It’s 2021, and you want to be a leader

Character and your leadership legacy are all about choices and how you communicate, according to business coach Paul Raggio.

By Paul Raggio

Co-owner, One True North

It’s here … 2021. A new year and reason to be optimistic. A new outlook. A new pursuit of opportunities. Many of you aspire to be leaders, move up on the leadership ladder, or become better leaders. Here’s a new year’s tip. If followed, it will set you apart from all others! Let’s start with a reflection.  

As part of my holiday downtime, I watched “Apollo 13,” Ron Howard’s dramatization of the real-life, 1970 aborted space flight commanded by astronaut Jim Lovell. This 1995 blockbuster, nominated for nine Academy Awards and winning two, was adapted from the 1994 book, “Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13,” authored by Lovell and Jeffrey Kluger.

The film easily makes the top-10 lists of movies that demonstrate the cruciality of leadership.

Not to downplay the heroic and iconic leadership shown by Commander Lovell, played by two-time Academy Award winner Tom Hanks, my focus was on NASA Flight Director Gene Kranz. Talk about model leadership during a crisis! Mirror his actions, and you’ll have followers for life! Long-time Hollywood actor Ed Harris played real-life Gene Kranz and displayed the attributes to which every leader aspires.  

Kranz unified a disparate team and brought the Apollo 13 astronauts safely home after an onboard explosion in the command module left the spacecraft incapable of delivering Lovell’s team to the moon, let alone returning them safely to Earth. What a knee-knocking and, many thought, quite an impossible task. Nevertheless, Kranz united all NASA stakeholders, internal and external, and broadcast his vision to get the three astronauts home in a crippled vessel.

To achieve such an incredible feat, Kranz clearly, directly, purposefully and inspirationally communicated orders to an orchestra of scientists, engineers, physicians and support staff to figure out a solution. It’s a gripping tale, and Harris portrays a determined, emblematic leader who quotes real-life Kranz’s memorable and often repeated phrase, “Failure is not an option.”  

I’ve been a student and practitioner of leadership for over half a century, and now Lisa and I coach business owners and executives on leadership and best business practices. I’ve made a point to study the best and the worst and conscientiously evaluate my successes and failures as a leader.

Over these years, I’ve concluded, if you want to be a leader, model someone like Kranz, and be a person of character, with vision and the ability to clearly, directly, purposefully and inspirationally communicate to your followers. If you do this, you will be a highly respected and influential leader in your sphere of influence. If you are absent or weak in any one of these areas, followership will immaterialize or languish. 

Character and your leadership legacy are all about choices. You can’t avoid them, and we make them throughout the day, every day. The choices you’ve made over time, good, bad and ugly, earn your character.

It’s like making deposits and withdrawals from your 401k retirement account. Choices you make that are good represent deposits and earn interest; choices you make that are bad represent withdrawals and come with penalties. At any point in time along your life’s journey, you can measure character if you have a balance in your account; a zero balance means your followers are short-lived or non-existent. 

Without a vision, your followers have no place to go. Although this concept is elemental, many leaders and business owners we encounter don’t have a vision, or if they do, the leaders and the team have a hard time reciting and acknowledging it.

The leader’s vision is what unifies the efforts of the followers. It’s directional, aspirational, affirmational and inspirational. It projects your purpose to customers and employees, draws the former to your business and inspires the latter to do your business. It’s your course setter for the mission. It stretches your team to develop the goals necessary to achieve the mission.

Most importantly, it disciplines your leadership to establish objectives, those specific tasks and milestones that consume resources like time, money, capacity, knowledge and human capital. When attended to, it creates your business success. Without vision, undoubtedly, you’ll lack followers.  

Clear, direct, purposeful and inspirational communication is a skill few people possess, and fewer leaders practice. Good ideas are lost because they are poorly communicated. Misunderstandings occur because the communicator creates confusion resulting from their lack of clarity and directness in their message.

Many regrets are expressed by leaders who wish they could retrieve a poorly communicated message because it caused an unintended outcome counter to the vision, mission, goals and objectives they are trying to achieve. There is no level of leadership immune to poor communication.

Like any other critical skill, clear, direct, purposeful and inspirational communication, whether written, spoken, or nonverbal, requires considerable effort on each of our parts to get it right. If you lack this skill, you lack followers. 

Set your one true north course for 2021. If you aspire to be a leader, move up on the leadership ladder, or become the best leader you can, mirror Flight Director Gene Kranz and be a leader of character, with a vision, who clearly, directly, purposefully and inspirationally communicates pathways through the impossible.

When you follow this new year’s tip, you will be a highly respected and influential leader in your sphere of influence. Your absence or weakness in any one of these areas will be consequential to your followership. This is how you lead, think, plan and act. Now let’s get after it. 

Paul A. Raggio is co-owner, with his sister Lisa, of One True North INC Leadership and Business Coaching Solutions. One True North is located at 28494 Westinghouse Place, Suite 209, Valencia 91355. The phone number is (661) 309-9048. 

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