Because you can’t use a hammer on a project that requires a screwdriver!

Friends, we’ve all been there!  Remember the piece of furniture or kid’s toy that had these dreaded words printed on the side of the box – Some Assembly Required?  How could we forget!!

As we opened the box, we crossed our fingers and our toes and hoped that the majority of the work was already done for us.  However, that was never the case!  There were always 45 packets of screws and nails, 3 packs of wooden dowels, a bottle of Elmer’s glue, one allen wrench and a set of instructions that were clearly written by someone who never put anything like this together in their lifetime.

At this point, every one of us clearly recognized that our success was based on the tools and the instructions given to us.  The same applies when it comes to leadership.  It’s all about the tools!

Here’s 10 things that I think contribute to great leadership.  Ready?  Let’s do this!

#1 – Empathy – You alone are not the expert on what’s best for your customers, your employees and your teams.  Investing in other people’s perspectives and experiences, and taking appropriate action as a result of this understanding, will only help you to become a better leader.  Empathy doesn’t require you to actually walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, but it does require you to recognize that their shoes are different than yours.  So try them on. Walk around a little bit.

#2 – Authenticity – Just keep it real!  Everyone knows if you are being authentic or not.  Yes, leadership does require gravitas, professionalism, executive presence or what some people call the “it factor”.  However, most leaders were not born with this trait, but they are so authentic that they clearly make decisions based on what they would want for themselves and their own families.

#3 – Care – True leaders care.  They care about their people, their communities, their industries, their partners and yes, they do care about their profits.  The leaders that show they care are admired by many.  Not because of their stature or job title, but because they change the world with their approaches.

#4 – Knowledge – Knowledge is power and is necessary to be effective.  But, never stop learning!  If you do, you have already fallen behind.

#5 – Optimism – Every day we have a choice and so do our customers, employees, investors and friends.  Let’s start our days with positivity.  I promise, if you do this on a consistent basis your perspective will change and so will your reality!

#6 – Openness – If you lead with a closed mind and closed palms you might as well close your office door and prepare to close your business.  True leaders are open to ideas, suggestions, new approaches, innovation and diversity.  Being a leader does not always mean that your answers are the best.  Keep an open mind to ensure your business has a chance to remain open for the long term.

#7 – Passion – Let people see it, feel it, experience it and live it with you.  There is something about passion that drives people to action!

#8 – Influence – I didn’t say authority, I said influence.  There is a big difference my friends and if you don’t know the difference, google it!  Work on numbers 1-7 and I can guarantee you that you will become or remain an influential leader.

#9 – Commitment – Commit to carrying out your personal, professional and company core values.  If they don’t align, you’re in the wrong place.  Your commitment will always shine through to your final product (whatever that may be).  Don’t tell me that you are committed, show me!

#10 – Accountability – All leaders, regardless of level, are accountable to someone.  Stay on top of your game by recognizing that your output is someone else’s input.  Be on-purpose, on-point and on-time!!

There is always “Some Assembly Required” when it comes to leadership.  These ten tools represent the screwdriver, hammer, allen-wrench and glue to get the job done.  When it’s time to lead, never forget your toolbox!  #letsgo

Kevin Jackson

One win doesn’t guarantee another, so TWCT (Train, Win, Celebrate, Train)

According to Forbes, approximately 543,000 new businesses get started each month, but more employer businesses shut down than start up each month.
This statistic may either surprise you or confirm what you already know. Yes, TWCT is something that I just made up, but its overall concept is not uncommon to top performers. Are you a top performer? If so, then you probably live these principles daily.

However, to the mediocre performer, these concepts are great on paper, far from reach and down right impractical to the real world. News flash! Whatever you think is what you will believe and what you intentionally subscribe to is what you will become.

Here are 4 basic tips that will consistently take you to the winning circle:

1. Sacrifice what’s comfortable, be disciplined and execute properly.

2. Train and stay relevant to ensure you get a ticket to the big dance.

3. Be aware of your surroundings, your competition and the ever-changing marketplace.

4. When you win, enjoy a limited celebration and get right back to training again with the same intensity that you had when you first started.

