that not only works for them on the treacherous Iditarod Trail but can work for any leader—on and off the trails. 

We called it the R.A.C.E method. 

The acronym stands for Ready, Action, Checkpoint, Evolve. 

These simple but powerful steps create a process that any leader can apply—for excellent team execution again and again… and again! 

Let’s break down the first step: Ready 

In this phase, I’ve found three keys to consistent execution excellence—goals, roles, and habits. These are the what, the who, and the how of getting things done. 

To get ready, you need to know what you want to achieve, who needs to fulfill which roles, and how you will function in the day-to-day to succeed.

Goals

Setting INSPIRED goals begins with asking these questions:

  • Where do you want to end up? 
  • What is the order of the steps? 
  • Who does those steps best? 
  • How much time do you need? 
  • What are the best in your industry doing?

On the Iditarod trail, mush teams rely on trail markers to let them know how far they’ve traveled and how much longer they have to go. 

Even with these markers, some mushers have stopped fifteen minutes from the next checkpoint, because they didn’t realize how close they were to achieving the next goal. In the middle of the action, it’s difficult to tell one snowbank from another. 

The same is true for you and your team as you execute. 

With your head down in the weeds, you can lose sight of where you are. That’s why you need goals that serve as checkpoints. 

The checkpoints do two things. They help people focus on componentized goals and provide built-in celebration points along the way. 

Similar to the way the various camps on an Everest ascent provide visual cues to progress, your checkpoints let people measure progress toward achieving results.  

As you evaluate your goals in the harsh light of reality, you must consider your team’s ability to deliver on those goals in that time frame, which leads to evaluating the roles needed and who will fill those roles.

iditarod-dog-sled-race

Roles

When you’re clear on your goals and you’ve set checkpoints to monitor progress, then you can start positioning your team for maximum success by examining roles. 

I suggest you begin with these questions: 

  • Who is actually doing and delivering? 
  • Is everyone crystal clear about roles and responsibilities?
  • How does each person contribute to each step?
  • What strengths does each person contribute and where will he or she do the best work?
  • In light of the role, what weaknesses does each person have and how can these weaknesses be overcome? 
  • Do you need to add or remove people from the team? Have you first trained them to ensure removal is wise?

Sports teams are only allowed a certain number of players. You too must work within certain constraints such as budget and organizational restrictions.

 That’s why it’s so important to have the right team members in place to get the job done. 

An offensive lineman may technically be physically able to line up under center, receive the ball, and throw it to a receiver, but that’s not what he’s built for.

 In baseball, pitchers are notoriously bad hitters. That’s not why they’re on the team.

The constraints actually help the team by forcing them to put the best players in the roles where they perform the best.

 Likewise, constraints help you ensure you put the right people in the right places to win. 

That doesn’t mean no one will ever have to do a job they don’t enjoy or step out of their comfort zone, but it does mean that you position each person to be and deliver his or her best. 

(A pitcher sometimes has to bunt a run in. Football players sometimes line up differently for a trick play.)

But your team is filled with people who will excel in their areas of expertise—and propel you to excellence—if you ensure they are in the right role. 

Habits

Habits have the power to make or break your execution. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “You do not rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.” 

Nowhere is this reality more apparent than in execution. 

You can have the noblest goals but, without systems in place to achieve those goals, you’ll never get off the starting line. 

You’ll do what you’ve always done and wonder why you’re getting the same results. 

To achieve excellence through execution, you’ve got to manage your own habits and then help your team members manage theirs. It goes back to the DITLO I described earlier—what happens in the Day In The Life Of your team. 

So, how do you make the right things habitual for your team? Identify the right things to do, then make them repeatable, sustainable, and scalable. Start by answering these questions:

  • What’s the workload?
    • Does it come to you segmented or does it need to be compartmentalized? 
    • Are there trends, patterns, and timing to follow? 
  • What are the standard operating procedures (SOPs) that lead to successful execution?
    • Do they exist by design or by default? 
    • How effective are they? Are they current? 
    • Do you know the steps in the process? 
  • Do you know your strengths and struggles, efficiencies and inefficiencies?
  • What are your output expectations? 
    • Are there checkpoints to ensure you get the outcome you need and provide accountability?

Working through these steps takes time. It’s not flashy, and it’s not always fun. 

And that’s why so few do it—and they fail to deliver excellence. 

But when you have answers to these questions, you can begin to work them into your DITLO and move to other steps in the process.

business-measurement

Are you ready to RACE with Excellence?

