Work for a Cause, Not Applause

MY FRIEND, ALISON KIECKHAFER, CMP, IS ON TO SOMETHING BIG. When she assumed the presidency of the Meeting Professionals International Dallas/Fort Worth Chapter earlier this year, Alison chose a powerful theme for her term: "Activate Your Goodness." She challenged all 800-plus chapter members to act on improving the community and the larger world around them with a simple message: "Think good, speak good and do good."

To kick off her leadership campaign, Alison gave each member of the chapter a small crystal ornament, urging them to find a charitable organization and work on its behalf. I already had a cause, the Boot Campaign (, so last summer, I hitched my goodness crystal to the saddlebag of my Harley-Davidson and rolled out on the Full Throttle Leadership Ride-13,000 miles along the perimeter of the United States for 32 days through 34 states to honor our veterans and active-duty military. In all kinds of weather-storms along the Gulf Coast, a wildfire in Montana, California sunshine and blistering heat in the Southwest desert- the crystal was always there, a reminder to work for a cause, not applause.

Real leaders have a servant’s heart, and any truly great leader must be fully invested in the well-being of others, personally and professionally. After 20 years teaching leadership and team success strategies, I’ve learned one immutable leadership truth: You are what you do. Anyone who expects to lead should know what they stand for. Consider that one carefully, because I guarantee you, the members of a team know exactly what the leader is all about. Leadership: It’s not about you!

Unfortunately, many organizations and individuals talk a good leadership game, but their walk has little to do with their words. Great leadership pays attention to what really matters most-people and process-and focuses on the important behaviors that build exceptional teams. Those include:

LISTENING. John Wayne gave us the best description of a bad leader: "Short on ears and long on mouth." The most basic and powerful way to connect to someone is to listen. Great leaders make the voice of others more important than their own.


FOCUS. Job No. 1 for any leader is to keep the team dedicated to the mission. That’s a tremendous challenge in a competitive and fast-changing environment. Learn to blow past the unessential.


INFLUENCE. You don’t need position or authority to be influential. I’ve learned some amazing lessons from observing leaders who have no idea how significant they’ve been in my life.


APPRECIATION. Every biker knows that riding faster than everyone else only guarantees you’ll ride alone. Get interested in people for who they are, not what they can do for you.


BUILDING COMMUNITY. Leaders shape lives, change perceptions and help others fulfill their purpose. To do this well requires being in the present moment, not expecting a huge payoff later. The magic of leadership works through commitment.

I visited some of the most incredible places on my Full Throttle Leadership Ride, but it was the amazing people I encountered who made the journey a remarkable and life-changing experience. World War II veterans met me in New Orleans to share their memories of Pearl Harbor and Normandy. I had lunch with a homeless Vietnam veteran in Norfolk, Va., who was more worried about the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan than his own situation. Navy wives in San Diego invited me for a home-cooked meal because they hoped someone might do the same for their husbands who were on active duty on foreign soil. An Army dad at a roadside stop wanted to give me gas money after learning of my fundraising efforts. His son is currently serving in harm’s way.

It’s no coincidence that each of the military branches has a creed deeply rooted in selfless service and sacrifice to others. What is your leadership creed?

Steven G. Foster, CMP, CTA, is managing partner in Foster + Fathom, LLC, an Argyle, Texas-based firm specializing in leadership presentations and highimpact team-building programs. His services are available nationally.


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