Positive Leaders Can Change the World – Interview with Jon Gordon

In his interview with Eszter Molnar Mills, Jon Gordon, the wide-ranging author, speaker and consultant to Fortune 500 companies as well as baseball and US football teams, discusses his ideas and principles around positive leadership.

“I believe we teach what we need to learn” – Jon describes a different path to finding his niche area – his desire to change his life, wanting to be more positive himself, has led to him specialising in the area of positive leadership – but not just in the office, for sports teams, and importantly for children as well.

Gordon harnesses these different perspectives, and considers three key challenge for leaders today:

Culture: “building a great culture, and then sticking with it” – noting that maintaining the health of the culture is difficult, and made even more difficult by the focus on numerical outcomes, on stock prices and school standardised tests. Gordon suggests that focusing on the ‘fruit’ (e.g. outcomes) encourages leaders to neglect investment in the ‘root’ (the key determinants that generates success).

Positivity: A further challenge is overcoming negativity and maintaining positivity, where the best leaders he sees are those who are not positive in themselves, they work hard to share that positivity, to generate more positivity in their team.

Connection: This leads into his last key challenge for leaders, that of keeping the team connected. In the face of time and other pressures Gordon reinforces the importance of building up relationships and commitment to each other – “relationships are the foundation upon which winning teams and companies are built.”

Gordon moves onto discussing principles behind leadership and creating a positive vision. It is not enough to share the vision, he argues, the leader has to engage with their team, to develop the relationships without which the project will fail. He sets out tasks for the leader, such as talking with each member, sharing the vision, seeing how the company’s vision fits with the individual. Working with the individual to define their vision, and how they can feed into the wider vision, promotes growth and commitment. In this way leaders can inspire their team to create success.

Gordon has distilled these ideas in his book The Energy Bus, where he points out the importance of the leader creating that positive vision, and then specifically inviting people to ‘get on the bus’ with them.

Returning to his theme of relationships, Gordon describes further the role of a leader in taking time and making the effort to understand their team members. Communication is vital he says for maintaining positivity and building relationships – without communication people don’t know what’s going on, and that uncertainty leads to fear and negativity.

Gordon’s love of metaphor and story-telling is clear with an analogy from the Energy Bus being developed into its own book, The Positive Dog. Using imaginative stories that stick in the mind help him communicate the importance of positivity and optimism, and of sharing that positivity, through the idea of ‘feeding the positive dog’.
He continues by citing two interesting case studies, emphasising the role of the leader in focusing on the positive, and also providing an example about what it really means to ‘get on the bus’.

The big question: William Bratton, chief of police under Rudy Giuliani, was tasked with reducing crime in New York. During one-to-one sessions with his five bureau chiefs he asked them if they believed crime could be reduced in their area. The three who answered ‘no’ were promptly fired – how could they be expected to lead others to make a difference if they did not believe it themselves?

Transferring belief: Steve Jobs was known for challenging his teams’ timescales – even halving their targets. His expertise was in communicating to the team his belief in their abilities to solve problems within this reduced deadline. By being positive he distorted their reality, quashed their pessimism and they generated success.

Unusually for a leadership author and business consultant, Jon Gordon has worked on communicating to children his fundamental messages of positivity and gratitude. In “The Energy Bus for Kids” he brings his ideas of overcoming negativity to the issues faced by children, such as bullying. He also stresses the importance of focusing on the positives and not dwelling on the negatives in “Thank You and Good Night”, an encouragement to end the day by thinking of all the things to be thankful for.

Gordon concludes by setting out core principles:
Find a purpose: don’t forget why you are doing what you do
Don’t chase success: make a difference and success will find you
Don’t seek happiness: by living with purpose and passion, and making a difference, happiness will flow.

Jon Gordon‘s best-selling books and talks have inspired readers and audiences around the world. His principles have been put to the test by numerous NFL, NBA, MLB coaches and teams, Fortune 500 companies, school districts, hospitals and non-profits.

He is the author of numerous best-selling books including The Energy Bus, Training Camp, The Seed, You Win in the Locker Room First and The No Complaining Rule. Jon and his tips have been featured on TV and numerous magazines and newspapers.
He and his training/consulting company are passionate about developing positive leaders, organizations and teams.

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