Leadership | Learning | Laughter | Love

The idea for this article took root as I prepared a keynote to welcome a class of approximately 80 new salespeople to my team. This was a big opportunity, as it would set the stage for the week together at new rep training, as well as influence every rep’s future experience with the team. As I prepared for my keynote the day before, I started by thinking of words our team holds as culturally important. Four words immediately came to mind – leadership, learning, laughter, and love.

Later that night at dinner, my friend Matt asked me what I was going to speak about the next morning. I eagerly responded, “The 4Ls! – Leadership, Learning, Laughter, and Love!” Matt, who is a corporate tax attorney, just stared at me as if waiting for me to laugh at my own joke. Once he realized I was not joking, he counseled me to quickly go to work on a speech that was more business-like and less “kumbaya.”  Unshaken, I chose not to follow Matt’s advice.

Leadership – Leadership has much more to do with behaviors and attitudes than it does with title or position. I often see people defer all leadership responsibility to those in positions of authority, which is an excellent way to ensure that their team never performs optimally… and that they never personally get promoted to a position of authority. The very best teams embrace a culture of leadership, from every single person on the team… regardless of rank or position. So why doesn’t every team and every organization pursue a culture of leadership? There are many reasons, not the least of which is because it’s hard, and it requires constant energy, effort, and attention. An ongoing and fervent commitment is the only way to achieve a true culture of leadership.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you set aside time to discuss leadership, culture, and other non task-oriented topics with your team? This kind of leadership development is free – the only cost is a bit of time and energy.

Learning – Continuous learning is absolutely critical for long-term success. The moment you stop learning, obsolescence will hunt you down with a vengeance. The key to a winning team is ensuring that learning is a cultural priority. This means creating time and space for it, supporting it (financially and otherwise), and placing a direct and continuous focus on it at every opportunity. Learning as a team is an investment – in every single person on the team, as well as the team as a whole. Like all investments, it’s never too late to start.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you required your team to read a book, take a class together, or participate in some other form of professional development activity… as a team? It is far too easy to let this slip on the priority list, which is why so few teams actually embrace a culture of learning and professional development. Those that do will be rewarded handsomely.

Laughter – While this may sound funny (pun intended), laughter is a key indicator of a healthy, thriving culture. Every single high-performing team in the world will perform even better if they have fun together while doing it. Furthermore, as a leader, one of the worst decisions you can make is to take yourself too seriously. Don’t get me wrong – you should take your work, results, leadership, and a whole host of other things very seriously… but avoid taking yourself too seriously. People gravitate to those who are authentic and fun – it’s human nature.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – Look around your team. Do you see people truly having fun? Are you putting as much energy into creating a fun and exciting culture as you should be? Remember – long-term satisfaction at work is much more about connectedness and engagement than a paycheck. As a side benefit, fun and laughter makes for healthier people. It has been said that a good belly laugh adds significant time to your life. If that’s the case, I’m going to live a long, long time!

Love – This is where my friend, the tax attorney, really raised an eyebrow. “Love? Really?” What I mean by this is simple – you have to love what you do in order to reach your full potential. Whether you are working at a Q-Tip factory or saving lives every day, seek out ways to find purpose and passion for what you do, and share that purpose and passion with your team.

Think about it – could you imagine all of the people who would have ear infections if it weren’t for Q-Tips? Talk about impact! People use Q-Tips every single day!

Loving what you do is often more about your own internal perspective than it is the job itself, which means that you can start loving what you do any time you want to. The important thing is that you find something you love, pour yourself into it, and then reap the rewards of purposeful work.

Courageous Leadership Challenge – When was the last time you authentically inspired those around you about the work that they do? I am the Chief Sales Officer of the world’s premiere Learning Technology Company, and I love the fact that lives, communities, and ultimately the world are changed every single day as a direct result of what we do… and I share this enthusiasm publicly every chance I get.

So there you have it – the 4Ls. The most rewarding part of giving this keynote was that the rookie rep class came up with a brand for themselves at the end of the week – L4. Very cool.

This article is dedicated to all the corporate tax attorneys of the world.

Lead. Courageously.

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  • zacherygries

    Doug – I really liked this post. No doubt we see each of these traits on a daily basis, but after reading on your post I thought I’d share some instances today where they were clearly demonstrated to me. It’s easy for me to take them for granted, so this serves as much of a reflection for me as it does commends for the wonderful folks we work with on a daily basis:
    – Leadership: Jill Black closed some big wins this week and when I messaged her with a congratulations, she responded with a “more to come” attitude. Even when it would have been easy to take a break, rest, and bask in the glory of her wins, she immediately resumed her pursuit of more new McGraw Hill business. How’s that for “in the moment?”
    Learning – No doubt we at McGraw Hill all value education, but even though we value it, I think it’s hard to always embrace it when the business of life, work, and responsibilities begin to pile. One of our teammates, Antonio Venziano, is busy closing business during our Spring selling season, while at the same time demonstrating his dedication to learning by taking courses at his Alma Mater’s MBA program.  
    Laughter – In a very appropriate fashion (the morning of Valentine’s day, lots of illness going around, middle of the week, etc.), Stacy Rap and Kim Hames started my morning with a big round of laughs as we share some quick, friendly messages. It’s impressive what a little laughter can do to start the morning… and I’m grateful to have folks on our team that value working with a sense of joy and happiness.
    Love – I see this trait in our entire team. Our priorities every day include: our customers, education, the students benefiting from our products, future organizations that will benefit from the students whom we help, etc., etc. While it is not always easy to keep priorities from shifting when we’re tired, exhausted, discouraged, etc., I am always impressed at our ability to make one more call, complete one more demo, submit one more lead to learning solutions,  and help one more professor each day.
    Thanks for the post Doug – see you soon.

    •  Thanks for sharing, Zach. I am delighted to learn that you see the 4L’s on your team – that’s great! And…do I recall that you were in the rookie class that I referred to in this article? I think so, but correct me if I am wrong. Thanks much for contributing.

  • kathleenklehr

    This one is definitely challenging, but I commit to doing it! “set aside time to discuss leadership, culture, and other non-task oriented topics with your team.”

    We are so focused, intense, and task-oriented in meetings, that taking time out to discuss something non-task oriented is almost unfathomable. I’ve gotten some great ideas from Seth Godin’s blog (ie Paracosms in early Feb – I brought that into our event agendas) for discussion topics, though, and will seek out an idea to bring to the team.

    I know from experience that discussions like this can give us a higher level of job satisfaction, too. 

    •  Indeed…and very well said. Seth Godin is an excellent source of ideas, so I am happy to see that you are following him. The reality with meetings is that most are poorly run (and boring/unproductive), so there is generally room enough on any agenda for in depth leadership discussions. Thanks, as always, for contributing, Kathleen.

  • I agree with the “4L’s”- but this sentence seems hypocritical: “This kind of leadership development is free – the only cost is a bit of time and energy.” The most precious currency for any team is both time and energy. (especially time) While leadership development is critical- it’s anything but free. 

    •  Thanks for stopping by, Adam. I get your point, but I’d challenge the use of the word “hypocritical,” which suggests insincerity. Aside from that, the point you are making is excellent – time is our most precious resource, so we must always ensure we are making the right trade-off decisions with how to use it. I am suggesting that spending some time on discussing leadership, rather than spending all of our time on “normal” meeting topics, is a worthwhile tradeoff. Thanks again for stopping by.


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