Lee Ellis on Core Principles and Skills


Lee Ellis shares why he believes it’s so important to develop core principles.

Can you speak to a leader's responsibility to maintain his or her core leadership principles or skills?

“I think it's critical that leaders sharpen their own saw and grow themselves. If they do not, they will get caught up in their own reputations, headlines or in bureaucracy.

“I think you have to spend time reflecting on your core principles and skills. The way I do that is to read other authors, leadership books, biographies and magazine articles. I try to stay abreast. All of those help me refresh and recommit to my values, what I stand for. I have to ask myself whether I have the courage to stand for them and what that will look like when I do.

“I think it is very important to build awareness first, and skills second. A leader needs to be working constantly on speaking and writing skills, perhaps writing blogs and memos or giving presentations to team-members or professionally within your industry. Also, an understanding of psychology and emotional intelligence is necessary. I'm amazed at the number of leaders that really don't have a good understanding of emotional intelligence and still have a fear of emotions in the workplace. Emotions are where we get all of our energy to do work. ”

Do you find in organizations today, that their leadership development programs are lacking in any one principle or skill?

“There are two or three things that I think are extremely important and they are not getting as much emphasis as I think they need. The first one is building trust. Leaders need to take the time to build trust. It takes time, relationships and getting to know each other; I'm not sure how much people are trained to talk about that. My experience has been, they know that they need to do some teambuilding and they automatically think that's Kumbayahand hugs, but what I'm talking about is getting to know each other. I don't do any consulting without first conducting personality assessments. A personality assessment is the common denominator to understanding somebody's leadership style, his or her strengths, struggles and fears. Knowing that about each other helps to build trust among team-members.

“I also think the issue of accountability is huge and doesn't get enough attention. Accountability is often absent when clarity is also lacking. Accountability and clarity go hand in hand, then come values and culture. Leaders have to build from their own values. Organizational values have to be operative and not aspirational. You can have aspirational values, but you need to be clear that that is what they are. For instance, if the value is against gossiping, but we still gossip, then it's not a value. It's an aspirational value. Having those few core values, then preaching them from the highest to lowest levels so your values are inculcated into daily work life, develop a work culture. I'm big on culture; it will hold you together and give you the freedom to empower people in ways nothing else will, i.e., this is who we are and this is what we believe. I help teams build ground rules or rules of engagement for how they will work together, basically agreeing, we hold each other accountable.

“The last one is professional development of others. Leaders have to be developing their people all along the way, all the time. Setting an example, mentoring and coaching, making expectations known, clarifying why you do things a certain way and telling stories about how you learned about this value or this leadership principle, are all part of that goal.”

Do you think it is possible to change a culture? For example, when a new leader comes in.

“I think you have a challenge on your hands. It is doable but requires real commitment. You are going to have to articulate the new values very clearly, and show your commitment to them by walking them out, often times in the most difficult ways every second of every day. The new leader will need to identify who on the team is on board and who is not. Those who display or articulate an unwillingness to participate must be replaced. Then you just beat the drum and keep reminding people why they are there and holding one another accountable. You hire based on the new culture. Rewards and performance ratings become tied to the new culture and only then can people see that you really mean business. It goes back to the book, Built to Last by Jim Collins where he talked about the yin and the yang and preserving the core. The core is values and culture. If it’s not strong you have to go in and destroy the old core and build a new one. That is something that takes time.”


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