by Paul Casey

The One Thing a Leader Must Model to the Team Every Day

To make your awesome vision happen, you will have to work your tail off to turn it into reality. There’s a certain tenacity that must be in your blood. Nothing is ever accomplished long-term with a simple burst of energy followed by a long lull.

At the national non-profit SCORE, who mentor those wanting to start or grow a business, the volunteer businesspeople help entrepreneurs determine how badly they want to be an owner of a small business. They give these wide-eyed mentees a reality check, about the myriad of preparations and tasks that will have to be done to write and live out their business plan. And often, the mentors flush out those who don’t have the work ethic to persevere.

Work ethic is one of the main things you can control every day—just like attitude, maturity and priorities. You can choose to do your best on everything you touch, or to give partial effort. Successful results favor the diligent. May it never be said about you that you neglected putting in the time to make your business successful and instead did what was convenient.

Effective leaders are willing to get their hands dirty; they are not merely figureheads. They don’t approach situations with “What do I want/need?” but with “What needs to be done?” They practice what they preach. And people follow actions not just words. If you are retrofitting a space, dig in and swing a hammer or move furniture alongside those you hire to do the job. Never ask your team to do anything that you’d personally be unwilling to do.  If your workload is particularly light on a given day, ask your team where you can lend a hand. Just doing that will create less of a hierarchical culture that most employees have run from to work for you. Lee Iacocca said, “The speed of the leader is the speed of the team.”

I am reminded of Mother Teresa, who could have leveraged her reputation to find a more comfortable position and living situation, ending her days with a life of ease. However, she never stopped participating in serving those she knew she was called to help. And her model is still revered today.

Leadership is more of a verb, an action word, than it is a noun (a thing to aspire to). Leadership means working harder than anyone else. You may have quit (or are thinking of quitting) your current day job to start a business for many different reasons, but I hope one of them was not: not working as hard. Sure, you can call the shots as the owner, but all those details need to be addressed, and that often happens when others in “regular jobs” are sleeping.

In the book The Nature of Leadership, the author talks about leaders needing both a mammal-side and a reptilian-side in order to be balanced at the top. Mammal leadership skills are the soft side of leadership, such as empathy, communication, and people-development. The reptilian skills are equally important and require a tougher skin since they are the hard skills of leadership: financial management, verifying reports by vendors and staff, following up on commitments, and attention to detail. In these ways, work ethic can also be described as rational analysis, discipline, and toughness.

Another aspect of work ethic is landing the plane. Warren Bennis calls these leaders “catalytic completers” because they follow-through and close all the loops at the end of processes and initiatives. “They take on roles that nobody else plays—cajoler, taskmaster, protector, or doer—and that are needed for the group to achieve its goal.”  At the end of the day, you must assure everything is compliant, your staff is taken care of, and the business is ready to open again tomorrow.

And for heaven’s sake, don’t let your team ever see you whining or complaining about your workload. You might be tempted to do so, to be relatable to your team, or to garner some sympathy. However, if you want to create a culture that is known for its lack of complaining and for its positivity, you must model it despite the load you may be under, back in your office.

Simply put, work ethic means:

  • Paying the price
  • Doing your homework
  • Working smart and hard
  • Settling for nothing short of your personal best
  • Not becoming sloppy or getting lazy
  • Investing in focused planning and evaluation time to keep things running smoothly

The famous NCAA basketball coach from UCLA John Wooden built into his pyramid of success the term industriousness. He said, “There is no substitute for work. Sometimes we look for the easy way. And we might get by for a spell, too. But you’re not developing…There’s no substitute for work.” Effective leaders roll up their sleeves and lead arm-in-arm with their team. They get an A on their leader report card for effort.

If you live in the Tri-Cities and are a young professional or emerging leader in your organization, consider joining LeaderLauncher in order to get a monthly dose of leadership training and coaching, alongside other growth-minded leaders. Go to to register yourself, or to share with a colleague. It’s a whole year of leadership development for just $349! What a deal!


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