Leadership That Lasts

    The most essential mission of a leader is to create leaders…who are better leaders than they are. 


    I owe my past employees a tremendous apology for my poor leadership. (I realize this statement may seem to undermine my credibility on this topic, but please indulge me.)

    “A mistake that makes you humble is better than
    an achievement that makes you arrogant.”


    While the source of that quote is unknown, I often feel that whomever first said it must have been inspired by (or perhaps was, themselves) someone just like me. Because to say that I’ve made every mistake in the book is a colossal understatement. In fact, there isn’t a sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, strategic, or communications sin that I haven’t committed. My most egregious errors, however, were in how I interacted with, treated, or attempted to lead my people. In case you haven’t received the memo, your people are everything.

    I’ve now been working for over four straight decades – from my humble beginnings as a newspaper delivery boy, to becoming an author and speaker, to selling my successful, built-from-the-ground-up software firm at a figure that ensured I would never need to work again. When I first began in business I was arrogant, self-righteous, and flat broke. Now I’m humble, insatiably curious, and comfortably wealthy. So, what happened? How did I get from there to here? In short…I made mistakes. Here are a few of the worst, and the humbling lessons they yielded:

    Mistake 1: Arrogance
    I love solving problems. My thirst for knowledge is a superpower of sorts, driving me toward discovery. As a result, my mind is packed with information, strategies, ideas, and anecdotes. When I first began to take on management roles, and people came to me with issues or obstacles, it seemed only natural that I would solve their problems by telling them exactly what to do. Bestow my wisdom upon them, so-to-speak. I didn’t realize at the time that what I perceived to be helpfulness was, in fact, arrogance. Clearly I thought I was “better, smarter, and more adept than everyone else” (as evidenced by my quick and commanding responses). The result? Everything was dependent upon me, and limited by my own time and thoughts. Growth and innovation were stifled as I allowed myself to be responsible for every decision, and no one could proceed without me.

    Lesson: Get off the pedestal
    Management is telling people what to do. Leadership is teaching people how to solve problems and giving them the authority to implement their own solutions. Empowerment isn’t just a fluffy feel-good word, it’s a critical formula. Organizations thrive when every member of a team knows their mission, is empowered to make decisions, and has been enculturated to feel comfortable and confident in making them. The result? A legion of impassioned, motivated, creative people who are capable of and committed to growing and improving themselves, one another, and the organization.

    Mistake 2: Greed
    My early days as an entrepreneur were driven by pure greed. Somewhere in the back of my mind I thought that I might like to do some good in the world…someday, but first I wanted a pile of money. I was constantly focused on how to make more, and how much more I could make. When I visited other companies and saw their mission, vision, purposes, and values on display, I’d think – “What a joke! What a waste of time!” Boy, was I wrong. When you’re in it for the money, it shows. (And it ain’t pretty.)

    Lesson: Doing good is good business
    Organizations that strive to do good in the world will do better in terms of community support, attracting top talent, and appealing to potential clients. Science is proving that human beings are hard-wired for altruism. This is a base, primal instinct. Think about it for just a moment, and I’m certain you can think of a business you patronize based on your belief in their mission, purpose, vision, or values. I’ll bet you can also think of a time that you gave more than was expected of you, not out of a need to pad your wallet, but a desire to contribute something meaningful toward a cause you believed in. If the primary objective of your business is simply to make the shareholders rich, you’ll never achieve the “halo” effect (consumer favoritism based on positive impressions and experiences), and your people will never be driven to exceed minimum expectations. Doing. Good. Is. Good. Business. When you declare “the good” your organization does for the world, and commit to it, you’ll find that team member morale and drive will improve, client satisfaction and loyalty will increase, and profitability will grow right along with it.

    Mistake 3: Negligence
    Another of my “superpowers” is having ADHD. (Yes, really.) It gives me the ability to sit down at my desk, put my head down, and work fervently for 12+ hours without taking a single break. And that’s exactly what I did for my first 20-some-odd years in business. I carried the bulk of the responsibility for the organization – shouldering more than 80% of all sales, as well as marketing, deal-making, strategy, and vision. Because of that, I had no time for anything else – least of all coaching or team development. I’d hire great people, spend five minutes telling them what to do, then disappear into my office. Training? Who had time for training? There was too much work to be done. Once I even had a friend drop by to give my team a “rah-rah” speech, because I just didn’t have the bandwidth for it. (Not my finest hour.) My businesses sometimes experienced short-term hypergrowth, but would ultimately flatline because I had reached my capacity. I simply ran out of time to make more sales or pursue new ideas, and I hadn’t empowered anyone else to take up the charge without me – so we were stuck.

    Lesson: Your primary job should be leadership development
    Management yields intermittent growth. Leadership creates exponential growth. I now spend at least 20% of my time (or more) in developing, mentoring, and coaching my people. It’s been far-and-away the most advantageous and intoxicating use of my time. (If you think satisfying clients or growing your organization is fulfilling, it’s nothing compared to the feeling of watching your people transform, grow, and exceed even their own expectations.) The key is leadership development, and it should be your number one priority. The resulting innovation, improvement, and expansion will be unmistakable.

    I used to think that I was in “the advertising business”, “the software business”, or “the fitness business”. After many mistakes, and lessons learned, I’ve come to realize that no matter what I’m trying to accomplish, I’m always in “the leadership development business”. No matter what the purpose of your organization may be, leadership development is the primary function, your most important job, and the key to achieving that purpose. “Leadership That Lasts” is instilling a culture that perpetually creates and develops leaders – who will not only help to grow your organization, they’ll transform their lives, the lives of those around them, and – ultimately – improve our world.


    Peter Montoya is the best-selling author of The Brand Called You and his latest books, Meeting Without Walls, and Leadership That Lasts. He’s also a highly sought-after speaker and leadership development strategist, specializing in creating high-performance teams. To find Peter, visit www.PeterMontoya.com or call (949) 334-7070.

    This article is freely available for reprint, provided it is not modified ⁠(unless permission is given) and the resource box is included with the article.


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