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Dr. Gerald D. Bell teaches at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School and is a highly regarded leadership expert and consultant to major business organizations in the United States and abroad. Through his company, Bell Leadership, he offers professional development programs and services designed to create world-class leaders.
Dr. Bell is the author of The Achievers and co-authored The Carolina Way with Dean Smith and John Kilgo. He is currently working on Great Leaders, Great Results.
The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching (with Dean Smith) (2004)
The Achievers (1970s)
from The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life in Coaching
I give talks on leadership and team building to all sorts of companies around the world, and I try to do as much listening as talking. While every walk of life has its own unique issues, the elements of successful leadership remain remarkably consistent across the entire range of organizations, business-related and non-business-related alike. Dean Smith’s success as a leader is particularly widely relevant because his program taught as its core that the fundamentals of good basketball are the fundamentals of good character.
But I’m not Dean Smith! Isn’t it easier to learn how to diagram a trick play than to develop character? Sure it is, but if you can apply his philosophies in your own work and aren’t looking for shortcuts or quick, easy solutions, Dean Smith’s program has much to offer you.
All great leaders know you can’t just talk about good character; you have to live it. To become an extraordinary leader, you must build your own personality skills. This come first. You must be what you want your followers to become. No shortcuts, no magic, no easy formula. Effective leaders build themselves fundamentally. They develop healthy personality characteristics. They love people, care about them, are interested in them, and enjoy interacting with them. Instead of avoiding people, they move toward them. They become good psychologists. They learn to work well with all kinds of people.
Good leaders don’t fool themselves either. They can work with a large variety of people , but not with everyone. Some bosses may say of someone they don’t like, “Well, I don’t like him or enjoy being around him, but I can make myself work with him. After all, I don’t have to go out to dinner with him.” Don’t deceive yourself because that line of thinking usually doesn’t work well. A leader doesn’t want to see such a person, much less work with him. If the boss doesn’t like employees well enough to enjoy going to dinner with them, he or she shouldn’t hire those people in the first place. Running a business or a professions is hard enough when the boss likes his or her employees. Why complicate matters? It’s almost impossible to respect someone whom you don’t like or don’t respect.
The greatest leaders I’ve known are absolutely devoted to their people. There’s no way to fake it. They put their people in the center of their thinking. They treat their employees with dignity and respect, and they don’t embarrass them or berate them. Even though they have a knack of bringing out the best in their employees, conflicts still arise, and turf battles surface. It’s inevitable when you’re leading human beings. Effective leaders know how to referee these conflicts and render fair, quick decisions. They quickly pick up clues that allow them to anticipate problems and deal with them before they rage out of control and damage their companies. They’re able to do this because they have humility and effective communication skills.
A leader won’t accomplish much, or even be happy, unless he or she is wiling to compete. Leaders should love competition and not be stifled by it. They must give everything they have to achieve their personal and companies’ goals, as long as it’s done with honesty and integrity and within the rules. Good leaders enjoy putting themselves on the line. Instead of backing off and becoming cautious, they raise their own level of work when the competition raises its. They have a passion to succeed, but they don’t believe winning or losing defines their worth as human beings. While winning is the goal in business, effective leaders understand that some losses are natural. They don’t give up because of failures. In fact, they are uncommonly resilient and become more determined to succeed the next time. Setbacks do not devastate them.
Modesty is also a trait of good leaders. They accept criticism and understand their limitations; it helps immunize them against flattery and the egomania that success can breed. Good leaders love sharing credit for success and understand why it’s important. They routinely deflect credit to others, downplay their own accomplishments, and admit to their mistakes. They take blame for the losses and give employees credit for the victories. Effective leaders do not believe that they’re more important or valuable than others. They communicate this by their actions, treating others with respect, sharing credit, being able to laugh at themselves, and resisting any urge to brag. Modest leaders put their colleagues and employees at ease. It’s no coincidence that Dean Smith is among the most modest men I’ve ever met.