Action Catalyst Blog

What You Need To Know To Succeed As A Long-Term Leader

If you’ve followed me for a while, you may have heard me talk about a man named Spencer Hays.

Spencer was the legendary majority shareholder of the Southwestern family of companies.

When I was in college I worked for the Southwestern Advantage program. I made a lot of money and learned a lot of skills selling educational children’s reference materials door to door.

Then, I started at Southwestern Consulting with a few other partners, and we’re still part of the same family of companies.

Spencer, who just passed away last year, was a very, very successful man worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

He made a huge impact around the world, and was very well known, especially in the direct sales and apparel space. He founded Tom James, which is the world’s largest custom clothier. He was just an amazing man and mentor to a lot of people, including me.

I was fortunate to get to know Spencer personally and I remember one of the last lessons on leadership he ever shared with me.

Leadership for someone like Spencer wasn’t about just succeeding short term. It was about succeeding long term.

It wasn’t just about having a great team today. It was about having a great team tomorrow.

It wasn’t just about making an impact or a profit. It was about creating impact in profit and results for generations to come.

His philosophy was much longer term than some of what you hear in many corporate environments today.

My last lesson from him was based on a thought from Maya Angelou: “It’s like what Maya Angelou said. I often found that people don’t remember what you said. They don’t remember even what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. As a leader, your job is to make sure people know how you feel about them, to make sure that the people in your care and those following you, and the people in your family, church group and community, know that.”

Part of being a good leader is a good manager.

You must manage tasks, deadlines, meetings and projects. There’s a lot to manage in any successful business or organization.

It’s impossible to be a great leader if you’re not paying attention to how you make people feel.

And if you get too caught up in management, it’s all about the task.

It’s all about the numbers. It’s all about the bottom line. It’s all about the deadline. It’s all about the things we’re managing.

One of the things we say around Southwestern a lot is that you manage things, but you lead people.

That doesn’t mean that management isn’t necessary, but there’s difference between managing things and leading people.

Leading people is about how you make them feel.

Management’s often about logic. It’s about objectivity. It’s about details and facts.

However, leadership is about people.

No matter what business you’re in, no matter what the size of your budgets, no matter what the deadlines or the project management terms, it’s different from leadership.

Leadership is about people, and since we’re all in the people business, what we have to know about people is that they’re not always logical or facts-oriented.

People are about feelings – and you can’t lead not paying attention to how people feel.

You’ll be a better leader if you’re aware of how you’re making the people around you feel.

If you can make them feel good, valued, loved, cared for, supported, encouraged, successful and challenged, then you’re going to be a great leader.

Don’t try to lead without managing, and don’t manage without leading.

You have to do both – and have people, systems and processes to help you do both.

At the end of the day, leadership is about people, and people have emotions.

The best long-term leaders know that people have feelings.

It’s about how you make them feel.

You might not think it’s important because you have a company to run.

But remember what Maya Angelou and Spencer Hays understood, and what all leaders who are successful in the long term understand: Leadership is about people and how you make them feel.

2 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Would you agree that all managers are not leaders and all leaders are not managers? The best way I have heard it described is “leaders emerge from the group whereas managers are appointed.” From my perspective, management and leadership are a compliment to one another but not necessarily a necessity for one to be the other.

  2. Lisa Nelson says:

    Absolutely I agree. Most of my management experience has been through being promoted to a manager until my current position.

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