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5 Essentials for Leadership Excellence Gleaned From Champions

Those who excel worked hardest to overcome their doubt and fear.
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As a communications strategist for more than five decades and founder of the Vocal Awareness Institute, I have been privileged to teach champions from all walks of life. I have taught Olympic gold medalists, Hall of Famers, Tony and Academy Award winners, chairmen of boards. The common theme among the greatest, no matter the platform, is "a champion does it differently.''

I've distilled these axioms and tips from studying the character and practice of each individual who has fulfilled and maximized his/her vision and ability. 

1. Never simply go through the motion. The routine is never routine.  In each practice/each repetition, strive to do it as conscientiously as possible.

Related: 9 Ways to Become a Better Leader

In sports and the arts, it is easy to understand this principle. The work is objective. You can see your on-field performance, watch film on yourself playing. There are trainers and coaches guiding you each step of the way. How do we refine our practice in business? How do we improve without daily guidance?

One way is to become our own teacher. Listening to a recording of yourself in a business meeting, Power Point or conference call is invaluable. Rather than walking in with a few notes and merely getting underway, prepare for the meeting at home before a mirror or video camera.

2. Have a clear vision and purpose of who you are and what you want to achieve, both short-term and long-term. I consider our commitment to excellence to be ethical and integral. The root of the word ‘integral’ is wholeness. It is ethical to be who we are. 

First, create a "persona statement.'' This helps you identify how you want to be known. Second, in business, one creates a business plan. in Vocal Awareness, we create a vision statement with accompanying goals and timelines of one year and five years, with clear deliverables and benchmarks.

3. Establish structure. There is an exercise in Vocal Awareness called 168 hours (7x24) to identify how you spend a week.  Once you objectively understand how you spend a week, you can create a system that works for you. Every champion employs meticulous structure in their daily lives, both personally and professionally.

Structure does not impinge, it liberates. Freedom without direction is chaos.

Related: Leadership Lessons You Won't Learn in a Book

4. Be in mastery. A champion in their art or skill set is in mastery. For mastery to be achieved, one must always integrate mind/body/spirit and constantly refine every element of their craft.

One way my clients embody personal mastery is to be in stature at all times. Stature is not simply good posture. It is the embodiment of what you know to be true for you. Practice the statement, "I am an extraordinary person, and I do extraordinary things." In the beginning, it may not feel authentic but in time you will feel the truth of what you are saying.

Practice in front of a mirror "pulling a thread from the top of your head.'' You will notice the first thing you do is inhale and you become taller. Your core muscles engage and your chest opens. Again, this may not feel natural at first but it very shortly will.

5. Learn how to believe in who you are. I call this, "the talking myself into it stage.'' In any empowerment work, a teacher can never empower the student. Rather, the teacher helps the student empower himself.

Nowhere is this more critical than in the beginning, when you may confront doubt and fear. Great artists and athletes never let fear impede them. They are never the cork in their own bottle. They do whatever it takes to do their best, even when others may doubt their ability.

You may not always believe but you must always persevere and be audacious, not to your commitment to perfection or outcome but to excellence and discipline. (Discipline means teaching or learning.) Take incremental steps. Don’t strive for giant leaps. I call this "the journey.''

The late, great collegiate football coach, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, said it best. “If you believe in yourself, have dedication and pride, and never quit, you will be a champion. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.”

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