Final Coat: Advice to NWFA’s Emerging Leaders

Being out in nature is a great way to reflect, reset, and inspire new ideas. Photo courtesy of Michael Martin / NWFA.

People often ask me for advice on leadership. I’ve had different answers at different times in my career. Some of those answers were based on my own personal values, others on working with other people, and some are different now than they were a decade ago.

Frankly, even though I was in a senior leadership position at 29, no one ever asked me about my thoughts on leadership until years later.

In retrospect, I think that’s a mistake, as my contributions would have been much more eye-opening at age 29 than they are now. Emerging leaders are most knowledgeable about how the world is going to work in the future, and generally have the most energy to give toward implementing change.

As you’ve flipped through our 40 Under 40 profiles, I hope you’ve had a few ideas on how to grow as a leader, no matter your age.

Now, you didn’t ask me directly, but I will share the three most important lessons in leadership that I have carried through, or learned, during my last 10 years of leading NWFA.

Be curious: You will never know everything about any topic. Every single person you encounter has something to share that can help you, if you’re listening.

Put the right people, in the right place, at the right time, doing the right things, and enjoy the magic: To understand this concept, you need to look no further than legendary sports teams. Whether it’s the winning streak of Tom Brady’s New England Patriots or the 1985 St. Louis Cardinals World Series win against the Kansas City Royals, we all know what a winning team can look like.

Let’s go in depth with the 1985 World Series, because it’s personal for me.

As a kid, living in the middle of Missouri halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City, I loved both teams. While George Brett, with the Kansas City Royals, was the player I most looked up to and admired, nearly 40 years later, I mostly remember moments from the St. Louis Cardinals…the backflips of Ozzie Smith as shortstop, the defensive catching of four-time All-Star Darrell Porter, and the coolness of Willie McGee in the outfield.

That said, those winning teams could have had the same players, in the same positions, in a different season and have lost everything!

As a leader (or a coach), you have to focus on keeping people in peak performance, yet recognize that people change, and the combination of people on a team completely is unpredictable, unless they all buy into the same idea.

Doing your best today puts you in the best place for tomorrow. This lesson absolutely is the most important advice I can give to anyone.

Success does not come overnight. It comes with consistency. It comes with practice. It comes with trust from the team you’re leading. And it comes, most importantly, after having some failures under your belt. It’s so important to ask on a daily basis: How can I be better today than I was yesterday?

Questions that can help you get to the best place scenario:

  1. Am I giving everything I can today? If so, great. If not, what can I do better tomorrow?
  2. Do I need to check my personal life at the door?
  3. Am I passionate about the job I’m doing, or are there new opportunities to fulfill my dreams?

For most of us during COVID-19, it has become clear we could be even more successful by being flexible with our customers, our teams, our employees, and ourselves.

Moving forward, I am curious to see how this flexible culture pans out. I believe we are on the cusp, as a society, of changing views toward work. The top down, authoritarian owner/boss role is changing and moving toward a democracy made up of a peer group that defines accountability and holds each other accountable.

As a leader, I think it is about time.

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