What Great Leaders Actually Do

Brendon Burchard 12-17

What great leaders actually doPeople always ask me, “Brendon, what do leaders actually do?”

Maybe you’re leading a team, or you’re in charge of a large organization, or you’re just trying to lead your own life. What is it that leaders actually do?

Many of you know that this was my graduate school work. In 2001, I wrote a book called The Student Leadership Guide. I never had any clue that thing would blow up the way that it has. This framework for leadership [I’ll teach today] is called E-6. It’s from that book and it’s been used at like 40 of the top 100 schools in the world, and in major corporations around the world. Major associations have called me to speak on this topic because it’s a great framework for leadership. It answers that question:

What are the major practices of leadership that we must enact on a continual basis to be able to have the amount of influence and impact we desire, in our work lives or any role in which we’re leading other people?

Let’s get right into it.

Practice One: Envision

Great leaders envision a compelling, different and vibrant future than what’s here. They have an alternative clear view of what the world could be like tomorrow than it is today. They have a shared purpose. They believe that they and others would be compelled by, interested, inspired by, and want to work toward, and that’s a big deal.

You always read about it in leadership — that you have to have vision. It’s biblical; where there is no vision people perish.

We know the power of having that vision, so you have to sit down and actually do it. The reason we say envision versus just have a vision is it’s a practice of envisioning what should tomorrow look like for my team? What should tomorrow be like for my business or organization? What should tomorrow be like for my life? And not just tomorrow, but a long-term mindset and view, the dream, that magnificent obsession, that bold desire, the moon shot goals and purposes and missions of life, the bigger picture.

That’s envisioning a different reality in the future than we experience today. And that’s why everybody gets excited about leadership. Where there’s no vision there’s no leadership. Where there’s no vision people parish, so we have to envision.

By the way, I say that these are six practices of leadership and not six steps, because it’s not like you do envisioning once and then you move on in the process. We always have to continually sit down and envision where are we? Where can we be going? It’s an active process.

If you set a vision one time and you forget about it it’s not going to help you accomplish the influence or impact that you want in your lifetime or in those that you lead.

Practice Two: Enlist

 As you’re developing this vision, it’s not just your vision. You’re enlisting other people to share their voices, their perspective, their dreams and desires for where you could be going.

I think the most important leadership lesson in the world is that people support what they create.

If people are involved in the ideation of a vision, they’re involved in creating ideas, of brainstorming, of figuring out what it is we are about.

What do we stand for? Where are we going? Great leaders enlist that from other people, they’re constantly asking people what they think, how they feel, what things they desire and need. And it’s that enlistment that’s always going on.

A great leader is always enlisting other people to believe in the dream, to shape the dream, to stay dedicated to the dream. It’s an honest and authentic and genuine desire to see other people be involved in the process and to enjoy that process.

It’s so vital and that methodology of getting people involved in that process. 

You’re asking questions. You’re paying attention to their needs. You’re reflecting back to things you’re hearing. You’re always enlisting others to support and to build this vision, this ideal future, together.

Practice Three: Embody

Leaders stand for something.

There is a congruence between who they are, the behaviors that they’re enacting into the world…how they treat people, what they’re working towards and what they say is important. It’s integrity. It’s a congruence between what we say we’re after and how we’re behaving.

There’s nothing more important is there? It’s like that old message, “You don’t believe the message unless you believe the messenger.”

So, as leaders we have to stand for and demonstrate and show and portray what we are really believing in.

Is our team and people around us seeing us work for it, sweat for it, sacrifice for it, champion it over and over, even when it’s hard, even when there’s conflict, even when people are pissed and want to quit?

Are you still there? Do you still stand for it?

If you do, then you’ll become a legend.

Practice Four: Empower

Empowerment means we give people the decision-making authority and the trust to be able to work towards this vision, to allow them the autonomy, the strength, the input, to equip them with the knowledge the skills, the abilities, the technology and the tools and training to allow them to succeed as they march with us to achieving something extraordinary and phenomenal. That’s vital. That’s what empowerment is about.

A lot of leaders who come in with a big vision, they get everyone excited and seem like they want everybody involved and they do a great job of standing for it, but they don’t equip their teams to kick some butt.

