10 Executive Leadership Insights from a CEO: Dwight Smith

This blog is a collaboration between guest Dwight Smith, experienced CEO and board member of several high-profile organizations, and Maureen Metcalf, CEO Metcalf & Associates, and is a companion to the Voice America Interview with Dwight discussing his executive experience, insights, and the “My Special Word” program.

At this juncture in time, we need great leaders and great leadership! Most of us, at one time or another, have been in the presence of a great leader and can recognize the characteristics of a great leader when we see them—and recognize when they are absent. Leadership development has become increasingly important. As the pace of change accelerates there is a call for a different sort of leadership than leadership of the past. The good news is that this transformational leadership can be found in all sectors. During difficult times, truly exceptional leaders rise to the occasion and take the reins.

According to the PwC CEO Survey for 2017, globalization has brought many benefits but also downsides. With greater convergence has come greater divergence in beliefs, values, and systems. CEOs are concerned about uncertain economic growth, over-regulation, and skills shortages. The focus in 2017 on CEO talent that can address these uncertainties reflects the continuation of a trend over the last several years.

As part of our discussion, Dwight described his top 10 list of beliefs and behaviors that great leadership requires. Although this blog began with referencing the current challenges we face today, these fundamental principles are timeless.

  1. Know your values and live by them—without exception. Values drive decisions and action, and ultimately your legacy. Servant leadership is unselfish, and aims at success for others and win-win situations in which everyone is uplifted. This is where leaders are about the greater good. When we think of the many leaders whose reputations went from positive to negative very quickly, it is often based on a values issue. These leaders sidestepped their values and used their positions of power to intimidate, harass, misappropriate an organizations research, and so on. It is hard to recover from a tarnished reputation because of a values violation.
  2. Find a mentor whose values match yours. We never succeed alone. Success is always a result of learning from those who were role models and who supported us. Some are formal mentors and others modeled who we want to become or avoid becoming. Find people who uplift you, care about you, and have passion for life. Think of the people who don’t see the glass as half full but completely full—it’s just that part of the contents include air.
  3. Find ways to respect and embrace differences. Being with people who are different—in beliefs, in ways of doing things, who have a different perspective—provides us with learning opportunities. Be personal learners. Acknowledge and accept and embrace differences and learn from others who see the world differently. Seek to understand why others see the world differently, but most importantly, respect the differences whether you understand them or not. Multiple perspectives generally create more “durable” solutions.
  4. Act with grace and kindness. Find the goodness in others especially when they are most frustrating to you. This is not to say we lack discernment; we must be both discerning and kind. We must show respect to get respect. When we agree to value differences, we will be stretched into areas that are uncomfortable and, in some cases, frustrating. It is important to be gracious with ourselves as well as others.
  5. Make time to reflect. Set aside time, optimally every day, to dial back electronic connections and replace these with personal reflection, human connection, and inspirational activities such as meditation and prayer. We need time to recharge and refresh our physical bodies and our spirits. We need to reconnect with our values every day—even if it is simply quiet time during a commute.
  6. Be forward thinking and strategic. We are facing dramatic change in our world. It is critical to stay abreast of trends that will impact you directly and tangentially. When you see trends, face them head on, try to understand the impact and identify the opportunities these changes may create for you and your organization. Change always creates opportunity for someone, will you find ways to leverage it?
  7. Find passion and follow it wisely. Whether as a vocation or as a hobby, passion recharges us and gives us purpose. We may find that passion in our full-time jobs or in other areas of life. Dwight is heavily involved in an organization called “My Special Word.” In addition to his demanding work, Dwight invests his time and energy in this program because he is passionate about children and the impact his program creates.
  8. Be personally responsible and accountable. Everyone faces adversity in life. It is unavoidable. How you respond defines who you become. You are responsible for your reactions to events and their impact on yourself and others. We chose how we respond. We have the choice to take responsibility or become victims. How can you develop the capacity to own your situations and make the best of them? Think how many small decisions in life impact your day. Are you responding based on your values and your best self?
  9. Align words and actions. Whether you are aware or not, people are always watching what you do and if your words align with your actions. If your words and deeds conflict, you lose credibility and the trust of others. This can be tricky sometimes because others may not see the nuances you see or understand why you changed course. Communication is a deciding factor. Because others don’t know or see what we see, it is our job to help them understand when they perceive a misalignment. If trust is gone, people are less likely to be engaged and perform at their best for the organization.
  10. Take the time to thank people. Success and the success of an organization are built on team efforts that are the engine driving success or failure, satisfy customers, and deliver value. Make sure that all the members of your team feel appreciated.

Leadership is an honor. We serve an organization’s mission, its employees, its clients, its financial stakeholders, and our communities. We balance many requirements while keeping pace with trends and adjusting our offerings. When done properly, it is as beautiful as a well-rehearsed symphony. How would you score your performance on this top 10 list?

To become a more innovative leader, you can begin by taking our free leadership assessments and then enrolling in our online leadership development program.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible,  iHeartRADIO, and NPR One.  Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.

About the Authors:

Dwight Smith is an experienced Chief Executive Officer with a demonstrated history of working in the information technology and services industry. Skilled in Budgeting, Business Planning, Analytical Skills, Sales, and Entrepreneurship. Strong business development professional with a MBA focused in Finance from The Ohio State University. Dwight serves on several Boards including the Federal Reserve Board of Cleveland and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Dwight created the “My Special Word” program and organization. My Special Word is a not-for-profit program with the aspiration of inspiring our youth to think about the wonderful people they are and that they hope to become using positive words. Their vision is to encourage, inspire and excite our youth to become the amazing people that they are meant to become and to strive daily to reach their greatest potential and aspirations.

Maureen Metcalf, CEO and Founder of Innovative Leadership Institute, is a renowned executive advisor, author, speaker, and coach whose 30 years of business experience provides high-impact, practical solutions that support her clients’ leadership development and organizational transformations. Maureen is recognized as an innovative, principled thought leader who combines intellectual rigor and discipline with an ability to translate theory into practice. Her operational skills are coupled with a strategic ability to analyze, develop, and implement successful strategies for profitability, growth, and sustainability.

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