Top Five Leadership Lessons from Speakers at the George W. Bush Institute

jonRecently, I was catching up with Dr. Marta Wilson, Immediate Past Chair of the Easterseals DC MD VA Board, and she asked what I had learned in the first three months of attending The George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.

My first thought was how the program has reinforced for me the power of Easterseals’ recently updated Vision: to create a hopeful, inclusive community where all individuals realize their potential and live meaningful lives. The vision connects with a perspective that the Bush Institute’s Program Director of Health and Wellbeing, Kacie Kelly, shared: the key to reducing veteran suicides is not just providing better crisis care, but rather creating a life worth living. After hearing those words, I knew this program would teach me something beyond better serving veterans and military families, and extend to better serving people of all ages living with disabilities and special needs who turn to Easterseals for support.

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The program also provided opportunities to grow leadership skills. Many lessons from well-respected leaders have resonated with me in the first three months of the program. I want to share five that are useful to any business or nonprofit leader, and more broadly to any person focused on reaching a work or life goal.

  1. Set an intention for the day. During the first session at The Bush Institute, our facilitator Todd Connor, Founder of Bunker Labs, asked us to set an intention for the day. I found it made such a difference that I now have a calendar reminder every morning to set my intention for the day. By focusing on one behavior each day, I make some progress every day!
  2. Focus on developing leaders. Bob McDonald, the Eighth Secretary of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Retired Chairman, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble shared the importance of developing leaders. He noted that the success of any organization comes from having enough leaders, and they can’t be minted overnight. It’s a great reminder of the need to provide learning and development opportunities to team members, so they can grow and thrive.
  3. Keep a list of the three most important things. Tom Luce, Founding President of Meadows Mental Health Foundation, shared that one way he’s able to stay focused when things get hectic (when aren’t they hectic?!) is to keep a list of your three most important things in your desk drawer and refer to it daily. It’s a great method for keeping the important things top-of-mind when lots of urgent (and maybe not so important) tasks crop up.
  4. Allow others to have responsibility. President George W. Bush and General Stanley A. McChrystal shared this advice using slightly different language. General McChrystal stated, “We’re most comfortable doing what we used to do and that leads to micromanagement.” And from President Bush, “Responsibility and authority flow together. You can’t say you’re responsible, but I’m making the decisions.” These are great reminders – especially for someone like me who had a different role in the organization before becoming CEO – that people may approach a problem in a different way. And if they OWN solving that problem, that’s better than having it solved my way.
  5. Simplify to understand what’s really important. Travis Stanley-Jones, a veteran and Proprietor of Mulleadys Irish Pub, spoke of how he was overly focused on winning fine dining awards when he first opened his restaurant. This led him to grind down his team. It was only after he stepped back that he realized the overall experience of the restaurant was actually more important to his guests, and that by grinding his team, he was ensuring that his guests wouldn’t have a great experience, even if they got great food. Now, he’s got a happy staff AND great food, and that makes for a great guest experience. Whatever your business, stepping back to ensure you’re focused on what’s really important is great advice.

Please comment to let me know if these ideas resonate with you, or if you have other leadership lessons to share.

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