(This report is an excerpt from “7 Moments… That Define Excellent Leaders”.)

Excellent leadership is defined by excellent thinking. Words and acts of excellence are preceded by thoughts of excellence.

Our minds are magnets. What we focus on is what we get. Our thoughts and beliefs have that much power. Think about it! We receive what we believe about leadership. This works just as powerfully with negative thoughts as it does with positive thoughts.

You might be asking, “How can I be positive all the time when negative situations are a reality – they just show up in everyday life?”

Yes, bad things do happen and they sometimes “just show up.” Any leader would be hard pressed to remember a week when no curve balls were thrown. However, it is our interpretation that makes a situation negative. A surprise event or a challenging moment doesn’t drag us down. The way we think about what happens determines the ultimate outcome.

Like it or not, our thoughts and interpretations of people and events directly influence our beliefs, and ultimately, our leadership actions. Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or cannot, you’re right.” In other words, what we think is what we get.

Hannah Teeter understands this. While most girls were playing with dolls or getting ready for their high school proms, Hannah, Olympic gold medalist in the half-pipe snowboarding event, was trying to keep up with her four older brothers. She learned whatever they were willing to teach her about snowboarding, and they urged her to “push higher” and “go big.”

After standing atop the highest step on the medalists’ podium in Torino, Italy, Hanna was interviewed by a television commentator. He asked Hannah, “To what do you attribute your gold medal performance at the young age of 19?”

“My ‘secret sauce,’” she said, “is my brothers, having great parents and being able to stay positive about anything and everything that’s come my way. Keeping a positive outlook is definitely key to success on a snowboard or in any competition.”

Hannah is right.

An attitude of excellence is the secret sauce for today’s successful leader. Excellent leaders mentally reframe situations to help their teams view challenges in a positive light… they take a new picture. Facts are facts, but the view we take is our choice.

Our experiences are much less important than how we choose to think about them. Our interpretations of experiences either limit or enable our future success. Here’s an example: a mission-critical project you are leading has “promotion” written all over it, but it bombs – it’s over budget, past its deadline… the works. How we choose to interpret those facts is how we shape our future. Am I a failure, a poor leader who is maxed out and on the way out? Or am I a great leader in the making who is learning some tough lessons that will help ensure success on the next project when my true colors will really show?

Ed Zander chose his view when he took over as CEO of Motorola. His first order of business was to turn around the $37 billion communications giant… to recover its excellence and its leadership in one of the fastest-moving markets on the world’s business horizon.

What did this process require? A “nothing but excellence” level of commitment.

“One of my challenges at Motorola is to get this thing moving a heck of a lot faster than it is today,” Zander explained.

Just a few years prior to Zander’s appointment as CEO, red ink was gushing from every corporate pore and Motorola was headed for life support. Known for inventing the cell phone and a string of other major innovations in its 75-year history, Motorola had been struggling under the burden of older technology.

Zander felt pressure to “clean house” upon his arrival. He heard, “You gotta come in and fire everyone and get your own team. It is easier if you bring in people you know.” Instead, his defining moment came when he decided to expect excellence from the existing leadership team. With only a few exceptions, he kept the same team and instilled a commitment to excellence in them and throughout the organization. Zander took the more difficult and longer path to change, but building sustained, team commitment is like that – there’s no shortcut or easy path.

Even in the face of downsizing 60,000 of Motorola’s 150,000 employees, Zander stayed focused on the excellence that could be. His next move was to jumpstart new technology and innovation that led to the company’s rebirth – the launch of the ultra cool and ultra thin Razr cell phone. This was followed by its first iTunes-compatible cell phone – the Rokr.

Bottom line: Within two years of Zander’s arrival, Motorola’s revenues were up 28 percent and its financials had made the jump from red ink to black.

Deep commitment to excellence never rests. So Zander isn’t taking any time-outs any time soon. He says he still has a couple of years of hard work ahead of him before the turn around is complete and he takes Motorola to the next level. In the meantime, he’s giving it his best… and expecting the same from his team.

At any moment during daily leadership, we can fall victim to our own thinking. Self-doubt and fear are the enemies of leadership excellence. Our commitments define us and our teams depend on us. The choice is ours. Think excellence… always!

Seize the moment now!  Take the 7 Moments Indicator to see how close you are to leadership excellence.

Copyright © 2006 by Lee J. Colan