When Pro-Athletes and Crucible Years Collide: 4 Leadership Ingredients for the Future

Growing up, John Havlicek, 8-time NBA champion Boston Celtic was my hero. Not just because he was extraordinarily talented, in fact it was just the opposite. He wasn’t the most talented, so he had to work harder and hustle to be successful. Havlicek was “grit” before they used that word.

His jersey was #17. I wore it all through high school sports, and it became my number. In a fun way, I built milestones around the number. For that same reason, I anticipated 2017 like no other year.

As the calendar has turned and I reflect back, 2017 was a time of unparalleled learning — a crucible year that I will look back on. Not just for me, but for Elanco leaders at all levels.

Watching Elanco leaders proactively anticipate and mitigate uncertainties in our market was a balcony moment. In the midst of challenge, observing how people stepped up reaffirmed my long-held leadership beliefs. The credit of these insights goes to one of the most cause-driven, high valued and unified group of leaders I know, the Elanco global team. I have been blessed with a front row seat to learn leadership from TeamElanco. And I witnessed true leadership excellence in 2017. It was the best year yet in learning, reinventing and growing as a leader.

As one of my favorites on leadership Warren Bennis shares…
“Excellence is a better teacher than mediocrity. The lessons of the ordinary are everywhere. Truly profound and original insights are to be found only in studying the exemplary.”

I observed four unusual ingredients emerge that I believe will set leaders apart as we move further into a faster world of constant change. We all expect strong leaders to have a compelling vision, great agility and discipline, and to make bold, courageous decisions, but what are the ingredients behind these leadership characteristics that help them come alive in the great leaders? I watched these ingredients come to life in crucible moments in our team in 2017, and I believe they are MUSTS for the greatest leaders 2 to 3 years from now.

1. Mastery. Great leaders aren’t just good at what they do, they’re the best at it. The 2020 leader will be obsessed with their area of expertise and no one will be better than them. They take the time and have the passion to study, to dig deep in the details. Constant readers. Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes 10,000 hours of study to create mastery. Too often I see people driven by busyness and activity. Masters are driven by fresh insights. They create a culture where you can dig deep and inspect the details — they are expected, not offended. It takes discipline and commitment to achieve mastery and be differentiated…but the alternative is to be generalized and risk elimination. In 2020, the world will follow and be influenced less by generalist and demand more mastery in leadership.

2. Expectancy. Agility comes from a high-level of expectancy. Expectancy is a mindset of expecting. They dig deep to develop smart plans, but they expect challenges and they aren’t thrown off plan by surprises. If you expect a surprise in the day, a left turn from the boss or a challenge to the plan, you don’t spend emotional energy on it when it occurs. They have the advantage of emotional stability that increases stamina and the likelihood of delivery. Leaders with expectancy are calmer, more prepared, and are at their best when the unexpected happens and the need for great leadership escalates.

This year for the first time in history of the men’s NCAA tournament, a #16 seed beat a #1 seed as University of Maryland Baltimore County bested the top ranked University of Virginia. It was an unprecedented upset. Yet in the post-game interview, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett said: “I told the guys, this is life. It can’t define you. You enjoyed the good times and you gotta be able to take the bad times. When you step into the arena, the consequences can be historic losses, tough losses, great wins, and you have to deal with it. That’s the job.”

That is expectancy in action. That is knowing that anything can come at you and being ready to face it, deal with it, and keep moving forward through it. Expectancy enables agility, resilience and stamina. A leader with high expectancy will give their followers a level of calmness and belief needed to achieve, when the waves are crashing on the ship.

3. Curiosity. In three years when we look around, the amazing leaders will look different. I believe the greatest leaders will be more ask-assertive than tell. They will have the unique combination of humility and self-confidence that enables continuous learning. They read, they ask questions, they’re always digging, and they never assume. The first 2 minutes in a meeting sets the mood and indicates if it will be a dialogue or a directive. The leader’s approach quickly determines whether the unpopular opinion is welcome or not. Curious people want to hear the information and opinions that are hard to hear. Curious people aren’t just inclusive to different views, they crave them. They create a culture of involvement.

I often tell my kids, think of a conversation like a pie chart. If your conversation share is consistently more than others, you aren’t curious enough and you will won’t be much fun to be around! Stop, ask, learn something. And be ok with some silence. Digging deeper unearths new insights, greater understanding and often brings issues to light before they become a problem. The ultimate question on our employee surveys for me is…”do you feel comfortable speaking up?” If the 2020 leader is not unconsciously curious, their followers will go quiet and the end will be near.

4. Advocacy. Advocacy takes purpose to the next level. Great leaders can have vision and purpose, but are they willing to fight for it, to be a strong, compelling voice for what they’re chasing? The best talent join organizations where their personal purpose matches the organizational purpose. When talented people, chasing a common purpose bigger than themselves, become fierce advocates — anything can happen. It unleashes a tenacity and an inner fire to create change. We ask everyone at Elanco to have a personal “Why”. Advocacy truly happens when someone’s “why” becomes active.

I’m grateful to the passionate, committed leaders throughout Elanco who helped me see fresh the bedrock characteristics required in tomorrow’s leader. They reminded me:

  • Crucibles matter. We can’t let crucible years like 2017 pass without learning. Crucibles make great leaders — if we extract wisdom from them and learn from the experiences.
  • Get some Film Time. We must learn from our colleagues and our surroundings. Great coaches watch hours of film. Great leaders observe the “live” film of what is happening around them.
  • Reflect. Adjust. Perfect. To meet tomorrow’s challenges, we must be in a constant state of “perfecting” as a leader.

Thank you Team Elanco! I am honored to lead alongside you. #WeAreElanco

For more, follow Jeff on Twitter @JeffSimmons2050.

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