This, my friends, is what I call TWCT (Train, Win, Celebrate, Train). My theory is that the downfall of businesses, athletes, employees and teams reside within both “T’s” of this equation.

Whether you win, lose or draw, you must always train! For within the training there is growth to help sustain you through turbulent times. Be intentional about winning! There’s nothing easy and quick about it! #letsgo

Kevin Jackson

There is impact in your “I am”

In my late twenties, I was the Audit Director for a billion dollar company traveling the world and using the phrase “Tone at the Top” every chance that I could. I even trained my auditors that the organization, its culture and their potential audit findings would most likely be a result of how those at the top of the organization dealt with risk, process and communicating vision.

While this all still remains true, I’ve altered my thinking to also include every single person and touch-point throughout the organization. While vision, goal-setting and direction are key factors to success, I truly believe that each individual, and their authentic self, has a dramatic impact on the company they work for, the teams they work with and ultimately how their customers will perceive them in the marketplace.

If this is true, why don’t many leaders (regardless of position or title) focus on personal development? Here’s my two cents! Many leaders have blindspots and think they don’t need to improve. This is an extremely dangerous place for a leader and here is why! Any individual who is not progressing is regressing. Which by definition means that many of our teams are building silos, pointing blame for process failures and investing more in proving why a concept will not work versus pulling together to bring new things to life. Our companies are made up of these teams, which also by my definition means that a company who is not progressing is losing. Losing badly. Losing hundreds of customers each month without noticing! All because of the “I am”.

On the contrary, when I am investing in myself, I learn, I challenge, I apply and I get better. When I get better, my team gets better. Why? Because we learn, we challenge, we apply and we get better. When we get better, our customer’s experience with us gets better. When our customer’s experience gets better, we win!

Without a high-dollar, high-powered marketing campaign, customers recognize that there is something different about us. To me, this directly ties back to the investments we make in ourselves and our people. One could even argue that there is no better way to invest long term.

So the question of today is, what follows your “I am” and what are you doing about it on a daily basis as a result of this awareness? Are you trying to win in the marketplace without a key spoke in your wheel? Experience has taught me that the “Tone at the Top” is vital, but the “I am” permeating throughout your entire organization is the true game-changer. Check your personal and organizational blindspots! There is definitely intentional impact in your “I am”!

Kevin D. Jackson

Pivotal Moments: They happen to you or through you!

Have you ever wondered why some leaders go down in history as one of the greats?  Better yet, wouldn’t it be amazing to be added to the list?  As life-learners, we all yearn to be better than we were yesterday.  We recognize that the world around us is rapidly transforming, so it’s a no-brainer that vigilance, flexibility and relevance is paramount.

While thinking about this subject, my mind wondered to the topic of sailing.  Don’t ask me why!  I’m not very fond of boats, nor do I swim!  However, there is something intriguing to me about how these fine vessels work.  If you are a sailor, please forgive me now!  Everything that I have learned in the last few days about sailing was from Wikipedia and YouTube – Ha!  So here it goes!

Check out these 10 things as it relates to leadership:

1. You must first be trained on the parts of the boat and their purpose.
2. You must be given standard training on how to operate the boat.
3. You must understand the responsibility of each person on the boat.
4. You must prepare the boat, with a detailed checklist of items,before it is sailed.
5. You must determine the wind direction.
6. You must hoist your sails and point the boat into the wind.
7. You must realize that along the way you will be faced with changing winds.
8. You must make key decisions and adjust accordingly.
9. You must accept that you are responsible for everyone on the boat.
10. You must ensure that everyone is doing their job effectively. If not, the boat will not sail properly and you will find yourself off-course.

Well, I could probably stop here and let you draw your own conclusion about the connection I have made to sailing and leadership.  But, I won’t do that to you.  I’ll leave you with this!

Leadership takes initial and ongoing training to be truly successful.  Although, there are textbook-standards to leading a team, transforming a company and keeping the boat afloat (pun intended), it is the leader’s charge to get everyone rowing in the same direction.  Checklists and processes are key to ensure the organization is prepared, safe and set up for success.  A leader must be forward-thinking and always checking the wind (sometimes affectionately known as understanding the customers’ needs and staying abreast of market dynamics).

