Leadership excellence: making thought leadership real

The term “thought leadership” is so overused today that it seems to be losing its original meaning. But leadership is something that we can never be complacent about, whether it’s about developing new ideas or how we relate to others. Leadership is crucial to how we act in our communities, our workplaces, and in our roles as stewards of solutions for the federal government. That’s why I believe we need to go beyond what we’ve been calling thought leadership to a higher state of leadership excellence.

First and foremost, leadership is a privilege, because while it means providing direction, it also means serving the people who depend on us for that guidance. I lead with the belief that people have within them the capacity to change, grow, live, and exceed their potential. That’s why MDC is about expanding the greatness within people.

Thought leadership is a crucial part of that process. Asking challenging questions and proposing innovative solutions is the domain of leaders in their roles as problem solvers. It requires self-reflection and a willingness to challenge one’s own assumptions.

From thought to action

Leadership excellence, then, is a dynamic movement from thought to practical application. Thought leadership is idealist, while leadership excellence is more practical and realistic. Both are equally important for leaders to apprehend and apply.

Thought leadership provides the tools, while leadership excellence measures the effectiveness of those tools. Feedback provides each leader with the necessary professional and personal development to examine and internalize for mental and emotional growth. Thought leadership and leadership excellence represent a dynamic relationship for leaders and followers to grow. That dynamic promotes continuous active leadership innovation and implementation for the organization and leader.

Bringing leadership excellence to life

I continue to learn from Tom Peters, a leadership expert. In a book called “The Heart and Soul of Excellence,” he dramatically describes a leader as a cheerleader, an enthusiast, a nurturer of champions, a coach, and a facilitator. Yet, he notes that when you find excellence, you see things that are just plain boring—no magic, no mystery, no techniques, just doing things that impact the entire organization.

For example, he cites Sam Walton visiting his over 700 stores annually. For me, the “boring” thing—although I don’t find it boring at all—is visiting each and every MDC employee annually. Nothing magical, just demonstrating a clear activity that people and their families are my priority.

I want to know of instances when people fail to treat each other with dignity and respect. I frequently ask in meetings how people are doing. In other words, leadership excellence is simultaneously using and affirming technical and professional excellence. Specifically, when people strive to develop their character and integrity, it drives out toxic proclivities. That creates a strategic distinction and dynamic throughout the organization, differentiating MDC from any other organization.

We serve people because “everybody counts.” That isn’t just a slogan here; it’s how we treat each other, our customers, and everyone we interact with. And it’s essential to how we want to serve our stakeholders and customers and grow our business.

Clients benefit when we live these values

MDC nurtures a workforce that deliberately aspires to develop personally and professionally. As a result, our clients and communities experience the people of MDC, who provide consistent high performance and results. Over time, MDC employees understand that adding to the value of our clients with our values leads to long-term success.

Our clients expect nothing less from MDC. We celebrate the opportunity our clients afford for us to support and serve their mission and their vision. What is important is the dynamic of leadership excellence and thought leadership alerts us to continually guard against taking the relationship with our clients for granted. We also use their feedback to reward our employees for their service to our clients.

MDC’s process involves rewarding employees that embody and demonstrate our values. We publicly reward our employees based on peer nominations. We establish this from the start: MDC Business University allows new employees to learn how we do things, so they can understand how our culture makes us unique in the marketplace.

Trust is essential

Leadership excellence is learned and earned through vulnerable practical applications, which sets the stage for gaining followers’ trust. Although shared, the burden of this relationship is squarely on the leader’s shoulders to adapt and change for the best interests of the relationship with the follower. A leader gives followers realistic feedback to adjust their thought leadership, enabling them to continue their evolution of leadership excellence.

The balancing act

The dynamic between leadership excellence and thought leadership emerges for everyone in MDC’s recruitment and hiring practices. MDC verifies candidates have measurable, “hard” technical skills and experience before employment. Soft skills—people skills—are also assessed.

The soft skills are treating people with dignity and respect, possessing the attitude to serve each other to inspire greatness within people, asking thoughtful questions, engaging with emotional intelligence, and listening to understand instead of attempting to respond. Balance is essential; thinking and living excellence at MDC is a dynamic relationship between the visionary and the practical that fosters personal and professional growth.

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