The bottom line is this: preparation is half the battle. Getting RACE-Ready with achievable team goals, clear member roles, and systemized habits will put you three steps ahead of the competition before the starting whistle blows. 

These goals, roles, and habits make up the foundation for excellent execution. 

You can be intentional, passionate, real, have a heart to serve, and integrate well, but if you fail to execute you’ve failed to do your job.

There’s no substitution for executing with excellence. But if you work the steps with excellence, execution takes care of itself.

If you or your team needs a proven guide to help you plan well in this Ready phase, just reach out.

The Secret to Enjoying a Missional Team Mindset

Unlocking Your Why to Engage with Passion

Here’s a vital question for organizational leaders to ask: Are you still on track together, or at some point did everyone get distracted from the core mission, vision, values, and purpose?

Family businesses can be beautiful instances of hard work creating something out of nothing.

They also can be prime examples of what happens when your why gets lost over time.

Grandparents carve a business out of the dirt with blood, sweat, and tears. At some point, the business gets handed off to the kids. When the second generation takes over the business, they know the passion Mom and Dad put into it, so they pour themselves into it.

But, more often than not, the grandkids will put that business in the ditch. Why? Because they didn’t share the purpose and passion or see the price paid by that first generation. They don’t share the passion, but they enjoy the privilege that has been their birthright.

Unfortunately, birthright doesn’t give passion and purpose. That’s why so many organizations, not just family businesses, flounder and lose their way over time. They lose their why.

Find the Why to Find Your Purpose

If you’re a leader of an organization that has lost its way, you must discover where you got off track and how to get back to that place of purpose. Purpose and passion produce the energy required to build an InSPIRED culture.

That’s why TOMS Shoes has been so successful. Yes, they’re selling shoes, but, more importantly, they have a social impact that drives them.

Purpose and passion are also why Michael Dell raised the money to buy his own company back. He was passionate about what he had created but knew he couldn’t make the moves he needed to protect that purpose and passion if the company was publicly traded. So, he raised the money to buy back Dell stock and make it private again. That’s what passion does.

People lose their shared sense of passion when they’ve lost their purpose. How then does an organization find or rediscover its purpose? How does it get intentional about ensuring everyone shares that purpose and passion?

  • Everyone in the organization needs to know why the organization was created.
  • What was the founding story?
  • What needs is the company serving now?
  • Could you name the why behind the how and the what?
  • Can you name the team’s core values?

Passion tears down silos and positions organizational culture to be fully integrated. When an organization isn’t driven by passion that comes from a clear and honorable purpose, it’s easy to get into a mess.

So the question is this: is your organization mission-minded or messy-minded? Do you have a mission-critical mindset in your organization or a silo-centric mindset?

3 Signatures of a Mission-Minded Team

Teams working with a mission in mind can’t help but stand out from the rest. How many of these do you see every day with your organization?

  1. With a mission-critical mindset, people will elevate mission, purpose, and passion above the need for egocentric wins. When you’re driven by a good purpose and sense of mission, you don’t have time to get involved in all the messiness—petty arguments, power trips, turf wars, and silo building. It’s not about who gets the credit; it’s about getting things done to advance the mission. They don’t look to place blame; they try to affect change. It’s amazing how much can get done when no one cares who gets the credit.
  2. When you have a strong sense of mission and focus on other people, you position yourself and your organization to function in a highly integrated fashion—fingers interwoven, arms interlocked, tearing down silos and moving forward together in pursuit of your shared mission. The question is simple: what is your purpose?
  3. Slay the dragon or rescue the princess: I believe the best teams need a dragon to slay or a princess to rescue. They can be galvanized against a common enemy (the dragon) or united toward a common goal (the princess to rescue). The former is more of a negative purpose in response to a threat, while the latter is a positive purpose in pursuit of an aspirational aim. Both can be effective in giving clear purpose and keeping teams out of the distracting messiness—but a word of warning about the dragon:

A team functioning in constant threat mode, motivated by fear of the next fire-breathing monster, can be damaged over the long-term.

Occasionally, organizations do face a real crisis that demands the slaying of a dragon. However, for long-term success, it’s far better for an organization to cast a compelling purpose—freeing the princess—and then pursue it with a shared sense of passion.

You must be realistic, of course, but always tie motivation to a positive purpose whenever possible in your leadership to bring out the most inspired performance.

Embrace the Adventure

Life is an adventure to be lived, not a crisis to be survived. Running toward something is always more empowering than just running away from something else. And that’s the beautiful thing about mission-minded leading.

