Simplicity + Proactivity = Elite Leadership

In a busy world filled with constant distractions, it’s rare to find elite leaders, who are actively being intentional about their lives and businesses versus just reacting to the endless demands of incoming emails, text messages, voice messages and social media updates.

These kinds of leaders are bombarded with just as many distractions and requests for their time as everybody else; yet they seem to be able to get it done and still have time left over to focus on whatever’s required, professionally or personally.

So, how is this possible? We can all recognize this kind of individual when working with one, but even then, it may be difficult to explain what makes them not only efficient, but effective, as well.

I’ve been studying these kinds of elite leaders for some time and I’ve noticed one consistent characteristic with all of them (Steve Jobs, Simon Sinek, Warren Buffett, Sam Walton, who was my mentor for most of my career with Walmart, to name a few). They all prefer(red) to wear the same kinds of clothes every day. Most of you reading this post right now are probably asking yourself why that’s so significant.

Sidebar: I’m a confessed, obsessive profiler. At the risk of sounding gender insensitive, I was raised with 5 sisters, a strong-willed Mother and Grandmother, and a Father that travelled a lot. As a result, I spent a lot more time listening and observing than I did talking. (Hey, the data is irrefutable. Women are a lot more socially constructed than men. 😊) I also became certified in body language translation and non-verbal communication some years ago in order to take my communication skills to the next level. It’s been an invaluable advantage in understanding the unspoken context or backstory with anyone or any environment.

So, back to why this common characteristic is so consistent with elite leaders.

Because wearing the same thing or type of thing every day is a physical manifestation indicating a core focus and value placed upon simplicity, which is freedom from complexity. It also represents a core focus and value placed upon a character trait I don’t see articulated or written about much at all, which is proactivity; causing something to happen rather than responding after something’s already happened.

Think about how simply profound this is as it relates to leadership in general. In other words, it’s not nuclear physics.

I’ve shared before that my three (3) favorite words in the English language are also my three (3) core values.

  1. Simple, because I want everyone involved to understand what’s necessary.
  2. Relevant, because if I’m going to participate, it must matter.
  3. Compelling, because I want to influence those following me in the same way.

This is the filter through which I pass all decisions having to do with who and how I spend my time.

What I want to share in this post are five (5) steps that I think elite leaders take on a daily basis that are game changers.

  1. They know where they’re going. 

Stephen Covey once wrote: To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.

One of the hardest things to do for any leader is to keep the team focused on achieving the goal. It truly is a balancing act between adjusting to the daily demands and the obvious pivots that every leader has to navigate in a constantly evolving landscape.

  1. They prioritize what’s important.

Discerning between what must be done and what could be done is a skill that all proactive leaders have developed. Team members will constantly present new opportunities and ideas. The leader must be able to prioritize what’s important and what needs to be done first instead of just chasing the next new idea.

  1. They say no often.

A proactive leader must learn to say no to most ideas and opportunities. The mental and physical bandwidth required to execute realistic short-term and mid-term plans that are already mapped out is hard enough.

Steve Jobs once said, People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.

Jobs was constantly being pitched new ideas and concepts from employees, customers, friends and family; yet he realized that he couldn’t build a reputation based upon what he intended to do. As a result, he was known for saying no to most opportunities and ideas so that he could have the bandwidth to actually finish the tasks at hand.

  1. They limit the number of decisions they have to make every day.

We live in a time and place where the sheer volume of data points and interactions with our professional and personal environments has exceeded our ability to properly, mentally and emotionally deal with all of them.

While reading this post, you’ve probably already received either an email, a text, a social media update or a missed call. In order to stay proactive, the most effective leaders attempt to automate everything they possibly can that makes sense, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed by the daily decisions they have to make.

This one is probably of most importance to me personally. It’s why I spend a lot of time front loading anyone under my influence that I feel has the potential and talent to do more than they think they can if I’ll just let them. Elite leaders don’t limit the capacity and abilities of subordinates out of fear, insecurity or (the most toxic) pure meanness.

  1. They’re intentional about who they spend time with.

Proactive leaders surround themselves with proactive and positive people. This doesn’t mean investing your time into the lives of every single person under your influence, which is a recipe for disaster. I can assure you personally from experience, there will never be enough bandwidth for that. There are times when making no new friends is a wise decision. 😊

Truth be told, the choice to be proactive or reactive is just that; a choice. Proactive leaders do not become this way by accident. They make a choice to do so and embed the necessary daily habits to ensure they stay that way.

Your assignment, should you choose to accept it is this.

Are you also willing to take those same steps?



Written by Maxie Carpenter

Maxie Carpenter was formerly Vice President of HR & Talent Development for Wal-Mart Stores. After a 27-year career, he began to pursue a number of other interests, which included alternative education, nonprofits, consulting, writing and public speaking.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: