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10 leadership lessons from Jeffrey Fox

Mike Lyles | July 11, 2014
Do you remember when you were first assigned a leadership role? It's an exciting adventure, filled with anticipation, anxiousness, fear of the unknown and an overwhelming need to ensure you're ready to take on one of the greatest responsibilities of a career.

Jeffrey Fox: This is a real problem. It generally happens when the culture of the organization changes from a winning culture to a losing culture. However, in a good company, good people who do good work will get noticed. The focus should be less on taking credit and more on reporting what you did. Use monthly reports and other means to show outcomes. Become an expert. Carve out a niche. The best way to be perceived as an expert is to teach your area of expertise. Start with something as simple as a 15-minute presentation on, say, how to choose a brand name, after working hours.

It's critical to work for a company with a winning culture. Even winning cultures aren't for everyone. Not every good soldier wants to be a Marine. Ask yourself, "Is this a good place to work?" and ... "Am I doing anything?" When people complain that they aren't being recognized, they have to be sure they aren't just making an excuse.

Early in my career, I was the marketing guy for a California champagne [company]. I was asked to deliver five cases of champagne to the CEO's wife for an event. Some people might have seen this as a demeaning task. However, I asked ... if she'd like me to give a champagne tasting for her guests. I showed her guests how to open a champagne bottle and good accompanying foods. The CEO was impressed.

Sometimes you have the opportunity to make a big splash instead of a lot of ripples.

Lyles: In a college commencement address, Steve Jobs once said that we always connect the dots backward, not forward. He went on to say that there are times when we look back and realize that a tough time, a setback or a change in direction, was really critical to where we are today. Do you have that one change in direction that defined the overall path of your life and profession as a writer and leader?

Fox: In my 8th grade social studies class, I was asked to do a report on Gen. William Custer. I found myself short on the word counts, [so] I took a new approach: I went back through the report and interpreted Custer's personality. I created new ideas, new perspectives. I knew I'd accomplished something when the teacher asked if I had done the work myself. I received an "A" on the report. This completely changed my view on how to write. What I didn't know then, that I know very clearly now: Don't be afraid of new thinking, of being different than accepted wisdom.

Another example was a school science fair. I worked with one friend, who was a genius and very mechanical. My job was to come up with the idea and ... market [it] to the judges. My friend's job was to build the exhibit. We built a camera that could photograph an actual snowflake. The cost to build the "camera" was $14. The cost of a camera that would photograph snowflakes like this, at that time, was $100,000. We won first place.


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