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Contrary to popular belief, no one is a “born leader.” Leadership is an acquir – able skill. Brian Tracy and Peter Chee have outlined the essential habits, skills and character traits necessary for achieving sustainable high performance as a leader.

In “12 Disciplines of Leadership Excellence” Brian Tracy and Peter Chee focus on a number of disciplines, explaining why they’re important and providing specific steps on how to acquire them. The information is presented in a broad enough style to appeal to virtually all readers, yet specific enough to be useful to business leaders.

Tracy and Chee encourage readers to choose a discipline to master and then to give it a strong “launch.” “Resolve never to allow an exception until it becomes permanent,” they write. Decide that quitting isn’t an option and determine to start over immediately if you find you’ve “fallen off the wagon.” To help you stay on that wagon, the authors advocate telling others about your dedication to developing a new discipline. The theory is that you’ll be motivated to adhere to your plans if you know your friends and accountability partners are watching you. Determine what leadership discipline you need to develop. Then select someone with whom to share your decision – ideally, someone whose motivational style complements your needs. For example, if you are encouraged by gentle prodding, identify a friend who has a manner consistent with that. But if you know you’ll make excuses, pick an associate who will call you out on them.

Self-discipline The authors consider self-discipline to be the essential quality for success in any endeavor. They reference Napoleon Hill who, after 22 years of interviews and research into the 500 richest and most successful men in America, concluded that self-discipline was the “master key to riches.” With self-discipline, everything is possible. But without self-discipline, virtually nothing is possible.

Control, self-control and self-responsibility These disciplines, say the authors, are the true mark of the leader and of the exceptional person in every area. The fact is that you feel positive about yourself to the degree to which you feel in control of yourself and of your life. You feel negative about yourself and stressed in your work when you feel you are not in control, or that you are controlled by other people or circumstances. The central issue in leadership is the concept of responsibility. People can be assessed on a on how much responsibility they accept for their lives and in how many different areas. Those who score highest accept responsibility for their lives and for everything that happens to them. Those who score less accept less responsibility for themselves or their situations and blame everything that happens to them on other people, the past, or outside factors. Everyone is located somewhere on this scale, moving up or down based on each decision made.

Irresponsibility Irresponsible people continually make excuses when they fail to perform. They see themselves as victims. They complain continually about people and circumstances. They see themselves as victims of things that have happened. They criticize other people on a regular basis, usually behind their backs, and tend to gossip regularly about people in a negative way. Worst of all, irresponsible people blame others continually, past and present, for all their problems. They are never at fault. They are never responsible.

Take control How do you take complete control over yourself, your emotions, and the quality of your thinking? You begin by going over each part of your life, like examining an inventory sheet, and then accepting responsibility for every person or situation in your life that causes you any negativity or aggravation. Instead of using your mind to think of reasons why other people are at fault, you determine why and how you may personally be responsible, even partially, for the negative situation. And these reasons can always be found.

Building responsibility in others Once you have developed the discipline of taking responsibility for yourself, you can then teach this to others. The fastest way to build confidence and competence in people is to give them more responsibility. You grow them by giving them freedom to perform, and then by supporting and encouraging them when they make a mistake. Your goal as a leader is to be a role model of personal responsibility, and then to encourage everyone else to accept higher levels of responsibility themselves. Responsibility and control are essential to high performance in management and in leadership. In business, it seems that the people who experience the highest levels of stress are middle management. The people above them, the senior executives, feel a high level of control over their decisions and actions. The people below the middle managers, their staff and employees, feel a low burden of responsibility for results. It is the middle managers who are controlled by their bosses, who exert only a limited control over their staff, and who are expected to perform and get results regardless, and consequently, they are the ones who experience the greatest amount of stress in the world of work. Your goal as a leader is to take complete control over yourself, your emotions, and your work.

Vision and courage Leaders through-out the ages have been studied in an attempt to determine the qualities that make them exceptional in their time and situation. More than fifty leadership qualities have been identified. But of all of these qualities, the two that all leaders seem to have in common are vision and courage. Leaders formulate a clear vision of where they want to take their organization in the long term. Being able to articulate this vision clearly is the key to motivating and inspiring others to work with them to make that vision a reality. The second leadership quality that all the studies found in common was courage. Leaders have the courage to do whatever is necessary to achieve their vision. The development of courage in a leader is essential to realizing his or her full potential. Fortunately, courage can be learned and developed over time by engaging in certain behaviors over and over again.

