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Six steps to light your spark as a leader

Becoming a better leader, one expert says, requires an open heart, an open mind and an ability to open doors for your team.

  • Leadership
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Simon Bailey received what he calls a “joy bomb” one day a few years ago when he met and spoke with Dan and Bubba Cathy, brothers at the helm of fast-food juggernaut Chick-fil-A.

An author, entrepreneur and life coach, Bailey asked Dan Cathy, the CEO and son of Founder Truett Cathy, what the secret to their success was. More to the point, Bailey asked how Chick-fil-A led the industry in sales per square foot while being closed on Sunday. “He told me, ‘We’re not in the chicken business,’” Bailey says. “‘We’re in the people business, and we just happen to sell chicken.’”

That’s one of many nuggets — joy bombs— Bailey has encountered in his career, which is built around one core goal: helping leaders find their spark, in life and in business.

The Cathy anecdote resonates with me. As a leader in the Observer Media Group, the publisher of the Business Observer, my goal is to help fill our papers and website with useful, informative and inspirational content for our readers. In doing that, we create a go-to marketplace for customers (our advertisers) to connect with decision-makers. That’s our chicken, in the Chick-fil-A example. To do that, of course, we need talented people — the best reporters, storytellers and editors — but also people who fit our entrepreneurial culture. I plan to keep that at the front of my mind as we hire some new reporters in the coming months.

Speaking at a recent virtual leadership summit held at the University of Tampa Sykes College of Business, Bailey sparked me to think about leadership differently in several ways. Bailey’s books include “Be the Spark: Five Platinum Service Principles for Creating Customers for Life” and “Shift Your Brilliance: Harness The Power Of You Inc.”

'Culture isn’t something that happens in a backroom. Culture is that thing that causes men and women to wake up Monday morning and say, 'I can’t wait to go to work.’ Simon Bailey

A former sales director for the Disney Institute who now lives in the Orlando area, Bailey has worked with almost 2,000 organizations in 100 countries. Direct Selling News named him one of the top 20 motivational speakers to inspire, educate and motivate, while Success magazine named Bailey one of the top 25 people to help you reach your business and life goals — joining a list that includes Brene Brown, Tony Robbins and Oprah Winfrey.

Mark Gordon
Mark Gordon

“I believe the job of a leader isn’t just to motivate men and women to work harder,” Bailey says. “The job of a leader, especially in the pandemic … is to invite men and women on a journey to find the leader within themselves while they are following you.”

The extra inch

The summit, included a panel discussion with Bailey, Girl Scouts of West Central Florida CEO Mary Pat King and Brian Butler, a retired U.S. Army officer and president and CEO of Vistra Communications. In a wide-ranging chat, Bailey delivered multiple spark points — reminders and tips about how you can ignite your own leadership career. The list includes:

• Keep it real:  “Emotional honesty is the best way to be authentic,” he says. “Listen at a deeper level. Listen between sentences for what people are not saying.” This goes for employees and customers, he says. “There’s a difference between authentic listening and selective hearing. When you have authentic listening, you recognize that hearing is a courtesy but listening is a compliment.”

• Know yourself: The No. 1 trait of being an effective leader, Bailey says, is self–awareness. “He or she has to have the ability to look themselves in the mirror and identify what they can do to be better, how they can grow,” he says. “And they are not afraid to say, 'I’m flawed — and I have failed but that doesn’t mean I’m a failure.'"

• Open your heart: “Love isn’t a word used a lot in professional corporate circles,” Bailey says, “but if men and women don’t feel the love of the work environment, they will show up, work hard enough to do a job  and work hard enough to keep from getting fired. But when men and women work for a leader and an organization that provides psychological safety for them, all of a sudden they will go the extra inch — extra mile is so '90s. Extra inch, because there are 6 inches from your right ear to your left ear. You need men and women who think about what they do with a spark, not just do what’s always been done.”

• Difference-maker: “There are many who lead without a title,” he says. “Leadership is about taking ownership of wherever you are and deciding you can add value, that you can make a difference.”

• Eat more chicken: Partially on what he learned from the Cathys at Chick-Fil-A, Bailey says creating a culture where everyone matters is key to being a top leader. “Culture happens when no one is looking,” he says. “Culture isn’t the vision and mission statement on the website of an organization, culture isn’t something that happens in a backroom. Culture is that thing that causes men and women to wake up Monday morning and say, 'I can’t wait to go to work.'” 

• Eat well: “Failure is not final,” Bailey says. “Failure is only feedback — and feedback is the breakfast of champions.”



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