They never get to that place of real stride, real momentum. And that happens all the time.

Training other people and equipping them with everything they need to succeed has to be a vital practice of every great leader. It doesn’t happen just once.

That’s a huge failure in the working world, especially in corporate America: 

  • Great leaders come in.
  • They nail the vision.
  • They get people around it.
  • They stand for something.
  • But they only empower people at the beginning. They give some training and then they just disappear.

Training has to be consistent. Coaching has to be consistent. Equipping people to deal with the new challenges, the new tools, new technologies and competitive realities, that’s vital. We have to have that in place.

As a summary, we’ve been doing these practices: we envision a better future; we enlist other people to help shape that vision, to believe in that vision and to support that vision; we stand for something by embodying our own message; and we empower other people to be able to support and be able to win. 

Next, we have to evaluate.

Practice Five: Evaluate Ethics and Progress

It’s one of the hardest things we do in all of leadership. To evaluate the key people who are with us, their contributions. To evaluate their skills, needs and the ethics that are going on in our organization, in our team.

Are we being excellent and are we being ethical?

These are the questions we’re evaluating on.

 Are we being excellent and ethical as we are progressing, which would be the third question.

Are we progressing? If not, why?

Are we being ethical? If not, why?

Are people being excellent? If not, why?

These are the questions we have to ask. This is practice.

Evaluation… it’s like every day as a leader. You have to keep your thumb on the pulse to see hey, how are we doing? Are we alive? Are we moving forward?

That evaluation also brings up the incredible challenge that we face as leaders, which is to give honest, direct, immediate constructive feedback to those who are trying to influence and lead. To our collaborators, friends and followers, whatever word you use for them… it’s vital that we are paying attention and seeing when things are going off the rails, that we never check out. It’s a consistent process of checking in and seeing how we’re doing and paying attention, to really evaluating the progress of our mission.

Practice Six: Encourage

To encourage, to be the champion. To be the cheerleader. To be the person always motivating, inspiring, uplifting people.

A lot of leaders get their pet projects and they get excited about it and then they disappear. No, you need to encourage on a continual basis. You need to light people up.

You need to have it in your heart and in your soul that desire to want to lift people up, to lift them up, to get them up off their butts, to get them excited about things. If you can’t motivate them with your passion and example, then what are we doing?

You have to encourage people when this gets hard. When you’re working towards a mission, it gets hard. Longer term, the more people involved, the bigger the organization, the bigger the vision, the bigger the dream, the longer the duration to accomplish it, the more struggle, more challenge, more conflict, the more discord, the more disappointment, the more frustration, the more doubt, the more delay.

All those things happen and leaders have to deal with them.

The way they have to deal with it is always being that encouraging voice.

When the chips are down and it looks most bleak, you’re still that beam of light.

When it gets dark.

When it gets challenging.

When there’s conflict, turmoil and turbulent seas, you’re solid.

You’re somebody they know they can go to because you’re always going to turn a negative into a positive.

You’re always going to help them see the alternative you, the next step.

You’re going to champion people.

You’re going to champion the mission and the cause, that’s leadership.

That’s the six E’s of leadership: Envision, Enlist, Embody, Empower, Evaluate, Encourage.

What overlays all of this is a philosophy about what we’re doing: that it’s important to us; that there’s a purpose, a mission to it and that we feel that deeply within us is so powerful; and we honor, respect and love those we work with.

I try to never use the word ‘follower’. People aren’t following you, no, they’re actively engaged. They are collaborators.

When you get people to collaborate with you in all areas of these six E’s, you’re building leaders.

You’re building collaborators within the organization, within the team, with those who you are serving… a magic happens.

Now it’s not just you the leader, but it’s a group of us. We’re a pure set of leaders. We are the movers and shakers who are shaping and making this mission happen every single day. We love to work together. We have fun.

People are standing up and they now are helping to come up with a vision. They now are championing and cheering on, bringing in enlisting other people. They are standing for something. They’re living that value and truth. They now are empowering other people and championing the cause. They are your eyes and ears, evaluating how the organization or mission is going. They are now encouraging it so it doesn’t just ride on your shoulders.

When we do that right then we have this thing called leadership.


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