Step by Step

Set against a backdrop of steel and glass, the chateau-inspired Fairmont Royal York Hotel is an iconic part of the Toronto skyline. Since opening in 1929, the hotel has been the temporary home to a wide range of guests, including Queen Elizabeth, President Ronald Regan, the 14th Dalai Lama, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Aniston, and the Olsen Twins. Several years ago, I was added to the Royal York’s guest register when I presented at a business conference hosted at the splendid facility.

I may not have received the same greeting as the Queen, but I felt appreciated and valued when I arrived the day before my presentation. Nearing dinnertime, I quickly dropped my bags in my room, enjoyed a lovely meal in the hotel’s restaurant, and headed to bed for a restful night’s sleep. The next morning, I awoke, got ready for the day, and arrived in my assigned conference room 30 minutes before the start of my presentation.

All was good. I was excited and ready to deliver on my topic: How to Build a Culture of Trust. 

As the room started to fill, a gentleman approached me, explaining that he was looking forward to my presentation. In short order, he conveyed to me much of what he had done to erode trust with his team, how he had mishandled situations, misled people, and missed the mark on his goals.

It was as if the leadership confessional was open for business, and this guy was unpacking years of poor behavior. I was amazed by all he told me in just a few minutes about what he had done to damage trust. There was no bravado in his words or arrogance in his body language. He wasn’t bragging; he was hurting. He seemed self-aware and genuinely wanted to get better.

The kicker came at the end of the brief exchange. Glancing at my watch, I excused myself, explaining that I needed to start in a moment, but I’d be happy to talk further after the presentation.

He responded, “Sorry, I don’t have time to meet. I have a lunch appointment, and then I’m off to the airport. You’re going to have to fix me in the next hour.”

Assuming he was joking, I smiled and responded, “Ok, I’ll make the presentation count, but don’t expect miracles in an hour.”

His face showed no emotion – no smile, no smirk. He was serious. He thought he would have a flash of insight, learn a few tricks, and get everything back on track in one 60-minute event.

We made eye contact several times during the presentation, and I could see he was taking notes, but when I finished, he was gone. He was moving on with the rest of his day and career like how he started that day, wanting to get better but with no clear plan.

There was a bit of a cloud over my stay at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel. The facilities were wonderful, the crowd was engaging, and the presentation went well, but that one conversation cast a shadow over the entire visit.

I’ve invested a career in studying and practicing leadership. I have researched how to develop leaders, written papers on the subject, and taught countless classes. Yet for some reason, I keep encountering people who think they can flip a switch and become great leaders with the help of one trick, one lesson, or one workshop. Yes, those things can help, but each is only one step along the path.

Leadership is a daily activity and training for it must be daily as well. In order to become a great leader, you must change your behavior. In order to change your behavior, you must change your habits.

I frequently tell a story about how my daily physical training in the Army allowed me to run a marathon on a whim when I was in my twenties. My consistent regimen led to freedom of action. In order to become a great runner, you must have a habit of running and follow a consistent regimen. All marathon training programs have you run multiple times each week over a period of weeks or months.

This is why my book and all of our training revolves around daily training over a period of weeks. When clients ask if they can extend the training out over longer periods than “The Five-Week” in The Five-Week Leadership Challenge would imply, I tell them that the important part is that they have a consistent regimen, rather than whether they do it seven days a week or four. Each daily lesson of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge is just another step. Our goal is that by the end of the challenge you will have a new leadership development habit, through which you continue to take steps along your leadership journey for the rest of your life.

This week’s tool and video are designed to help you identify what steps you can take throughout the week to keep investing in yourself as a leader and start a personal development rhythm. The tool outlines eight leadership development areas ranging from delivering results to communicating effectively. The tool also outlines three delivery formats: listen, read, and watch. Use the tool to identify the days of the week when you moving in the right direction. will be investing in yourself and then determine the focus area and delivery format for each selected day.


Photo by Jessica Lam on Unsplash

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