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Leadership

The Leadership 'Secret' That Smart Leaders Have Known for a Century

Amazing wisdom from more than 100 years ago that you can use today.
The Leadership 'Secret' That Smart Leaders Have Known for a Century
Image credit: Tara Moore | Getty Images
Guest Writer
President at New Light Learning and Development Inc.
4 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

In the early 1900s, a professional speaker traveled the nation giving one speech, and it was so popular, he ended up giving it 6,152 times by 1925. Keep in mind, this was in an era of no radio and no television. People would go to the theater to see a speaker as evening entertainment.  

That forgotten speech was very critical to anyone in a leadership or a founder role because it holds within it the secret to great leadership. It is the one that many leaders overlook completely.

Related: 5 Easy Things You Can Do to Be a Better Manager

Who was this speaker, and what did he talk about? His name was Russell Conwell, and he was a famous orator -- the term for speakers back then -- of his day and ended up being the founder of Temple University. His speech was called Acres of Diamonds. In the speech, he told the fictional tale of a man who traveled the world in search of diamonds. The man never found diamonds but after he passed away, the new owner found a diamond mine on the property.

What is the secret everyone can learn from? The riches we are looking for are right in our own backyard. Here are some ideas for you if you are in a leadership role or the founder of a company to develop and polish the diamonds all around you.

Mine your talent.

I think the biggest asset you have is the underdeveloped potential of the people on your team. There are bright, talented, ambitious people who want to do well. They just need to be developed. You need to invest time, effort and resources into developing them. They are your acres of diamonds. As Conwell said, “True greatness is often unrecognized.”

Related: How to Make the Most of the Talent on Your Team

Believe in them.

One very impactful technique you can use in a leadership role is to invest in people by believing in them. Tell them that you see talent in them, that they have tremendous potential and that you believe in their talents, maybe even more than they do. As Sam Walton once said, “Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it's amazing what they can accomplish.” You will be amazed how much people can rise to the occasion and grow if you believe in them. This builds self-esteem, increases morale and increases retention. Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s, started out working for Kentucky Fried Chicken and its founder, Harland Sanders. He had someone who believed in him at a young age, which led to his future success.  

Give them developmental assignments.

One of the best ways to polish the diamonds on your team is to give them projects which help them grow and develop their skills and experience. Pick projects that will help them stretch and be challenged. This also helps build their confidence in their abilities. As Harvey Firestone once said, “The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

Related: Half of All Companies Admit Their Employee Development Programs Are Outdated. Is Yours?

Ask about their dreams.

Another great way to inspire and motivate team members is to ask them what they want professionally -- short, mid- and long-term -- and the make a promise to help them develop the skills and knowledge they need to get there. Have this discussion with each team member on a regular and consistent basis. Don’t be surprised if you are the only manager who has ever asked them this question. Many leaders don’t take the time to develop people or ask them what they want. This question shows you care about them, and shows you are a committed leader.  As Tony Dungee once said, “The secret to success is good leadership, and good leadership is all about making the lives of your team members or workers better.”

If you incorporate all these ideas into your daily role as a leader, you will get better results and respect from your team. As James Buchanan once said, “The test of leadership is not to put greatness into humanity, but to elicit it, for the greatness is already there.” You may even say the diamonds are already there.

This Leadership Asset Is the Key to Building a Team of Peak Performers