How to Unlock the Potential Within Your Leadership Team

connie-leadershipInnovative Insights from Motivational Speaker Connie Podesta

By Julie Escobar, Syndicated Columnist

In a time when many organizations are working hard to grow their business, customer base, sales and profitability, savvy leaders are turning to industry experts for advice, motivation and real-world strategies for powerful change.  I asked just such an industry expert — Motivational Speaker and leadership expert Connie Podesta for her take on what’s working (and what’s not) for corporations and organizations today.

Julie:  Connie – what I love about you is that you’ve seen it ALL!  As a leadership speaker for more than 25 years, you’ve worked with Fortune 500 companies, global associations, corporations large and small and every sales industry imaginable.  So, tell me – when you take the stage – what kind of strategies do you share with leadership groups in particular so they can re-energize their teams and give them the tools, techniques and solutions they need to compete in today’s fast-changing world?

Connie:  Yes, it has been my privilege to be invited in by some of the best companies in the world and I have seen firsthand what works and what doesn’t.   It is amazing what an organization can do with the right leadership team in place.  And you’re right – change is the name of the game right now.  In fact, I tell my audiences that their success will be measured by the speed with which they can adapt, adopt and leverage new ways of thinking, selling, leading, and producing.

Bottom line:  Business as usual is over.  We cannot continue to do things the way we used to and still be successful, competitive and profitable.  But here is what I am finding:  people either get it or they don’t.  They are either in crisis mode or forward-thinking mode.  My goal as a leadership speaker is to make sure my clients are moving ahead full speed so they can be as successful as possible.

But first things first — organizations today need to expand the “title” of leadership throughout their organization because the truth is – whether you are sitting in a corner office or the new person in the mail room – everyone has the ability to lead others to success through their actions, thought, attitudes and ideas. I define leadership as the act of influencing others to make good choices.

Julie:  I know when you speak about leadership you always focus on one key word:  respect.  You must believe that respect is at the core of every great leader.

Connie:  You are so right.  Respect is where leadership starts.  Respect is how leadership is conveyed to others.  Respect is what determines whether someone would WANT to follow you, listen to your ideas, and take positive action that can make a difference.  I also love the fact that RESPECT spells out the seven key traits that every great leader must have:

1.         Responsible

2.         Empowering

3.         Successful Salesmanship

4.         Positive Attitude

5.         Engaging

6.         Confident Communicator

7.         Takes Action

Julie:  Responsible, I like that!  It can take on a lot of different meanings however, especially in a leadership role.  Can you expand on that?

Connie:  RESPONSIBLE leaders know that leadership is both a privilege and a responsibility.  They not only get that they are being held accountable for their actions but they would have it no other way. What better incentive to model best practices and lead by example than seeing your team members follow suit?  Want outstanding leaders?  Give them the tools and mindsets to take responsibility for the success of their team—and the belief that they play a huge part in the success of the organization as a whole.  Success it is NOT just about their department doing well.  It is also imperative that they interact and collaborate with other departments, vendors, resources and customers so they can achieve the best results possible.

But their responsibility goes even deeper.  After interviewing some of the world’s great business leaders, I have discovered that successful leaders have one outstanding talent in common:  They have the intuitive ability to “close the gap” between where their team is now and where they need to be in order to SUCCEED!  That “gap” is the difference between what used to work and what works now if they want RESULTS.  To do that they need to be excellent educators, mentors, coaches, and role models. Every leader is responsible for understanding and capitalizing on each employee’s own unique style, personality, talents, skills and strengths.

Julie:  Terrific – and I like the idea of that “shared responsibility.”  I think too often we see the opposite in leadership teams.  Now, more than ever, you see managers who take the “my way or the highway” approach to leading and that’s just not effective anymore – do you think?

Connie:  Absolutely not.  Strong leaders must instead EMPOWER and ENERGIZE their teams.  Success lies more in empowering people than “managing” people. Simply “managing” people will not create the strong bench strength that teams need in order to stay profitable and competitive in our world today.  I tell my audiences that leadership is more about “charging people up” than being in charge. More about making good choices for the right reason than pleasing everyone.  More about service than wielding power.

When I speak at leadership conferences, I talk about the difference between FEARFUL and FEARLESS mindsets.  A FEARFUL MINDSET is based on worry, desperation, anxiety, and even anger. Fearfulness causes people to resist change, become territorial and fight for status-quo.  A FEARLESS MINDSET focuses on creativity, confidence, hopefulness, and a take-charge attitude.  This allows people to move full-speed ahead and transform themselves, their business and their team to embrace the CHANGES needed to increase market share, stay competitive, productive and profitable.  When a leader can empower their team (and themselves) to be FEARLESS – they are able to unlock the potential for them to take ownership in their own roles as leaders within the organization.  And that begins a trickle down affect that is phenomenal.

