West Michigan should be hotbed for best leaders in the country

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When we launched Leading by DESIGN back in 2014, we did so with a clear sense that West Michigan has a special history with great leaders. We were drawn to the idea of building on that legacy and taking it to a new level.

Our purpose is to help so many West Michigan leaders discover and develop their unique design that this area would have a similar relationship to leadership that Silicon Valley has to technology. We believe that West Michigan could, and even should, be the hotbed of the best leaders in the country.

Is this delusional or do you agree that West Michigan really has something special that we can build on to be the best in the country? (And in case you’re wondering, I’m not originally from here.)

So, what is leadership? Is it one of those things that is virtually impossible to define, but you know it when you see it? I think maybe it is, which is why there are tens of thousands of books describing it.

It was Albert Einstein who said, “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” This describes my approach to most things, at least for starters. So, for starters, let me posit that 80% of organizational leadership can be defined by three simple concepts:

  1. Being a person worth following
  2. Building an amazing team
  3. Creating clarity around who we are and where we’re going as a team

It’s that simple and it’s that hard.

So, what do you think are the most important characteristics for being a person worth following? I suspect if I asked 10 people, I would get 10 different lists, but there would be many similarities. For me, starting with these three goes a long way:

  1. Someone who cares more for the mission, the team and their customers than for themself.
  2. Someone who works hard at being real, transparent and authentic in all of their relationships.
  3. Someone who works hard at working hard.

What attributes would be on your short list? (And how are you doing at living them out?)

Next in our simple model is how do you build a great team? We can learn a lot from the sports arena here. You have to recruit really well because you won’t succeed unless you get the right kind of people on your team. Thankfully, there are a lot of the right kind of people in West Michigan and they come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

You also have to “de-cruit” people if they end up not being a great member of the team. Of course, you have to do this with fairness, compassion and dignity, but you need to do it if you want a great team.

Two more pieces of building a great team are to develop each of the individuals on your team and develop the team as a whole unit.

Each of these is hard to do, especially when you have so many tasks to complete as you work in your business. But you also need to make the time to work on your business, which is the job of someone who is committed to leading, not just managing.

And finally, how do you create the clarity needed to say who we are and where we’re going? Focus on these three things: 

  1. What are we here for, or what is our purpose? For us, it is to help West Michigan become the hotbed of the best leaders in the country.
  2. Where are we going, or what is our vision? For us, it is to serve 1,000 West Michigan leaders by 2027, one leader at a time.
  3. And finally, how will we behave as we pursue our vision, or what are our core values? Naming and then working hard to live into clearly defined values is the start of building a great culture. As important as solid strategy is for an organization, Peter Drucker believed that, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” I agree.

So, what could result from thousands of West Michigan leaders pursuing this simple model of being a person worth following, building a great team, and creating clarity around purpose, vision and values? We think it could be a significant gift to our world and we find it to be a worthy pursuit for our own journeys. We hope you will join the movement, regardless of how you would choose to do that.

Rodger Price is the founder and managing partner of Leading by DESIGN, an executive development firm in Grand Rapids.

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