Bailey Urges Conference Attendees to Lead Amidst Uncertainty

Wednesday's ICMA Annual Conference keynote shares core principles for developing leadership insights and moving others forward.

ARTICLE | Oct 25, 2017
Simon T. Bailey

From Humble Beginnings…
Simon T. Bailey, life coach, executive adviser, career mentor, and ICMA’s Wednesday morning 2017 Annual Conference plenary speaker, took 10 years to earn an undergraduate degree because his parents were so poor, they couldn’t afford to send him to college after his first year at Morehouse College—or to bring him home.

Despite such obstacles as these, he went on to become a leader of the Disney Institute and to found the Brilliance Institute, a company created to equip leaders with the tools they need to inspire and motivate an organization’s most important asset: its employees.

Sniff the Leadership Pixie Dust and Inspire Others
“Hire for attitude, train for success” was the mantra at Disney University, where Bailey says he first sniffed the leadership pixie dust. He experienced his initial “V8 moment" when he realized that Disney didn’t just regularly send him out in the park with a broom and a dustpan to sweep the streets. They did it to force him to connect with families that had spent on average, $10,000 to come to the theme park. Disney hired Bailey not to do a job but to create a moment.

“A job is what you’re paid to do. Release your brilliance is what you’re made to do,” Bailey enthusiastically claimed. “Brilliance is your insight, your potential, your genius, and brilliance is released in an environment where you are celebrated rather than tolerated.” He went on to say that environment breeds brilliant leaders, and what brilliant leaders do is lead in the moment. A moment creates momentum and momentum creates monumental results. There are 19,200 moments in a day.

How do we begin to understand how to lead in the moment? The job of a leader is not to motivate. It’s to inspire individuals to discover themselves while they follow you. Bailey cited four top challenges for today’s chief executives:

  1. Culture: What is the culture that we create every single day? 
  2. Leadership bandwidth: Brilliant leaders recognize that they can release their brilliance to move further along in life.
  3. Workforce capacity: Know how to move an organization forward. Understand how to help people upscale their lives.
  4. Performance management: Performance management as we know it today is dead. In a world where we want broadband results, we need to stop using dial-up methods.

One outdated method is the annual/semi-annual employee engagement survey. Although at one time useful, over the years employees have become professional engagement survey takers who no longer tell the truth about how they feel about the organization for which they work.

Bailey suggests that leaders instead take more frequent “tiny pulses” of the workplace by putting out a question every week or month to see what the responses are to that particular issue. He also suggests that every quarter, brilliant leaders will ask their employees four important questions:

  • Where have I been? Allows us to ask ourselves what is really going on with our lives, our businesses, etc., and how we can take it to the next level and not just settle for the status quo.
  • Why am I here? We need to gain insight into what makes us come alive every single day and what we’re supposed to be doing.
  • What can I do? Enables you to discover that when you find your lane, you chose to let go of all of the things that no longer works for you, and you enter into a new level of relationships because you are now clear about what it is that you can do.
  • Where are you going? Some of us do a better job of planning our vacations than we do our lives. We all need to develop a strategic life plan for moving forward.

From Déjà vu to VuJa Dė
The biggest threat to innovation, according to Bailey, is internal politics and organizational culture, which often won’t accept failure or ideas from the outside and which cannot or will not change.

We must move from Déjà vu to VuJa Dė, Bailey went on to say, by letting go of what’s comfortable and convenient and embracing new ways of doing things (change or be changed by change). He shared the story of an academic colleague who taught in a poor district of a large urban community and who refused to be discouraged when she was told that the system had no money she could use to provide her students with enriching academic opportunities. The teacher eventually partnered with 350 private-sector firms to develop a series of unique educational experiences for students, which included a pet-care/veterinary school that provided inexpensive pet care to the community while training students to become vets.  

Bailey encouraged conference attendees to shift their brilliance paradigms by removing their watch or other piece of jewelry from one arm and putting it on the opposite arm. “How does that feel?” he challenged the audience. “And what time is it?” If we’re going to experience brilliant living, we have to understand how and when to accept change and own the moment.

7 Traits of Brilliant Leaders

Bailey discussed how conference attendees should:

  1. Be present.
  2. Connect. Stop tapping and communicating primarily or exclusively through email—and start yakking (talking to people face to face).
  3. Be consistent.
  4. Build relationships. They are the currency of the future. Take time to build them.
  5. Cultivate global thinking.
  6. Become an authentic listener. Become a listening leader. Be emotionally available.
  7. Be curious. We must have intellectual curiosity. We don’t need to have all the answers, but we need to ask the right questions and know where to go to for answers.

Bailey left the ICMA audience with this sage piece of advice: “Build your life around who will be at your funeral, because when you die, your job will be gone.”



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