Julie:  That’s powerful and I’m sure profitable too, right?  When everyone on the team is taking ownership of their roles and the greater goals – that’s synergy that’s absolutely vital in today’s market.  However, while synergy is great – I’m sure the number-crunchers in the crowd want to know more about how to increase SALES.  Your thoughts?

Connie:  Oh yes!  Without sales you can’t survive right?  Let’s talk about successful SALESPEOPLE.  The bottom line is this:  we’re ALL in the people business – which means – we’re all in SALES.  From the person that answers the phone to the person in the top office – each team member must be willing and able to “sell” and persuade others that what their organization offers is worth the time, energy, money and trust of each and every the customer.

When I work with leadership teams, I show them how to create a culture where employees feel excited, valued, knowledgeable and confident enough to help build an environment where quality products and outstanding customer service are the vision behind every decision—regardless of their specific job title or description.

Julie:  The idea that everyone is in “sales” is powerful.  Creating the right culture in your company is vital.  As is knowing when that culture is shifting or needs to shift to stay competitive and leverage the most from your team and market-right?  Not always easy to do in today’s ever-changing economy though.  As a keynote speaker or conference leader – how do you help companies stay “up” when it’s so easy to get “down?”

Connie:  Good question – and one I see a lot.  Most people and organizations view change as tough—even scary.  But I remind my audiences that successfully dealing with change is in their DNA.  Every generation before us has gone through more major changes than we have for the most part—with less communication, resources, and education.  We are built to be resilient and handle whatever comes our way. The key lies in POSITIVE ATTITUDES which result in POSITIVE PERFORMANCE.  In other words, what’s needed at the top of the organizational ladder are people dedicated and determined to get the job done the right way.  People who realize that complaining and negativity do nothing to propel them forward.  People who CHOOSE to figure it out and make things happen rather than wasting time and energy on worrying about what could have, should have, or would have been.

I always tell my management groups that good leaders are committed to solving problems, not causing them. They understand that people work harder, produce more, become more creative, share ideas and adapt to change more quickly if they are working in a safe, functional, healthy environment.  Successful leaders set the tone for the entire organization—they model the best behaviors, positive attitudes and open communication in the workplace.  In turn, they get employees who rise up to their level rather than ones who bring the group down.  Set the bar high and people will strive to meet those expectations.  Set the bar low and they will meet those expectations as well.

Julie:  I’ve always believed that people will rise up or down according to the standards you set.  I read a tweet of yours not long ago that made me laugh because it was so true! You said “Territorialism is irritating, immature & ineffective. Good leaders have the CONFIDENCE to share ideas.”  Can you share a little more about what you meant?

Connie:  Absolutely! There’s no room for that kind of old school territorialism in today’s business world.  A great leader ENGAGES THE ENTIRE TEAM.  The bottom line: knowledge is only power when it is SHARED.  In my leadership conferences I teach managers to get everyone involved.  I show them that keeping information to themselves is a sign of insecurity and will NOT get them recognized in a positive way—by their staff or senior leadership.  Create a culture where your team, your customers, your colleagues are all encouraged to be innovative, share ideas, exchange services and be involved.

That means that good leaders must also be good listeners.  That’s not an easy one for a lot of folks in leadership who believe that they have all the answers, but it is necessary. Remember, leadership is NOT about telling people what to do or bossing them around—it is about creating a sense of ownership within each person so they will want to do their best—even when left on their own.  I find it interesting to see which leaders feel confident that their staff will deliver and perform when they are gone and which ones feel like they can’t leave for even a day without the place falling apart.  Great leaders create great teams that work even when a leader is absent.

I also motivate my audiences to go beyond their organization’s walls and become outstanding networkers – not just with people across town, but with people all over the world.  Good leaders realize that it’s not just who you know – but who you don’t know YET that could make all the difference.

Julie:  Oh, I like that “who you don’t know YET” part and of course, the “good listener” part.  I’ve always been a fan of the phrase, “you’ve got two ears and one mouth in that proportion for a reason!”  Which leads us to Confident Communicator.  Please share a little more about that.

Connie:  Good communication is an absolute necessity to any successful organization.  Great leaders have tremendous confidence in themselves, their organization, their products, services and team.  One of the #1 complaints from employees is that they don’t know what is really going on behind the scenes.  Your team is only as good as the information and resources that is shared with them.  Employees also deserve to know WHY something is being done, changed or integrated into the workplace.  How can anyone feel ownership if they don’t understand the big picture?  Great leaders know how to motivate employees to get on board and integrate the bigger vision into their own particular job.

It is also important that leaders be able to have professional conversations with difficult people in difficult situations.  Often people want to avoid these crucial conversations and, as a result, negative attitudes and behaviors begin to become commonplace.  I help leaders understand that avoiding or ignoring behaviors that they don’t want or like will only ensure that they continue to be problems.  Leadership is about helping people become more successful and that means having the ability to identify limitations and replace them with strengths.  Leaders must motivate, challenge and be fair, but firm.

