What Two Qualities Define Successful Leaders? Believing in Others and Having True Grit

By Jeff Philbin, Director of Business Strategy

“Culture is the shadow of the leader,” Larry Senn, author of Winning Teams, Winning Cultures once said.

I recently had an opportunity to talk on this exact topic and the importance of achieving the right culture at the 6th Annual Marketing Summit held by Visit Tampa Bay. There I was privileged to join speakers Dave Andreychuk, a Tampa Bay legend who is the former Tampa Bay Lightning team captain and the team’s current VP of Corporate Affairs (left, in the photo above), and Jamie Santillo, (bottom center), CEO of JS Creative Concepts and Marketing, along with Visit Tampa Bay CEO Santiago Corrada (right) and Visit Tampa Bay CMO Patrick Harrison (second from left, top).

Our talks focused on critical aspects of leadership that are key to success in a fast-paced, ultra-competitive business world in which success increasingly depends on flawless and motivated teamwork.

For my part, I discussed two experiences from my time as a contestant on the Fox show MasterChef that I think hold important lessons for leaders in marketing and communication, as well as in business in general. In this post, I’d like to share summaries of these lessons, on believing in others and having true grit.

Believe in Others
It’s incredible what a few words of encouragement can do for a person. When you believe in someone and tell them about it, it can help them find an inner strength they didn’t know they had and better achieve their full potential.

This is crucial, because if we aren’t clear on how we’re investing in our people, then we run the risk of alienating and losing employees who could have made valuable contributions to the team if only we had shown belief in them.

As one powerful personal example, when I made it on Fox’s MasterChef, Gordon Ramsay, the world-famous chef and show host, believed in me. In particular, I’ll never forget a moment when we were on set during a baking challenge segment.

In this segment, once you put your dish in the oven, you have a little waiting period and can take a breather. So, after I did this, I had a sudden opportunity to speak to Gordon while he was on stage. I’ve never been afraid to have an honest conversation with anyone, so I walked up to him and tried to spark a conversation. “Hey Gordon, have you ever thought about what it would be like if you had never had your soccer injury and you had become the world-class soccer star you wanted to be, instead of the world-class chef you’ve become now?”

He slumped back, softened his stance, tilted his head and replied, “Yeah. Sometimes.” It was at that moment of vulnerability and authenticity that we were able to truly connect. One way in which this took place is that from then on I always ended up being the last person to leave the kitchen with him for over two months, so I could always take that opportunity to pick his brain. He didn’t overlook these encounters, and he gave every insight he could in these moments to help me grow.

In considering how to apply this experience, how do you approach coaching opportunities with your people? Do you intentionally seek them out? When a team member is struggling or makes a mistake, do you look the other way? Or, do you coach them and help them understand how they can change and what they can do better next time?

If you believe in your people and take a constructive approach when addressing their failures, you can transform those moments into powerful catalysts for growth. With this in mind, I encourage you to take some time for yourself and examine what you believe about your people and how you’re communicating that belief. I promise, if you can get this right and master how to give people words of inspiration to get them to know you believe in them, then the sky’s the limit for what you can achieve together.

Have True Grit
Grit is passion and perseverance for long-term goals. It’s having stamina. It’s sticking with your future, day in, day out. Not just for the week or for the month, but for years, working hard to make a goal a reality. Simply put, grit is living life as if were a marathon, instead of a sprint.

To this end, a controversial perspective that I use and that works for me is an adage that I try to follow. It may work for you, too, but you should be prepared to then always live in this zone. The adage goes like this: The moment you get comfortable is the moment you get complacent. The moment you get complacent is the moment you make mistakes. And the moment you make mistakes is the moment you are expendable.

Using another example from my experience on MasterChef, it was this adage that drove me to never adjust to the Pacific time zone while we were recording the show for the more than two months that we recorded. I would set my alarm to wake up every morning according to Eastern time, at 3:30 a.m. Pacific time but 6:30 a.m. Eastern time. The producers said we might be there for a week, or we may be there for two months, and to pack accordingly. So I did. I packed almost my entire closet. And I never once put a shirt in a drawer or on a hanger. I never made myself too comfortable and never converted to the Pacific time zone and the world there.

An important point here is that talent can take you only so far, but it doesn’t give you true grit. Many talented people, for instance, simply don’t follow through on their commitments. It’s that passion to solider on through the most challenging moments that reveals the flame inside you and your will to bring oxygen to it. What starts with a blow of air and becomes a rush of air, and what turns into a wildfire that ignites in you is what sets you apart from competitors. This is usually unrelated or even inversely related to measures of talent. It’s an intangible quality that cannot be fully understood. But it’s what enables someone to have true grit.

If we break this down and get elementary about our area of expertise, we can find our own zone. And in this zone there is nothing that can stop you if you believe in your passion.

Looking Forward
Many of us regularly deal with team dynamics that have major consequences for our professional success. A critical factor in these dynamics is being able to motivate people to do more good.

I hope the lessons here on believing in others and having true grit can help you with this. Ultimately, these two approaches don’t require that you raise additional funds or develop any more fancy technologies. They just require that you look deeper within yourself by being more in tune to your team, eliminating excuses, and following through.

Schifino Lee

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