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The Best Leaders Are Ambassadors

In leadership — integrity is foundational and mandatory. If there is not quality alignment between our words and our actions, nobody will trust us to get the job done, to have their backs, or to make tough decisions in a way that honors all involved stakeholders. People just won’t believe in us. So doing what we say, consistently, is crucial to earning buy-in and to effectively spreading our individual influence.

But consider this notion that is equally as important as our individual influence: our actions do not represent us alone — we are also representatives of our team, our company culture, even our entire organization. Staying anchored in our principles, and doing what is right even when it is difficult or unpopular is very important for us both as individual contributors and as representatives of the entire enterprise. True leaders are expert ambassadors.

Mette Norgaard, who is the co-author of our book, TouchPoints, remembers the first time she understood this idea. When she left her native Denmark to go to work in England at the age of eighteen, her father put his hand on her shoulder and said, “Remember – you are an ambassador of your country. The way you behave will represent the behavior of all Danes.” It was a powerful point packed into a handful of words. And she carries the spirit of those words of wisdom with her to this day in all her work helping to develop leaders.

Doing what we say, consistently, is crucial to earning buy-in.

We should all carry the same message in our leadership. One way to look at this aspect of leading is as a noble duty to other people, as well as to ourselves; what we do and what we say is often a reflection of others — people who may or may not be in the room to represent themselves (and who may never get the opportunity to speak for themselves at a high level). So it’s up to us as leaders to do right by them no matter the circumstance. If there is a tough negotiation, a crisis, or even a victory — we have to be vigilant delegates of the organization’s interests, and of the individuals who make up the organization. Part of being a trustworthy ambassador is always consciously acting with the knowledge that others are relying on us to embody our shared values with our words and deeds. That is a big, and important, responsibility. But it’s also a privilege — and it’s a chance to put our unique leadership stamp on something that is larger than we are.

What is most helpful to understand about this idea of ambassadorship is that you can view it as an opportunity to set high standards for the conduct you would like to see at all levels of the organization. Then, embody the desired conduct with your own actions to set the example. The more you embody the desired standards, the more credibility you earn to “put your hand on the shoulder” of other leaders and impart them with the same mission that you carry: to represent the enterprise responsibly and with integrity. The better an ambassador you are, the more you empower everyone else to be good stewards of the company in their own right. It becomes self-reinforcing and exponential.

Leading is a noble duty to other people, as well as to ourselves.

In a truly high-performing, highly-engaged organization, each individual brings this spirit of ambadassorship to their unique roles every day. Each contributor feels committed to the organization, each feels duty-bound to positively represent their fellow employees, and each is inspired to work tirelessly to bring the company goals to fruition.  As leaders, this is the outcome we should all be working towards.

The more senior we become, the less we are around when much of the bustling day-to-day operations of industry are taking place.  Many of the decisions that will materially advance the goals of the enterprise will be made when we are not in the room. This will only become more true with the proliferation of remote work and virtual teams. If we lay the groundwork for performance by championing a spirit of ambassadorship with our own actions, then we can systematically empower others to do the same. We act with integrity, then they act with integrity — and everyone pays it forward with momentum. That’s how leadership ambassadorship works. Try bringing this awareness to your very next interaction and see where it takes you.

Searching for a proven process for becoming a better ambassador in each moment– both for yourself and your organization? I designed the ConantLeadership Boot Camp to help real leaders in the real world. This high-impact leadership development program, that I teach personally, will empower you to win in the workplace and in the marketplace. Get started today: https://conantleadership.com/bootcamp/ 

Doug Conant is remarkable—and so is this work.
– Stephen M. R. Covey
Author of The Speed of Trust

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The Blueprint

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By Douglas Conant with Amy Federman

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