this article appeared in channelpartnersonline

So much has been written about leadership, the qualities it requires and the practical tasks that make up the day-to-day. But in my time at Cambium, as well as other firms, I have learned that aspects of good leadership can be boiled down to being aware and ambidextrous.

At the risk of oversimplification, these are high-level characteristics that encompass a multitude of successful leadership activities.

The first big-picture element of leadership success is awareness — staying informed about business dynamics, technical shifts and your company’s people, especially when it comes to motivating them and growing their careers. The foundation of awareness is listening. To be aware is to proactively listen and be present in the moment rather than getting lost in the minutiae of spreadsheets and slide decks. While many execs sincerely strive to listen, they can easily be distracted by the interruptions and urgent daily demands of the business. Part of awareness is being wary of these morale and productivity killers and instead looking for positive ways to make interactions with colleagues pleasant, engaging and high in value.

In short, be compassionate and aware of their needs.

What I Learned From My Peach Tree

Leaders must also become ambidextrous. This is the ideal combination of persistence and flexibility. I wrote about this resilience recently when I witnessed my backyard peach tree come back from the brink, and it serves as a lesson for all of us. To face the pressure and keep executing, even in the face of failure, is what real leaders do. I will admit to many failures over the course of my career, but within each failure came an important lesson that has served me well.

The gap between success and failure is very narrow, and while it did not seem so at the time, each setback served as a rung on the ladder to success.

The ability to keep on executing, even after you’ve experienced a setback, is built on being honest with yourself, your management team and your employees. It is a humbling experience that requires self-examination and being introspective about risk, incorporating “lessons learned” as the key to unlocking your next success. A process of continuous improvement means that you adopt a style and way of working that improves chances for future success.

Being ambidextrous is based on flexibility and optimism. That “glass half-full” attitude is essential; excessive caution and “the status quo” should be avoided. An innovative culture means that people and departments can (and likely will) fail at some point. When that happens, don’t punish them. Like the best athletes, our teams and individual performers can and must train to work on weaknesses to compete at a higher level now and in the future.

As the definition of “ambidextrous” suggests, you can do better by “using both of your hands” and exploring the new possibilities and ways of thinking that can set your company up for growth. Successful leaders are present, aware and compassionate. They focus on their employees and listen, without getting bogged down in extraneous detail, and they manage through diversity by bringing humanistic values to the forefront.

The twin practices of being aware and ambidextrous have paid off handsomely for our company, helping us adjust our trajectory, drive innovation and transform from a firm with flat revenues into a dynamic industry leader. We’ve become a high-growth organization by focusing on optimism and preparation, emotion and pragmatism. By being aware and ambidextrous, your organization can excel, too.

To sum up, the top 4 “dos” for successful leaders are to:

  1. Be present.
  2. Be aware.
  3. Be compassionate.
  4. Be confident.

And what are the top 4 “don’ts”?

  1. Don’t put your head in the sand, becoming so self-focused that you are not watching trends and changes in your environment.
  2. Don’t be arrogant and talk more than you listen.
  3. Don’t be fearful and avoid taking chances.
  4. Don’t punish risk-takers; if you do, you will in effect be supporting the status quo.
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