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Marathoner Mark Cole: ‘Popularity Is Not The Same As Leadership’

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In this edition of our Corporate Competitor Podcast, Maxwell Leadership CEO and marathoner Mark Cole argues that it’s more important for leaders to be present than to be popular during their organization’s transition moments.

With six marathons and 13 half marathons to his credit, Mark Cole has earned the right to compare leadership to a running event—no, not a distance competition, but relay racing. “We’ve all seen relays where the race is won or lost in the transition,” said Cole. “That is why there’s a transition zone that allows the runner who is handing off the baton to align with the runner who is receiving it.”

If the two runners are out of sync during the hand-off, notes Cole, they will slow the team down regardless of how fast the individual runners may be. High performing corporate teams function the same way, and it is the leader’s job to ensure the individuals are “humming” in harmony, so that when it comes to pivot, everybody is working at the same pace.

Cole serves as the CEO of Maxwell Leadership Enterprises and has more than 25 years of leadership and team development experience, which uniquely qualifies him to have an integral role in the John C. Maxwell legacy. One of the initiatives under Mark’s leadership has been the Thought Leader Platform of speakers and authors–including this author–who are the future ambassadors of the Maxwell method of leadership and professional development.

Cole believes in “visible leadership,” which he defines as a leader’s presence for his or her team. “How well are you communicating presence with your team?” asked Cole, who uses video to communicate weekly with his team despite his busy travel schedule. “From a leadership perspective, you’re not trying to be the most popular, even though we seem to have assigned the word leader to those who get lots of “likes” on social media.”

In the podcast, Cole shares his discovery that even the most widely respected communicators often achieve limited long-term impact with those they coach. “I found that while 96 percent of those who attended a Maxwell event gave us a perfect score, far fewer actually used the information in a substantive way six months later,” he noted. The podcast offers insights into how Cole and his colleagues address this common problem, including:

3:00   Why success is won or lost in transition.

8:00   Why popularity is not the same as leadership.

12:00  How to create a leadership “dashboard” to measure progress.

25:00  How to increase employee engagement.

35:00  How to make your meetings or “huddles” more efficient.

“For you to be believable as a visible leader who is present to your team, your team has to believe in what you’re doing more than what you’re saying,” said Cole. “Transitions fail because someone is doing it at the time that’s right for them, but not for everyone else. For us, it comes down to our irreducible minimums–the non-negotiables and KPIs–that we have to exhibit each and every day to keep our organization not just working, but humming. ”

Check out the full Corporate Competitor Podcast interview archive and subscribe to new episodes.


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