When you know your mission and realize at a core level how important it is, you don’t get caught up in all the distractions, you can’t afford to take your marbles and go home when things don’t go your way, but most importantly you have in view something bigger than short-term obstacles.

Messy-minded leadership might work in a pinch—at the cost of team trust and long-term stability.

Mission-minded leadership, fueled by purpose and passion, will take you all the way.

Excellence Doesn’t Happen by Accident—Do THIS Instead

The Magical Mindset that Produces Results Every Time

Have you ever been driving to a place you’ve never been before and become disoriented?

Maybe you turned left when you should have gone right, or you zoomed past your exit because you were talking.

How likely is it that you’ll end up at your destination without at least pausing to take stock of where you are and making a new plan to get where you need to go? Not very.

The same principle holds true in leadership. When you find yourself off course, you must make course corrections.

Accidental successes are neither repeatable nor sustainable. That’s why you must lead on purpose—be intentional.

Perfect Requires Practice

Think about the ballerina who stands for hours en pointe, wooden blocks digging bloody gashes into her toes, so she can hop to her toes effortlessly and glide across the stage when the curtain goes up.

Those graceful movements don’t happen by accident. She practices for decades to perform with excellence in that moment.

If you prefer an example with more speed, think about the painstaking years that go into engineering a Formula One race car. An entire team of experts meticulously designs every aspect of the vehicle for maximum speed and aerodynamics to achieve a single purpose—to win the checkered flag.

Likewise, no mountaineer ever reached the summit accidentally. Careful planning, intentional preparation, and a firm understanding of your destination position you to reach whatever your own summits may be.

Do You Have a Destiny Mindset?

All of it makes up what I call the Destiny Mindset. As you may notice, the words destiny and destination share the same root—destinare, which is Latin for “make firm, establish.”

While the word destiny carries the idea of being “predetermined and sure to come true,” your destination is something you “determine, appoint, choose, make firm or fast.”

Unless you predetermine your destiny, you’ll never reach your destination, let alone make the moves required to get there.

Without intentionality, you’ll be the disoriented driver cruising down the road, always in motion, but clueless about which way to turn.

Sure, you’ll get somewhere, but will it be the destiny you long to fulfill?

I challenge you to refuse to operate in this haphazard way in your leadership.


Don’t mistake movement for momentum or action for results.  

The Right Destination Requires Intentional Planning

It all begins with realizing that excellence is never an accident. It’s always the result of being intentional. You have to have a plan. If you don’t know where you’re headed, you won’t know how to prepare for the journey.

When you’re not savvy about the trail, you get caught up in the action of the day-to-day and forget to watch for checkpoints. When you’re stuck in fire-ready-aim mode, you can easily drift off course.

That’s why you must have an intentional plan to ensure you’re hitting the right target consistently. So what sort of things must you be intentional about? Here are a few to get started:

  • Mindset. Your mindset dictates everything else you do and everything you believe. If you aren’t intentionally monitoring your mindset, you’ll unintentionally believe things that will pull you off track.
  • Yourself. Being intentional about yourself means understanding who you are and who you are not. It’s about having a plan to lead when strong and team when weak. It’s being honest with yourself about who you are and who you hope to become.
  • Your summit. Not every summit is worth climbing, so be intentional about choosing yours. Once you know where you want and need to go, you can get intentional about making the climb.
  • Your team. Provide good leadership for them, because they are a critical component of the climb. Good leadership is an art, and, as Seneca put it, “That which occurs by chance is not an art.”
  • Your culture. Good culture empowers your team and kickstarts execution. Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
  • Operations. Be intentional about what you need to deliver. Then create a solid plan to get it done.
  • Your organizational structure and goals. Do you do business by design or by accident?
  • Your customers. At the end of the day, they will determine your success or failure.

Too many good people simply accept whatever happens to them as their lot in life.

However, when you adopt a Destiny Mindset, you plant your flag and proclaim to yourself and the world: I believe I have a higher purpose. That purpose is my chosen destination.

I believe each of us is destined for greatness.

Visualize the leadership destiny you want—it has to start there—then develop an intentional plan to reach that destination.


The Secret to Delivering Your Best Performance Every Day

3 Steps to Turn Burnout into Passion-Filled Purpose

Do you enjoy what you do every day? Do you wake up raring to tackle the next challenge?

Everyone can relate to doing a job they don’t enjoy. In fact, most Americans say they don’t look forward to going to work each day.

