Innovate November 2016 On The Cover

The Yellow Brick Road of Your Leadership Journey

Written By: John Spence

When I think about what it takes to have a robust economic development program for the Greater Gainesville area, I realize it will take a good deal of change from the way we do business now. Change, especially what might be perceived by some people as negative change, can create a significant amount of resistance. When I work with companies trying to make a big change, I counsel them that for any change program to be successful there are a few key steps that must be planned out and executed superbly. I believe it is the same for a community as well, so let me outline the essential elements of an effective change process.

What are the three most important leadership skills one needs to acquire?

Before I can answer this, I need to first ask, “Are people born leaders or can they learn to be a great leader?” I think the answer is a little of both. There are several leadership skills that are more inherent than they are learned, such as honesty, integrity, fairness, respect and things such as these. However, there are a great number of leadership skills that can be learned through diligent study and practice. To me, the three most important leadership skills one can acquire are:

1. BUSINESS ACUMEN: Building a solid foundation of business knowledge and experience

2. COMMUNICATION SKILLS: The ability to ask focused questions and be an intense listener

3. STRATEGIC THINKING: Creating a vision for the future of an organization and determining how to differentiate a business in the marketplace


How can one develop those leadership skills?

1. BUSINESS ACUMEN: Be a serious student of business, read broadly on business topics, attend conferences, find a mentor or two and build a large network of business people who can share ideas with you. Be extremely curious about any ideas or information that aid you in becoming a more successful leader. A good place to start would be making a commitment to read at least six business books a year. It might also be helpful to subscribe to several business and leadership podcasts so you can listen to the best advice from some of the smartest business leaders in the world, for free.

2. COMMUNICATION SKILLS: Attend seminars, read lots of books on communication skills, watch and listen to people you feel are superb communicators, identify three or four areas you need to improve and then practice, practice, practice. Remember, communication is not just about talking; it’s about listening, writing great notes, understanding body language, flexing your social style and much more. It is a very complex set of skills to learn. This was an area I had to work hard on, and after 20 years of teaching communication skills, I’m just starting to get a little bit better. Presentation skills are also important, and a great place to see some of the best presenters in the world is by watching TED talks.

3. STRATEGIC THINKING: Get in the habit of looking for patterns. Read about business and tons of other topics, talk to interesting and knowledgeable people, and study your customers, market and competition. Then, combine all of the information with your personal experience and look for patterns of opportunities you can take advantage of. One of the essential traits of successful leaders is being a visionary, which means being able to see things in the future that other people cannot see, and the key is being superb at pattern recognition.

To help you be a better strategic thinker, here is a formula for creating a successful strategy.

All effective strategy is just:

Valued Differentiation x Disciplined Execution.

In other words, you have to bring something to the marketplace that is unique, exciting, and compelling, that your customers find very high value in, that is difficult, if not impossible, for your competition to copy, and that you can execute flawlessly every day.

When you can create a strategy that meets these criteria, you will be a superb strategic leader.

One of the most important leadership studies ever conducted identified four characteristics of a leader who people would willingly follow. They were: honest, forward-looking, competent and inspiring. Two of them are innate: You either tell the truth or you don’t, and you are passionate and inspiring or you aren’t. Two of them are learned: One can always increase competence, and forward-looking is simply another word for visionary — or the ability to see into the future by recognizing patterns.

Although I could go on for pages and pages listing important leadership qualities, I think if you can become exceedingly good at the three I have mentioned above, you will build a strong foundation for your leadership journey.



JOHN SPENCE has been recognized as one of the top 100 business thought leaders and as one of the top 500 leadership development experts in the world. He is an international keynote speaker and management consultant and has written five books on business and life success.

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