You can study, train and be coached to become a better leader. But that’s just the beginning. Here’s a non-negotiable Neilism: “Without a personal mandate to change your thinking and behavior, no-compromise leadership will elude you.” All of that newfound knowledge might allow you to impress others with your ability to recite the latest buzzwords and concepts, but if you fail to change your thinking and behavior at a core level, you’re merely cloaking compromise. Leaders are measured by deed and performance.
Many leaders selectively decide to lower their shields or not, based on how willing they are to understand their own thinking. It’s no different than an obese person lowering his shields to see that he must change the thinking that governs his eating behaviors. Take my father, for example – obese for his entire life (I’m talking a cruising weight of 350 pounds), his name was Harry but everyone called him “Duke” because it just seemed to fit better. Being obese, and the eating behaviors that drive that lifestyle, can be humiliating and embarrassing. When my father would buy a new car, he had to have the seat tracks moved back just so he could fit behind the wheel. At one point he was so heavy, the doctor’s scale didn’t go high enough to weigh him. The only scale the doctor could find to weigh him was at the meat market. Humiliated, Duke hung on the meat scale like a side of beef.
My mother and father owned a dry cleaning and tuxedo rental business. I remember my mother going ballistic when she found my dad’s secret stash of Mars candy bars under the bow ties in the file cabinet. (To this day, I believe there were many more secret stashes never discovered.)
But it was more than just stashes of candy bars and extra meals. There was a suicide attempt. We found him passed out in the car with the engine running and garage door shut. How bad does it need to get for someone to change his operating system? My father certainly knew he needed to change his thinking and behavior, he just couldn’t lower his shields long enough to let the new thinking in.
Throughout his life, my father tried every diet imaginable. He was a patient of the famous Dr. Atkins, creator of the Atkin’s Diet. He even tried hypnotism. A couple of heart attacks, worsening diabetes, regular hospitalizations, and a diagnosis of inoperable heart disease finally got him to lower his shields so he could change his thinking and self-destructive eating behavior. In that last year, my father got down to a trim 240 pounds. He died of a heart attack a month before his 60th birthday. Duke’s willingness to change his thinking and behavior came too late to repair a lifetime of self-inflicted damage.
Make no mistake; business leaders routinely do the same destructive damage to their companies as my father did to his body. The change begins by allowing your shields to lower. That’s the willingness part. Keeping your shields down and your mind objectively open to new ideas is the commitment part. Going the distance to change your thinking is the accountability part. Lowering your shields is the easy part and merely creates opportunities to learn and grow.
To truly become a no-compromise leader, you must turn those precious opportunities into a higher level of life-long leadership thinking and behavior.