According to Gallup research, “An astounding 70% of U.S. employees are not showing up to work fully committed to delivering their best performance. Adding insult to injury, 52% of those workers are basically sleepwalking through their day, and 18% of them are busy acting out their unhappiness.”

Clearly, plenty of people simply aren’t lit up by what they do every day. At best, they feel intense ambivalence toward it. At worst, they hate it.

They show up and go through the motions, droning on day after day, week after week, year after year, eventually forgetting the passion that once fueled them so long ago.

The thought of fulfilling what they’re meant to do, if it ever existed at all, has long ago been shoved aside by the tyranny of the urgent.

Should You Bail Out or Dig In?

Let me be candid: if you are in a job you aren’t passionate about, you may need to start laying out a plan to pursue another path that better aligns with your passion.

In my experience, if you can align your passion with what you do at least two-thirds of the time, there’s no need to panic and jump ship. If not, you may need to make a move.

But before you do, I suggest you get clear on your passion first, because the problem may not be your job or organization at all.

The issue may be that you don’t have clarity about what lights you up or don’t know how to align that passion with the greater purpose of your organization.

Progress Begins with Purpose

Your purpose is largely made up of three components: what you’re passionate about, what you’re good at, and the sweet spot where you can make a living bringing those two together.

  • Your Passions. Start by listing all the things you would do for free simply because they make you feel fulfilled. Remember, inspiration may influence you, but passion moves you. When you’re tapping into passion, think, I cannot not do this. What do you love doing so much that it doesn’t even feel like work? But passion alone isn’t enough. It has to align with the reality of…
  • Your Strengths. Analyze your strengths and talents and factor them into the purpose equation. For example, you can be passionate about singing, but not be able to carry a tune in a bucket. You may long to be the life of every party but be wired to make your highest contribution in strategic thinking and reflection. In addition to taking assessments designed to uncover your natural personality and wiring, consider these three things:
  1. Know what you’re good at—and what you’re not good at.
  2. Discover what energizes you—and what drains you.
  3. Identify what recharges you—and what decharges you.

For example, when I get in front of an audience and start teaching principles and helping people, something amazing happens. Even when I come into the room exhausted, I get re-energized by the experience and walk out with more energy than I had walking in. Not surprisingly, that strength zone is where you’ll deliver your best results in…

  • Your Opportunities. Where do your passions and strengths intersect? That’s where you’ll find a competitive advantage, a place where you can deliver something unique to the workplace and, for that matter, the broader marketplace. Your oppotunity sweet spot is where you have the greatest potential to make your highest contribution, doing what you love in a way that is profitable to other people and rewarding to you.

Pro Tip: Your sweet spot has to make sense in the marketplace if you’re going to make a living pursuing it. I’ve known many people who’ve launched into the speaker business by quitting everything else and simply declaring, “I’m going to be a speaker.” It never lasts long.

People ask me all the time, Chris, how do you do what you’re doing?

My counsel is this: develop your sweet spot role on the side until your audience demands your full attention. That’s when you can allow yourself to fully focus on your purpose-driven passion.

Take Your Passion With You

It’s one thing to be in a job you hate. It’s another thing to be in a job where you do well and make good money, but lack respect for the leader or passion for the work.

That’s a trap that keeps good people paralyzed every day. They choose to remain a cog in the wheel rather than find and focus on what lights them up.

InSPIRED leaders discover what they were made to do and then pursue it with abandon. So, my question is this: if you’re going to do anything in life, why not do something that lights you up?

If you’re going to do anything in life, why not do something that lights you up?

The beauty of this mindset is that the brighter you are, the brighter you make your world. I want to do something that lights up the world. I want to light it up in a way that lights others up and encourages them to live out their unique brilliance.

That’s why I walked away from a good career many years ago to build a great life.

Let me be clear: I’m not advising everyone to quit their jobs tomorrow—or ever, for that matter. Not at all.

In fact, what I am suggesting is that the disengagement so many people feel is a direct result of the disconnect between personal passion and organizational purpose.

The responsibility to close that gap lies both with the individual to get clear on his or her passion and with company leadership to create a culture that resonates with a bigger and better why.

The disengagement so many people feel is a direct result of the disconnect between personal passion and organizational purpose.

People aren’t like matches. Burnout isn’t the end.

It’s never too late to rediscover what lights you up and bring that same purpose and passion to wherever you decide to live, work, and lead.

I challenge you to invest intentional time this week to revisit these three elements—your passions, your strengths, and your opportunities—and rediscover why you started your journey in the first place.

It changes everything.