Interview With Award Winning Leadership Expert David Cottrell
David CottrellDavid Cottrell is an award winning leadership expert with over 30 years of experience in the field. He is also internationally known speaker, business executive and best-selling author - we were lucky enough to have a moment of his time to discuss leadership and his upcoming book, The First Two Rules of Leadership: Don't be Stupid, Don't be a Jerk.

As a best-selling business author of 25 highly acclaimed books, David has been a featured expert on public television and has shared his leadership philosophy and lessons with more than 250,000 managers and leaders worldwide - and he has kindly shared some of his renowned tips and advice with us today.

So, without further ado, I'd like to introduce today's guest: David Cottrell.

Hi David, thanks so much for stopping by the Activia Training blog. Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Thanks for your time. My career has been an incredible venture. After college, I began my career in sales and was promoted into leadership positions at Xerox. Then, unexpectedly, I was recruited to FedEx to help launch a new division. Both of those experiences were terrific for me. Not many people have the privilege to work for two Malcolm Baldrige Award winning companies to begin their career. I was blessed to learn from the best.

After FedEx, I worked as a CEO for a struggling apparel company. There I learned how to run a small - $30M – business. It was a turbulent three years as we stabilized the company.

I began my own company, CornerStone Leadership Institute, in 1996.

You are, what we would call, an industry thought leader – how did you become so interested in leadership and management?

I have always been intrigued and tried to understand why some people were more successful in leadership than others. I studied my peers, others in my industry, and people from various backgrounds to try to understand the success patterns.

Your upcoming book, The First Two Rules of Leadership: Don't be Stupid, Don't be a Jerk is due for release next month. Could you tell us a little bit about it?

The First Two Rules of LeadershipI am very excited about this book! It attacks a complex subject – leadership – and breaks it down into two simple rules… Don’t be Stupid and Don’t be a Jerk.

What I have discovered, along with many other leadership sources, is that people generally do not leave an organization. They leave the person who is supposed to be leading them. Those people who quit and leave or those who quit and stay decided somewhere along the way that their leader would never meet their needs.  They conclude that the unknown somewhere else is better than the known of their current position.

Most leaders do not wake up and want to make stupid decisions or be a jerk. They just get caught up in leaderland and forget the basics. The good news is that something can be done and you can take action to prevent people from quitting you! You can create a positive climate where your team will flourish in their jobs. You can make smarter decisions. You can lead with respect and dignity - beginning right now.

The First Two Rules of Leadership: Don’t be Stupid, Don’t be a Jerk provides a clear path to becoming the leader people want to follow. It gives actionable advice for evolving into a prominent leader who can attract, inspire, and elevate any type of organizational team.

You’ve written a number of leadership books in the past, what makes this one different from the rest?

The First Two Rules of Leadership is similar to my best-seller, Monday Morning Leadership. Both of those books are simple but filled with applicable actions that a leader can take if they choose. I tried to lighten up the leadership subject by exposing that most people make some decisions that appear to be stupid and sometimes we all act like a jerk. The difference is the frequency of those actions and how quickly you recover from them. You can effectively lead with class!

How does an effective leader help improve workplace dynamics?

Pay attention! People do not like surprises and leaders do not react well to surprises. Everyone has a few basic needs. They need to know: 1. What is expected? 2. How am I doing? 3. Does anybody care? 4. How is our team doing? 5. What difference are we making?  And, 6. Is my leader worth following?

If you will pay attention to how you are answering those questions, your team will get on board with you. If you leave out your answer to any of those questions, you may find yourself on a team without anyone to lead.

Do you think everyone has the potential to be a leader? Or are some people simply natural born leaders?

People are born with some natural leadership traits. Some people are naturally more charismatic than others. Some people look more impressive than others. However, for long-term, sustained results, leaders have to develop specific skills. The skills of communication, compassion, clarity, sensitivity, and synchronization all have to be developed. Regardless of your background, you can learn those skills and become a great leader. That is what The First Two Rules is all about.

David Cottrell portrait
What mistakes do you often see new leaders and managers make?

I think the most common mistake is not realizing that you need your team more than your team needs you. That is a difficult truth to swallow. Of course they need you, but collectively you need them a lot more. Your job is to allow them to be their best.

I think the second most common mistake is not admitting to yourself that you need to address performance issues quickly. Most people think they can “turn around” a performance issue and many times you can. However, there will come a time when you have done all you can and you must address the issue. Having the wrong person on your team is the greatest barrier to your success.  Much more than anything a competitor could do to you and most of the time the problem will not disappear on its own.

Do you have a leadership memory that will always stand out to you?

I am probably like most in that my greatest lessons were after what I perceived as my greatest failure. I had to learn perseverance and patience the hard way and I continue to work on “hanging in there” long enough to win.

For leaders interested in seeking a mentor, what is the best way to start that relationship?

First, find the type of person who you want to be like. Monday Morning Leadership is about a mentor and his relationship with someone who is struggling. I recommend reading that book and the steps to a positive mentor relationship will be obvious.

What is one quick tip you would give to someone who wants to quickly become a more effective leader?

Don’t be stupid. Don’t be a jerk. Make well informed decisions and achieve extraordinary results with class!

Finally, is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?

One truth that I discovered a long time ago that made a positive difference in my life is that regardless of your current situation there is always something that can be done and there is something that you can do. The next move is always yours, make it your best.

Thanks for your time, David - and good luck with the book launch!

David's book, The Two Rules of Leadership: Don't be Stupid, Don't be a Jerk is out next month, and is available to pre-order on Amazon, as well as other online retailers.