Once a direction is charted, it is the leader’s responsibility to take a head count, ensure everyone is on the boat and make the call to leave the dock.  As the team sets sail, the leader must prepare the team for changing wind patterns (as this will occur).  Changing winds may come in the form of new legislation, competitive pressures, customer preference changes and economic swings.  Great leaders anticipate and adjust!  Why?  Because pivotal moments can either happen to you or through you!

When the time is right, leaders adjust the mast rate to regulate the direction and speed.  They stay connected throughout the journey with their key personnel.  Why?  Because leaders understand that each person on the boat has a responsibility.  If they don’t do their job effectively, the boat will never sail properly.

Leaders take calculated risks and intently set the sails to seize pivotal moments.  Will you be this type of leader?  #letsgo

Kevin Jackson

The indisputable formula for sustainable success!

Friends, there are two things that we must be honest with ourselves about. #1 Am I taking the appropriate amount of risk? #2 Is my leadership style positively infectious? If you can honestly answer yes to both of these questions, you are well on your way to a successful career, business and life. Let me explain further.

Risk is an important element to your trajectory. Although it never feels good when a situation or decision goes sour, standing idol while the world changes around you is also a recipe for disaster. I’ll even go as far to say that standing idol, with a false sense that everything is okay, is worse than spiraling down, smacking the floor, regaining composure, learning from your mistakes and getting back in the game with a renewed sense of purpose.

The unknown (also known as the golden opportunity) will always be unreachable without challenging your natural human tendency to avoid risk at all cost. Here’s a secret… fortunes are found in the failures. However, the good news is that the failures don’t have to be your own. Leaders who are vigilant and savvy will solve problems for their end customers that their competition is not aware of or willing to tackle. Great leaders are intentional about winning! When everyone else has gone home for the day, they are planning ways to be better than they were yesterday. They work feverishly, often using erasers, white-out, the backspace and delete keys. A plan is never perfect, but the implementation, with mitigating controls to address the key risks, must be flawless.

This is where the infectious leadership trait must kick in, because a leader is only as good as the people surrounding him/her who will carry out the vision. And… we all know that the troops will not give 100% to an ineffective leader. So, we must now pause and ask ourselves… Am I an empathic servant leader who listens and is able to build bridges, or do I just have power and influence to give marching orders?

Leadership is about understanding your tribe and what makes them tick. For every single person has special gifts. A leader’s job is to find out what these gifts are and to place people in positions that play to their strengths. This is how you carry out the vision that you stayed up all night worrying about.
Investing in your employees at this level will take you to places that you never dreamed of. Why? Because the troops see an authentic leader that not only cares about the bottom line, but one that understands that the destiny (and how you get there) will ultimately bring the dividend. For this is a leader whose outlook and approach is contagious!

And… courageous and contagious leadership always wins the day!  Always!!

Discipline in the routine will eventually shine through when it’s time to march!

Friends, I have never played in a marching band, but I have thoroughly enjoyed the end product of countless hours of practice, determination and bond. For spectators like me, there is something magical about the rhythm of the entire unit.  However we must recognize that the team’s success truly lies within their routine.

Let’s explore 5 key characteristics that could make our own teams amazing:

#1 Unselfishness – Individual instincts and desires must often be sacrificed for the team. No one is off-beat, no one is off-key, no one is out-of-step. As Patanjali says, “When a gifted team dedicates itself to unselfish trust and combines instinct with boldness and effort, it is ready to climb.” Too often in life and in business, selfish interests creep into our teams and cause us to collectively stumble. One mishap, whether internally or externally facing, may cause us to lose to the competition. As leaders, we must model unselfishness and work tirelessly to build it into the fabric of our organization’s culture and character.

#2 Discipline – Committing to excellence every day is important. Taking actions to be excellent every day is paramount. In our fast paced society, our focus will be tested and our inability to remain disciplined will result in lost opportunity.

#3 Style – Whatever we do, let’s not forget to put a bow around it! For it is within the presentation of our final product or service that we will either be noticed or forgotten. Practice may make perfect, but presentation makes the final impact.

