The Van Trump Report

Can You Identify a Leader? … This Will Make You Think!

We’ve been having a lot of talk inside our office as of late about leaders and followers. I’ve been extremely lucky to have many great mentors and leaders in my life, both at younger age and during my professional career. Interestingly, all of the most successful people I’ve come in contact with during my life seem to have very similar perspectives about leaders. I wanted to include a few thoughts that have stuck with me through the years as well as some characteristic Jeff Bezo’s and his team at Amazon look for. Please feel free to keep and pass along to your children and grandchildren. I think it will help give them a perspective of what top CEO’s and big level Coaches are looking for.

Must Identify the Dogs:

I had a coach once tell me that very few dogs are ever born or raised with the qualities need to be a lead dogs on a sled team. He said finding the right lead dogs is the most critical part of building a team, lead dogs set the pace and keep the other dogs on the trail. They are the dogs that respond to the musher’s commands. Lead dogs must be highly alert, intelligent and pay attention to great detail so they can find and follow the trail when it is covered over with snow. They do so through smell, sensing where other teams have passed, and feel, by feeling with their feet the packed trail beneath the loose snow covering. They also keep the other dogs in the team moving by pulling the gangline tight. Interestingly, the best lead dogs also poses a keen sense of instinct and always trust that feeling. Just remember, not all dogs are cut out to be lead dogs. It’s the coaches job to identify and find everyones best role! Swing dogs are positioned directly behind the lead dogs, the swing dogs help steer the team around corners. Team dogs are considered the team’s brawn. They pull the sled and maintain team speed. Wheel dogs are the two dogs closest to the sled. They are usually the largest of the dogs because they are the first to take on the weight of the load being pulled, especially during starts and climbs. Wheel dogs should be even-tempered as they must withstand the constant slamming of the sled runners behind them. You have to make certain you know what type of dogs you need at every position then identify those strings and weaknesses. Many businesses fail because they have players or in this case dogs in the wrong position.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way:

I was told many times throughout my life that I need to quickly identify my position in any task. Was I going to be the leader or a follower. Remember, ever team, business, family, etc… need both to be successful. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is a very bad mix. You have to identify quickly if you are going to be the clear leader. That means taking fully responsibility from inception to completion, not just offering up a few ideas and thoughts that get the project or group off task. If you don’t want full responsibility then you must quickly poison yourself as a follower and do your absolute best to help the leader most quickly and effectively complete the objective. Too often in business, sports and even relationships, people don’t identify their role and get stuck in the middle. This is clearly the worst position you can get yourself in. You have to make the choice, either lead, follow, or get out of the way…

Be a Beast in the Red-Zone:

A serious leadership fall is the inability to finish. All great leaders finish strong. Too often in life people come up with all kinds of great ideas and concepts, but they fail to get the ball across the goalie. As in football, it becomes much more difficult to get the ball into the end-zone the closer you get. Every great coach will tell you it’s very easy too move the ball between the 20’s. However, the money is made with those teams and players that can finish the drive and get the ball into the end-zone. Unfortunately, many people who think they are leaders, are not, simply because they never finish! Great leaders turn up the heat and are at their best when it becomes the most difficult. You have to be a beast inside the red-zone (from the 20-yard line to the end-zone).

Below are some Amazon leadership principles that I’m told are posted on their HR site.

Customer Obsession:

Leaders start with the customer and work backwards. They work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust. Although leaders pay attention to competitors, they obsess over customers.


Leaders are owners. They think long term and don’t sacrifice long-term value for short-term results. They act on behalf of the entire company, beyond just their own team. They never say, “That’s not my job.”

Invent and Simplify:

Leaders expect and require innovation and invention from their teams and always find ways to simplify. They are externally aware, look for new ideas from everywhere, and are not limited by “not invented here.” As we do new things, we accept that we may be misunderstood for long periods of time.

Are right, a Lot:

Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts. They seek diverse perspectives and work to disconfirm their beliefs.

Learn and be Curious:

Leaders are never finished learning and always seek to improve themselves. They are curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

Hire and Develop the Best:

Leaders raise the performance bar with every hire and promotion. They recognize exceptional talent, and willingly move them throughout the organization. Leaders develop leaders and take seriously their role in coaching others. We work on behalf of our people to invent mechanisms for development like Career Choice.

Insist on the Highest Standards:

Leaders have relentlessly high standards–many people may think these standards are unreasonably high. Leaders are continually raising the bar and drive their teams to deliver high-quality products, services, and processes. Leaders ensure that defects do not get sent down the line, and that problems are fixed so they stay fixed.

Think Big:

Thinking small is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Leaders create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. They think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

Bias for Action:

Speed matters in business. Many decisions and actions are reversible and do not need extensive study. We value calculated risk taking.


Accomplish more with less. Constraints breed resourcefulness, self-sufficiency, and invention. There are no extra points for growing headcount, budget size, or fixed expense.

Earn Trust:

Leaders listen attentively, speak candidly, and treat others respectfully. They are vocally self-critical, even when doing so is awkward or embarrassing. Leaders do not believe their or their team’s body odor smells of perfume. They benchmark themselves and their teams against the best.

Dive Deep:

Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.

Have backbone:

Disagree and Commit: Leaders are obligated to respectfully challenge decisions when they disagree, even when doing so is uncomfortable or exhausting. Leaders have conviction and are tenacious. They do not compromise for the sake of social cohesion. Once a decision is determined, they commit wholly.

Deliver Results:

Leaders focus on the key inputs for their business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion. Despite setbacks, they rise to the occasion and never settle.

If you are looking to challenge your thoughts and perspectives as well as draw on Kevin’s 25 years of market and business experience, click HERE for a free — no obligation — trial of the Van Trump Report

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