Learning to Lead--It's About People

Brigham Dickinson once sat in the operating chair of a dermatologist who broke all the rules. He talked to him about hot topics like politics and religion and even proceeded to cut him open without gloves on—but Dickinson wasn’t fazed by this. Why? Because he liked the man. He felt like his dermatologist cared about and wanted the best for him. This professional understood what was most important to his practice: relationships.

Brigham Dickinson is the President and Founder of Power Selling Pros, a customer service and call center training company. He is also the author of “Patterned After Excellence: Pursuing Truth in Work and Life.” Dickinson has dedicated his career to teaching what he calls “WOW Culture,” a focus on leading by developing relationships with teams and customers. In his Global Perspectives Summit address, he shares these important leadership techniques.

Craving connection

In a today’s world, where touch screens are often more commonplace than handshakes, far too many of us face degrading interpersonal skills. At the same time, we often feel a sad longing for human interaction. In fact, 15% of Baby Boomers, 20% of Gen-Xers, and 30% of Millennials report feeling lonely. Strong leaders can change that.

According to Steven R. Covey, people need two things to feel happy and fulfilled: relationships and accomplishments. These two desires, when met, help individuals feel valued and needed, which allows them to stay open and comfortable—just like Brigham Dickinson did with his dermatologist. Likewise, strong leaders can help those around them by creating opportunities for both meaningful relationships and fulfilling accomplishments. 

Prioritize people

Dickinson encourages business leaders to remember that despite the thrill of great sales numbers and new product lines, people are our most important asset. He brings the argument back to those primary business goals, reminding managers and employees that “if you’re able to build relationships with people, you’ll have a lot of customers as well.” In the sections below, we’ll explore key ways that aspiring leaders can build up those around them, and by doing so, improve the success and culture of their workplace.

Create purpose

In his discussion of the importance of creating purpose for others, Dickinson begins by sharing a story of failure—a time when he hadn’t done just that. He once joined his son’s wrestling team on a conditioning, team building run in the mountains. The boys all began to question who could win in a race—Dickinson or the coach? And with that, the race was on. 

Dickinson took off sprinting down the trail, turning the run into a race. He trailed the coach for a while, passed him, and kept on running. Eventually, Dickinson reached the end and celebrated, having won by about 30 seconds. But when he turned around, Dickinson realized that he couldn’t see any of the kids—and he knew that he’d made a mistake. Rather than focusing on what outcome would benefit the morale of his son’s team, he had turned the run into an event about himself.

Encourage unity

Likewise, most of us at some point feel that inner drive to win. Deep down, we want to be happy, feel brave, and be accepted—and we know that winning often achieves those things! It feels good, and there is definitely a time and a place when winning is a good thing. We need to learn to differentiate when we must put the larger, team purpose before our personal need to win. When Dickinson beat his son’s coach in the race, he forgot about the greater purpose of the exercise. Though he won fairly, he realized in hindsight that his actions hadn’t contributed to the unity of the team—which was why they’d gone on the run to begin with.

Continually putting ourselves first ultimately leaves us unhappy. In fact, the feeling of working with a team for a larger purpose is part of what we crave so desperately from human interaction. Leaders have a responsibility to create this larger purpose for those around them, and then stay actively involved to make sure that every team member feels involved. Having this purpose, this focus on something “bigger,” helps to prevent individuals from caving to selfish tendencies that ultimately make them unhappy. Purpose can help participants care less about money, time, or the difficulty of a task and instead help them focus on the big picture.

Focus on moments that matter

As leaders, each of us will encounter a myriad of turning moments each day when we can positively impact others. These opportunities are countless, but we can easily miss them if we’re too focused on personal goals (getting that promotion, for example). Instead, remember to keep the bigger picture in mind—mindfully choose to recognize each moment as it fits into that bigger picture, and focus in on those moments that matter to your team’s end goal. 

Leaders who remember this concept can use those moments to develop relationships and help others feel accomplished. They can become moments for connection, for congratulation, and for teaching. 

Teach truth 

One of the best ways to form relationships and help others feel accomplished is to teach true principles. When someone applies and cultivates these true principles, they reap positive rewards. Dickinson believes firmly that “truth is absolute.” It’s like a seed, he explains. If it’s planted and nurtured, it will grow into exactly what it was meant to. Likewise, when leaders teach true principles (like hard work and service) and help others to plant and cultivate those principles, company culture will transform, and results—like productivity and trust—will quickly follow.

Dickinson explains further that it’s important to act with others to cultivate those principles, not just to talk about results. Many leaders think that if they want to change others’ behavior, they need to teach and talk about better behavior. In reality, it’s important to understand that behavior is simply a manifestation of someone’s inner desires. No amount of talking about truth or behavior will change these desires; rather, leaders need to focus on helping others to change their inner desires—but, how? 

According to Dickinson, this is why it’s paramount to focus on the why. Why is your team working on a particular project? Why did you come together to create this company? Why does this project matter to you? By focusing on the “why,” leaders can tap into the true motivation in those around them. This process can even help others to change their inner desires. Once those inner desires become refocused (or changed), individuals will be able to execute the “what,” developing healthier relationships and becoming more internally motivated to accomplish difficult tasks.


Being an influential leader begins by recognizing that people are the most important asset. With that understanding, great leaders can know where they ought to focus their time: in helping their followers form relationships and feel accomplished. This can be done as leaders create and communicate a purpose greater than the small minutia that surround us. These leaders can focus on finding moments that matter—moments they can use to impact others’ lives. Leaders can teach truth to their mentees in order to change their very nature. With a people-oriented perspective, leaders can make an impact that goes beyond the financials. As Dickinson says, “it’s not winning that matters, it’s about how many we can bring to the finish line.”

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