#4 Execution – It’s Showtime! Time to be on point! Each member moves independently, but the focus is on team. It’s not rocket-science, but the quality of the individual affects the entire unit. Those who did not practice well will definitely not play well. That, in itself, is a life lesson!

#5 Pride – Be proud of your organization, your team and your effort. Let your audience, your customers and/or your investors see your passion. When you have true pride, you inherently want to be personally better for the benefit of the team. As for leaders, a true leader understands their tribe and brings their tribe to life!

Now, it’s very easy to see why a band marches in lock-step. They put their teams before themselves. They work hard in the off-season – many months before the home game half-time show. They not only practice their routines, but they inject style into their presentations to differentiate themselves from the competition. They execute consistently on what they practice. Lastly pride is exuded with enthusiasm as the drum-line holds the rhythm steady.

The time is now for our organizations to stay in step. Formation can be found in the practical application of routine and disciplined application. #letsgo

Business lessons before 7AM

Friends, have you ever taken a moment to think about all the lessons that life teaches us before 7AM? Be honest, of course you haven’t! That’s why you were intrigued to read this article. So since you are here, let’s jump right into it!

For those that know me, you know I’m an early riser. To be an early riser one must have some sort of a plan or at least remember to set the alarm clock before turning it in for the evening. In business, how often do we want to begin a project, attack a new market, land an important deal, etc. without a well thought-out executable plan? Yes, we know we want to accomplish a goal, but often we haven’t taken much initiative to set the alarm in advance. Or possibly, we have in our minds that it’s not our responsibility to set the alarm. Shouldn’t the alarm be set by the CEO, the owner, the executive team, the supervisor or “those” people over there? No, it is our personal responsibility to plan for our success. Set the alarm!

For me, when the alarm goes off at 5AM, I have a choice. Snooze and lose or begin and win! I consistently choose to hit the ground running with thanksgiving for another chance to be better than I was yesterday. This sets the tone for my day. A day of excellence, continuous improvement, proper attitude and of course… gratitude. These are all things that are of the utmost importance to my customers, employees, colleagues, family and friends. I know you’re probably thinking – wow he’s only been up for a few minutes now!

Time to get ready, but before I do, let me check in with my social media peeps. Over the years I’ve been consistent about sending a positive message out into the atmosphere before 6AM. Why? Because life is much bigger than just me. Despite all the ills of social media, I enjoy having a platform to connect intimately with customers, help change a friend’s day or inspire the next generation of leaders.

To be candid, I realize that not many people wake up and start their days like I do. But I enjoy a challenge and my tribe challenges each other to be better every day. The same thing applies in business. People buy from people that care about them. Relationships that provide value are priceless. In whatever you do, always provide value!

Okay, the KJ solitude is over and now the fun begins as the rest of the Jackson family begins to awake! For those of you who have children, you know the drill. It’s the race to get everyone showered, fed and out the door without forgetting the lunch bag or the homework. In business, we call this the busy season, the end of the quarter or better yet the end of the fiscal year. It’s game time and only the ones that have properly prepared will pull this off flawlessly. For those of you who do not know, there are some serious unwritten rules to how this should go down. Ironically in business, these times sneak up on us more often than we would like to admit. Deadlines cause us to skip important steps, which always causes pain down the chain (you do know this, right?). It’s important to follow the playbook in all four quarters! Great execution, turns into great plays, which results in great teams!

Now it’s time to head out the door. We’ve triple checked our calendars for the day, added a few thousand things to our to-do list, given our final hugs and kisses and there’s one thing that we’ve all forgotten – to feed Sean Smith. You see, Sean Smith is the only goldfish with a first and a last name (named after a minor league baseball player). Sean expects us to tap on the glass twice and drop one pinch of fish food in the tank by 7:00AM. No different than the expectations of our customers. To our end customers, it does not really matter what happened between 5:00AM and 7:00AM. Customers expect a consistent delivery of value, product, service and messaging. They also expect us to deliver all of this to them with a great attitude. And don’t forget to say thank you and really mean it. Organizations that consistently do this will easily rise to the top!

Never forget to feed Sean Smith! #letsgo  

Kevin Jackson