Ackermann Marketing & PR consults with business leaders, non-profits and individuals to determine the best ways to lead organizations, launch new products, resolve culture challenges and minimize crises.

My role as a consultant to these clients, friends and peers offers a firsthand look at strengths and weaknesses of these leaders while tackling challenges.

I always thank people for sharing their vision or issue with me, because most of the time, they are sharing their life’s passion; but, they are also sharing their leadership styles (good and bad), whether they realize it or not. In speaking with over 500 leaders, I take note of the good leadership qualities and try to replicate them, and I also remember, sometimes more poignantly, the weaknesses and ramifications of poor leadership.

Here are some insights I have gathered from these conversations. I hope they help you become a better leader at work, home, with friends and in our community.

Here are nine tips I’ve gathered from being around good leaders.

1. Start now.

I know of a serial entrepreneur who schedules 30 minutes after each substantive meeting to start working on the topic from that meeting. While others procrastinate or search for time in the future, he starts immediately. Not only is he able to start while the information is fresh, he starts before anyone else. He’s always perceived as “ahead” of everyone…because he is.

2. Do the hard work.

A former boss once told me: “If you want to make an impact, you have to write down your vision.” I’ve seen many organizations become paralyzed with, “we need to think about,” “that is an issue we still need to solve,” or “we just haven’t figured it out yet.”

The number of months and years that get wasted due to Subtle Avoidance Syndrome (trademark pending) is evidence of a leader who can only articulate the problem. Your idea is more likely to be the idea if you do the hard work others are not willing to do.

Whether it’s a simple agenda for a child’s soccer practice or the next board meeting, think now or forever hold your progress (trademark pending).

3. Be leadable.

The leader of a medical device company blew me away by her ability to follow the innovation of her direct reports.

She hired the best people (also a great leadership quality), but she didn’t avoid learning. She was notorious for notetaking and becoming more knowledgeable. She empowered her leaders to chart their own course, but she was ready to support their course with informed decision-making.

4. Embrace your curiosity.

Do you ask hard questions? A software-as-a-service client was always curious to know the mechanics of marketing tactics, not because he was unsure, but because he realized that the tactics were linked to the depth of understanding of his customer.

Albert Einstein once said, “The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” Another leader I know says to always throw in an Einstein quote when possible.

5. Have grit.

A local non-profit leader I admire once talked about the fact that trees are growing, but you do not hear them groaning. Growing is hard. Leadership is tough. And, there is a good chance you will not be given the same effort you put in, but strong leaders keep showing up, day after day. Sounds easy, but it is most definitely not.

6. Be brave enough to change.

Most people ask us to help them standout but are unwilling to change; in fact, we are all limited by a certain amount of change (I can hear the gasp of motivational speakers).

This is a hard challenge for everyone, but when applied to a business or community, being nimble and encouraging change creates a culture people will flock to.

7. Welcome a challenge from others.

Desire someone to challenge them. I love a good debate, but I’ll never forget a credit union leader who always asked me to poke holes in his ideas.

He firmly believed that disagreeing was more valuable than just helping him with fuel for his fire. The same honest friendship required to point out a piece of food in your teeth is required in pressure test ideas.

8. Value and reinforce trust.

A common reason corporate cultures flail or dissolve is due to a lack of trust.

Making trust the priority of your culture means people have open dialogue that is focused on pursuing the best, objective outcome. A lack of trust leads to a revolving door of damage control and wasted energy hypothesizing, “why did she do that?”

Trust should be a central requirement for hiring someone new for your organization. Trust also provides a space where people can admit: “I don’t know the answer.” Imagine how much energy could be saved for solving the problem if your team could start there.

9. Prioritize and don’t thrash.

A manufacturing leader took me fly-fishing to his favorite spot. We stealthily approached the perfect area only to be find another fisherman thrashing around in the water – a huge no-no.

I think of that river thrasher every time I talk to employees whose leaders are assigning them to a new priority every week. This usually stems from a lack of commitment to the most critical priorities. If your turnover is higher than your industry average, this could be a lack of prioritization, and as a result, thrashing. Try not to be the river thrasher.

There are great leaders in our community. Being a better leader requires constant improvement in these areas, among others. The best way to hone these skills is to keep showing up, day after day. Stay the course, be humble enough to receive guidance, go for a walk to brainstorm with a friend, and be brave.

Tommy Smith is a Vice President at Ackermann Marketing and PR and also a member of the Leadership Knoxville Class of 2018. This column is provided by Leadership Knoxville, which works to build a stronger Knoxville by developing people and groups, leading to a greater community. Its programs include Leadership Knoxville, Introduction Knoxville, LK Scholars, Youth Leadership Knoxville and facilitation services.

This article can be located at the Knox News Sentinel.

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