Free yourself from fear The fact is that everyone is afraid. The only difference is in the things we are afraid of and with what degree of intensity. For you to be a great leader, you must develop the quality of courage and use it to deal with the trials, tribulations, and turbulence of leadership, especially in today’s business environment. The two greatest fears we all share are the fears of failure and loss on the one hand, and the fears of criticism and rejection on the other. Many other fears include poverty, embarrassment, ridicule, loss of love, loss of security or status, and so on. But all of these fears fall under one of the two umbrella categories mentioned: failure and rejection. What is the difference, then, between the brave person and the coward? Both are afraid, but the brave person forces himself or herself to act in spite of a fear. Emerson wrote, “Do the thing you fear, and the death of fear is certain.” The only way to free yourself from fear is to do what you fear. It is for you to move toward the fear-inducing circumstance or person and as you do, the fear actually becomes smaller and more manageable. But if you back away from the fear, if you avoid the fear-causing situation or person, the fear grows larger and larger and soon dominates your thoughts and feelings.

Identify your biggest goal What one great goal would you dare to set for yourself if you knew you could not fail? If you were absolutely guaranteed success in any one thing in life, big or small, short or long term, what one great goal would you set for yourself? What have you always wanted to do but been afraid to attempt?” Often, your answer to this question indicates what you are really meant to do with your life. The things that you have been afraid to attempt in the past may be in the area where you could enjoy the greatest success and happiness, if you could just overcome your fears in that area.

When courage is required Courage is required, and even demanded, in several areas of business life. The first area is in decision making. It takes courage to make important decisions that involve the commitment of money and resources, especially when the outcome cannot be guaranteed. Leaders do not like to fail. They do everything possible to avoid failure by minimizing risk. But they know risks are unavoidable in the pursuit of sales and profits. It is impossible to succeed without failing, sometimes over and over again, until you learn the vital lessons necessary to succeed at a high level. The key is to “fail forward,” which means using trial and error to enable you as a leader and your organization to learn and move forward. As Herodotus said, “There is no shame in failing; only in not rising again.”

Types of decisions Decision making is a key skill and responsibility of leadership. It is important to recognize what type of decision you need to make: These issues are your chief responsibility. No one else can make these decisions. If you don’t make them, others cannot act. The system slows down and then stops. Sometimes you can simply remain neutral, or buy time, rather than making a decision you cannot then get out of. Other decisions may be the responsibility of someone else who then becomes responsible for carrying out the decision. One of the best ways to build competence and confidence in people is to delegate decision-making to them, and then work with them to learn and grow through the process.

Taking risks Many people believe that entrepreneurs and business people are “risk takers.” But the fact is that successful business people and entrepreneurs are really “risk avoiders.” They do everything possible to minimize the risks involved in the pursuit of sales and profitability. They engage in due diligence and conduct careful research. They get as much information as possible to reduce the possibility of loss, both of time and money. As a leader, you face several types of risk: There are risks you have to take because no progress is possible without moving forward into the unknown. There are risks that are not yours to take because they are the responsibility of someone else, like hiring a new person. There are risks that you can afford to take where the upside can be especially positive, the costs are low, and the downside is small. There are risks you cannot not take because such risks involve possible loss, but the upside for you and your company are so great if you succeed that you must take this type of risk. Analyze each risk and determine into which category it falls. This process of assessing the actual risk reduces your fears and increases your courage.

Brian Tracy has authored 56 books and over 500 audio and video programs – many of them best-sellers. With a focus on business leadership and achievement, he has consulted for more than 1,000 companies and addressed over 4,000,000 people in 4,000 talks and seminars in more than 40 countries. Peter Chee is accredited by both the Jack Canfield and John Maxwell leadership programs and has spent 26 years training and developing leaders in 80 countries. Chee developed the Situational Coaching Model and has co-authored books with Jack Canfield and Dr. William Rothwell, in addition to this book with Brian Tracy.

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