Ask yourself:  Does everyone on your team understand and effectively communicate with people at all levels?  Employees, clients AND senior managers?  No one in an authority position wants to be left out of the loop, misunderstood or surprised by news they should have already known.  Great leaders share information, are open to new ideas and committed to creating a trusting, productive culture.

Julie:  I know you believe that social media is an important communication tool for everyone.  Can you tell us more about that?

Connie:  As much as I believe that good leaders must be able to communicate face-to-face and that nothing will ever totally take the place of one-on-one, I also believe just a firmly that leaders must be proficient in every form of communication that their employees and customers use—including social media.

I am still blown away by how many people want to stick their head in the sand and act like social media is something they can just choose to ignore.  I always tell my audiences that “Social media is NOT a hobby—it is a CREDENTIAL that is necessary if you want to be successful.”  Think about that for a moment.  It is a CREDENTIAL—like a title or degree that tells people looking to do business with you whether you are someone who gets it or someone who doesn’t.  Someone who is current and in the know or someone who is lagging behind in status-quo land.

Many customers, especially those under 40, will be looking at your profiles, internet presence and involvement in social media to help them make a decision on whether to hire you, invest with you or partner with you.  You can’t escape the power of social media by simply looking the other way.

For one thing, it is how the younger generations communicate.  The reality is none of us can afford to turn business and customers away because our communication is not keeping up with the times. Good leaders are willing to communicate the way that is most comfortable for their customers—not the other way around. I inspire and encourage my leaders to accept the ever-changing challenges of new technology and embrace social media and every other new form of communication so that they can, in turn, mentor and teach those who are overwhelmed  and unsure about new technology and, in doing so, raise the bar for the entire organization.

Julie:  You’re absolutely right Connie.  There are so many people – especially those who’ve been in the management trenches a long while that are unwilling to adopt new communication tools – and in the end they will keep their organizations cemented in past rather than breaking future barriers.  Great advice.  And last but not least in your list of important traits is Takes Action…care to share more?

Connie:  We definitely saved the best and most important for last.  Everything we have discussed so far is only as successful as this last step: TAKING the ACTION necessary to grow their business.  Expand their customer base.  Manage on-going change.  Increase sales, productivity, and profitability.  Sustain quality relationships.  Keep their competitive edge and develop stronger leadership skills.

Actions totally speak louder than words.  I have seen leaders who say they believe in empowering and engaging their team, good communication, accountability, positive attitudes, and high performance but their behaviors just don‘t match up.   Good leaders make decisions.  Implement ideas. Finish projects.  Leverage their strengths.  They also understand that easy choices are not always the BEST choices.  They think long-term solutions rather than short-term quick fixes.  They realize that the choices they make today will have a dramatic impact on not just their future, but that of their team, their organization, and their customers.

As a leadership speaker, I share powerful tools with managers so they can ACT rather than REACT to people and situations.  We talk about leaving the already been-there-done-that road behind and instead fueling a vision that allows them to be creative and adaptive to changes in market, communication, technology and customer bases.  That makes for a true competitor and, in turn, an outstanding leader.

Julie:  Remarkable insights Connie- and important ones for anyone who is eager to succeed.  I’ve no doubt that organizations that adopt, encourage and reward these seven powerful traits can certainly unlock the potential not just in their leadership team, but in every member of their organization.   Savvy leaders can learn more about Connie’s powerful strategies in her award winning IPPY Best Book of the Year, 10 Ways to Stand Out From the Crowd:  How to Out-think and Out-perform the Competition.  Better still, invite her in live to motivate, challenge, and teach your team how to break new boundaries, open new doors and create that phenomenal trickle down success process in your organization.  They’ll laugh, they’ll learn and you’ll LOVE the immediate results!  Call her office to learn more at 972.596.5501.  Thanks Connie – you’re the best!

Connie Podesta is a top-rated motivational speaker and ONE OF THE INDUSTRY’S LEADING EXPERTS in leadership development. Using her talents as an author, board certified therapist, comedienne and TV/radio personality; Connie delivers customized high-energy presentations that creatively combine laugh-out-loud humor and compelling insight with real-world strategies and solutions.   Her extraordinary ability to help organizations and business professionals “close the gap” between where they are now and where they want to be has earned her fans around the globe.  To learn more about Connie and what she can do for your team visit her site or find her on Facebook at — she’s fun to follow!

Julie Escobar is a syndicated columnist who’s been in and around speaking and training industries for more than 25 years.  With a passion for helping sales professionals, entrepreneurs and organizations build their business, maintain their motivation and realize their goals, you’ll find her always on the lookout for new solutions, strategies and techniques that can make jobs easier and life better.  You can find Julie on Facebook at