Leadership Lessons from Robin Sharma

Last week I attended a symposium at the IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland led by Robin Sharma, a globally recognized authority on leadership. Robin is the author of 11 international best-selling books, perhaps most notably The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari and, most recently, The Leader Who Had No Title.

It was great to see Robin live, not only because of his inspirational message, but also because he is an old friend. He and I used to work together in the same law firm in Toronto many years ago. It was wonderful to sit down with him after the symposium and catch up.

Robin Sharma

Robin’s talk was about leading without a title. At the heart of great leadership lies the idea of positively inspiring others. But in order to touch others, one must first develop one’s inner self. As Robin said, “You can’t celebrate another human being unless you have first celebrated yourself.” We cannot help others develop unless we have made the commitment to be relentless in our own personal development.

I would not qualify anything that Robin said as revolutionary and Robin is the first to admit it. It’s just common sense. Then again, as Voltaire and Mark Twain both said, common sense isn’t so common. Sometimes we need people like Robin Sharma to remind us of the fundamentals. “Leadership,” Robin notes, “is simple. But it’s not easy.”

The lessons that Robin teaches are highly relevant for public speakers. Every time you stand up to speak in front of people, you are leading. Think about it. People are giving up their time to listen to you. You are being given an opportunity – a gift – to inform or entertain or persuade or inspire them. If that’s not leadership, then I don’t know what is.

While I cannot cover everything that Robin Sharma discussed, I have set out below some of my key takeaway points from his symposium about leadership, and how I believe they apply to public speakers. First, I list his “Seven Devotions” of leadership.

The Seven Devotions of Leadership

  1. Leaders are ridiculously good at what they do.
  1. They are ferociously curious.
  1. Leaders balance artistry with engineering.
  1. They leave others better than they found them.
  1. Leaders run marathons, not sprints. They are in it for the long run.
  1. They edit out what does not work and amplify what does.
  1. Leaders have their video in sync with their audio; i.e. they have integrity.

So how do leaders become (and remain) leaders? Set out below are five of the habits that Robin says great leaders practice and cultivate on a consistent basis. Following each habit is my assessment of how it is relevant for public speakers.

1. Leaders accept absolute personal responsibility

Robin says that leaders have a “no excuses mentality”. They don’t point the finger at others when things don’ work out as planned. They willlingly accept responsibility for their actions, their people and their results.

As public speakers, we are responsible for ensuring that our speeches and presentations are as good as they can possibly be. We are responsible for understanding our audience’s interests and needs, for preparing an appropriate talk, for being at the venue on time, for ensuring that everything works, for having a backup plan. We often have to rely on others, especially for logistical matters, but we cannot abdicate our responsibility to our audience.

2. Leaders pay obsessive attention to detail

Leaders constantly pay attention to what they are doing, whether at work or in their personal lives. The devil is in the details, as the saying goes, and for leaders, no detail is too small.

As speakers, we must also be rigorous in our attention to detail. Does the presentation cover the key points? Am I keeping to time? Is the audience attentive? Do I need to adjust my delivery for better engagement? Is the sound system working properly? Can everyone hear? Is the lighting right for the slide show? Am I making the best use of the stage? These are just some of the many details of which speakers must constantly be aware.

3. Leaders always deliver outrageous value

A while back I wrote a post based on an article by Seth Godin about “phoning it in”; i.e., doing something in an uncommitted, half-hearted way. Like good leaders, good speakers don’t just go through the motions. Good speakers never phone in their presentations. They prepare andleave the audience feeling that they received outrageous value for their time and money.

4. Leaders never stop improving

Leadership is like that old Nike commercial: “There is no finish line.” If we do not improve, we stagnate. Leaders never cease in their efforts to get better at what they do.

Good speakers are the same. They constantly strive to improve. To do so, they analyze their performances in order to build on what worked well and to change what didn’t. They watch other great speakers and read books on public speaking and presentations. Throughout, they practice, experiment, learn and grow.

5. Leaders keep moving forward

There are parallels between this habit and the one above, but there is a distinction. For me, this habit means that leaders do not quit when they encounter obstacles or face setbacks, as we all do from time to time. They learn from negative experiences and use that knowledge to keep moving forward with renewed energy and confidence.

Public speakers must be relentless when it comes to moving forward, particularly when they start out. The beginning of one’s public speaking experience is usually the most frightening because that is when the learning curve is the steepest. Forgotten lines; uncontrollable nerves; uncertainty about how to carry oneself on stage; self-doubt – all these things and more can kill a speaking career in its infancy if the speaker does not have the determination and the gumption to keep moving forward.

And as any seasoned public speaker will tell you, the learning curve never flattens out entirely. There are always bumps in the road. Don’t quit. Everyone who has ever spoken in public has gone through the same thing. Everyone. Get back in saddle. Try again. Keep moving forward.

So there you have it. Some thoughts on leadership lessons from Robin Sharma and how they apply to public speakers. If you want to learn more, I encourage you to visit Robin’s website. There is a wealth of information and free resources there. And, if you have not done so, pick up one of Robin’s many great books. They are worth the price.

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9 Replies to “Leadership Lessons from Robin Sharma”

  1. Hi John,
    Great post by the way.
    Robin Sharma knows how to motivate and inspire that’s for sure.
    I used to say to my work teams when asked about leadership, that first and foremost, “Leadership is a Verb not a Noun”.

  2. Really enjoyed this article as well as stumbling upon your blog/site! Great reads and articles! I just started blogging on similar interests as well and look forward to working my way towards your success. Cheers!

  3. Thanks John for summarising the key points. Robin has been truly inspirational and motivational force for me. I have read most of his books.

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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

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TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

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CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

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Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

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World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

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HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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