Great Leadership

The One Overlooked Secret of Great Leadership

I hate … I literally hate the “I’m-a-just-a” phrase.  I hate it when people in my audiences tell me “I’m just a Contract Specialist … or … I’m just an Administrative Assistant … or … I’m just a Sales Associate … or … I’m just a Customer Service Rep … or… I’m just a … and they go on to name one a thousand different things.

No!  If you influence people in any way, you ARE a leader.  Plain and simple, you make your place of work a better or poorer place to work.   And that makes you a leader.

Of course, you may not always be a good leader on the job.  And you may not always be a good leader at home.

But you can become a good leader; a very good leader, if you simply follow President John Quincy Adams’ definition.  He said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a [good] leader.”

Here are three ways you can do that … three of many lessons I teach in my keynote and seminar on 4C Leadership: Communication, Cooperation, Commitment, and Change.  For more information on this program, go to


1. Help your people grow.

As Julius Walls, Jr., the CEO of Greyston Bakery, says, “My job is to help people grow. When I take care of them, they take care of the product, and the product takes care of the profit.”

Walls gets it. But I would venture that many leaders … and many potential leaders… never even think about helping their people grow.

  1. Richard Panico, the president of the Integrated Project Management Company, discovered that. He said, “All true leaders have a tremendous responsibility to the future of others and, as simple as that sounds, it is most often overlooked.”

Panico continued, “Recently I made a presentation to an MBA class. I asked the students why they were pursuing their MBA’s and, of course, most were seeking professional advancement; this was going to help them get promoted. Out of that class of about 40 or 50 students, there wasn’t one who said he or she had an interest in helping others advance in their careers, which, I believe is the essential element of leadership. It’s about helping and influencing others.”

Right on. So let me ask you, if you’re a leader … or aspire to be a leader … do you have a deep desire to help other people grow? If not, you’ve got some serious thinking and some serious re-tooling to do.

Of course, some of you may be wondering what the big deal is. Why is it so important for leaders to focus some of their energies on helping people grow? The reason is…


2. When you help people grow, they go … further.

They do more and achieve more. They get better results … because their motivation is on fire.

As business executive Steve Farrar notes, you’ve got to “Assume each and every person wants to do a better job and grow.” No one wants to be a failure. And no one can feel good about himself if he does just enough to get by.

  1. Gene Wilkes, the 19th century explorer, got it right. He said, “People prefer to follow those who help them, not those who intimidate them.”

Of course, that brings up the question, HOW do you help your people grow?  Well, that’s what I’ve been doing for more than 30 years … writing Tuesday Tips, authoring books, and delivering more than 3000 presentations that are focused on helping people grow personally and professionally.

And if you’ve never browsed through my website, you probably should.  It’s filled with hundreds of resources, everything from free to fee, all designed with you in mind.  Just go to

But there’s one thing you can do right now … to help people around you grow. And that is…


3. Instill a love for learning.

My teacher, Mrs. Virgelee LeDue, did that for me in high school. My first boss, John Weiner, did that for me when I was a shoe salesman throughout high school and college. My professor and advisor, Dr. Sally Webb, did that for me in college. And consultant, Dr. Sidney Simon, did that for me after college.

If you’ve had someone instill a love for learning in you, you’ve been blessed … not only for a season … but for a lifetime. And if you instill a love for learning in your team members and family members, you bring out their best at work and everywhere else.

Clifton Streifling talked about that as he described how his boss changed his life. Clifton said, “When we met in 1972, Bud Abbott was 52 and I was 18. Bud was a Navy veteran of WWII, having piloted landing craft in the South Pacific, ferrying Marines from ship to shore in extremely dangerous missions. I was a long-haired kid adrift in life. We met in a woodworking shop where Bud was a master craftsman and I was a know-nothing amateur.”

“During the 18 months I worked for him, Bud took me from a teenager rebelling against all manner of authority to a young man willing to accept personal responsibility for my own actions and future options. He instilled in me a work ethic and appreciation for education that remains with me to this day.”

“Bud was able to do this because he practiced what he preached. Bud was always 30 minutes early for work; he never, ever overstayed a coffee or lunch break by even one minute; he never, ever put his tools away before his shift was over. And he always accepted my mistakes, as long as I admitted them.”

“Bud taught by example that performance mattered; self-acclamation did not. He never said so, but everyone in the shop knew Bud was the master craftsman among us. Bud told me, over and over, that I needed a trade or an education, and he recommended education. I listened to him, because his daily example compelled me to believe in him.”

“I left his shop to go to college. Every year, I returned to tell him I had completed another year and many times the thought of disappointing him kept me at my books. I earned a college degree, but no teacher ever gave me lessons more valuable than those I learned from Bud. He taught me to be proud of America, proud of work well done, and proud of myself.”

There’s no better way to leave a legacy than instill a love for learning. And there’s no better way to motivate the people on your team.

Wayne G. Paul, the Vice President of transportation at Home Depot, subscribes to that philosophy. He says, “I want to have people around me that are confident and ambitious. I want them to want my job — and I want to help them get it. So I expect continual learning. I recommend and buy books for associates that I think can be helpful and insightful.”

You can do that by sending yourself or some of the people on your team or in your family to my next Journey-to-the-Extraordinary program coming to Kansas City on April 19-20, 2018.  (F.Y.I.

In summary, you ARE a leader.  To be a more effective leader, just remember, it’s not about you. It’s all about them … and helping them grow.

Dr. Zimmerman’s Tuesday Tip, Issue 912 – The One Overlooked Secret of Great Leadership