At ConantLeadership we often quote the popular proverb that, “we become what we repeatedly do.” We like this idea because it speaks to the power of persistently working to develop positive habits. But more importantly, it speaks to the effect that each of our decisions has on our overall character. If we consistently choose to be kind, to be respectful, to work hard — then we become kind, respectful, and hard-working. Who we are is made up of moments and choices. The same thing is true of leadership. Leadership does not consist of one speech we make to the board, one landmark decision, or one change initiative. It’s our behavior in the smallest of moments that forms our legacy as leaders and determines whether we triumph or fail.
While the importance of our day-to-day choices may seem obvious, it’s easy to forget. As goal-setters, leaders can tend to focus on the future — how will we deliver enduring value? What should we plan for on the horizon, how will we need to be agile in the face of a dynamic and complex marketplace? These are good questions. It’s important to look forward. But, if we ceaselessly gaze only at the horizon, we can forget to keep our feet firmly rooted in the present. We may overlook that the substantive work of leadership consists mostly of individual moments. How we behave in each instance charts our overall course to the future. How we act in each leadership moment determines our larger leadership outcomes. (tweet this)
Our behavior in the smallest of moments forms our legacy.
One leader whose story helps bring this idea to life is Margaret Rudkin. Rudkin founded Pepperidge Farm at the end of the Great Depression and became one of the great business leaders of the 20th century. Although she baked her first loaf of bread out of necessity to accommodate her son’s allergies, she soon realized her entrepreneurial drive and found she wanted to build something extraordinary — to lead her company to greatness. She succeeded. And she did so by modeling exemplary leadership behaviors in each moment.
People who worked for her fondly remember an expression she used often; whenever something was accomplished, she would say, “That’s good. What’s next?” In countless interactions. Day after day. Year after year. With these 4 little words, uttered again and again over her entire career, she engineered a company, and a culture, that celebrated people’s accomplishments in the here-and-now while also moving things forward for tomorrow. With her famous words, she challenged everyone to achieve bigger things. Rudkin sold Pepperidge Farm to Campbell Soup Company in 1961 and the people who work there now will attest that the culture she built through her lifetime still exists to this day.
What kind of leader do you want to be? Whether you want to be more visionary like Margaret Rudkin or more reliable, strong, inspiring, approachable, altruistic, passionate, or trustworthy — the good news is that you can begin immediately. In the very next moment you can choose the behavior you want to exhibit and begin building or strengthening your leadership character. With your very next choice, choose the leadership you want. Listen more intently. Communicate more clearly. Be more direct. Give better feedback. Ask more provocative questions. Encourage people to do better. Say “thank you” more sincerely and often. Whatever it is you want to be — challenge yourself to be exactly that. You can start right now.
Whatever it is you want to be — challenge yourself to be exactly that.
When we realize the profound potential contained within every single moment, we are empowered to make better choices. With each conscious choice we make, we can become more helpful, more available, more effective. It takes practice and patience. But over the long-term we can transform into better “moment-makers.” With this moment-centered mindset, there is a potential to achieve such a high level of leadership mastery that we are able to dramatically alter the way people think about themselves, their leaders, and their future, all within the space of a single interaction. We can only reach that level of proficiency by devoting ourselves to being wholeheartedly present, and accountable for our choices, in each moment. By embodying our desired behaviors over and over again, we can make a lasting impact on our organizations and communities.
Reflect on the changes you want to make. Whatever your goals for your leadership are, remember you are sowing tomorrow today — and every day. If you are not yet where you want to be, that’s OK. You can set the intention to do better in your very next interaction. Top-tier leaders, like Margaret Rudkin, were once aspiring leaders with an ambition to improve. You are already equipped with the power to become the leader you want to be. You can start in this very moment.
(Photo via Jay Mantri)