This article originally appeared in the March 2016 edition of INVISION.

In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, author John C. Maxwell shared one of my favorite maxims about leadership: “He who thinks he leads, but has no followers, is only taking a walk.”

What does that mean? It means that true leaders do not command excellence, they build excellence. Excellence is “being all you can be” when it comes to doing what is right for your practice. It’s about leading so others will follow.

Plenty of people have this process backward. To reach excellence, you must first be a person of character. Your practice will not achieve excellence by figuring out where you want to go, then having staff do whatever they have to do in order to get the job done while you hope that they’ll act with good character.

Excellence starts with engaging in the entire process of leadership. Character develops over time, and when you are a person of character, people see it in your actions. A person with strong character shows drive, energy, determination, self-discipline, willpower and nerve. They see what they want and they go after it. A person of weak character shows none of these traits. They do not know what they want. Their traits are disorganized; they vacillate and are inconsistent. It’s no surprise they can’t attract followers.

However, strong personalities can have good or bad character, and simply being strong doesn’t automatically mean being good. Every eyecare practice needs leaders with strong and good characteristics, people who will guide them to the future. To be an effective leader, people must have trust in you and be sold on your vision. In any organization, a leader’s actions set the pace. This behavior wins trust, loyalty, and ensures the organization’s continued vitality.

Here are five traits that, lived consistently, will help people believe in you as a leader:

1. Honesty: This is the foundational trait. If people have seen you are honest, they’ll put their trust and confidence in you. No one expects perfection, but people do expect honesty and integrity.

2. Competent: You have an obligation to know what you are doing. If you lack knowledge or ability in a particular area, it’s OK. You can hire people who are competent in areas where you are weak.

3. Forward-looking: Leadership means setting annual, quarterly and monthly goals for the practice, then breaking those down by area or department. Review your results at least monthly and make sure everyone in the organization understands and buys into your vision for the practice.

4. Fair-minded: Demonstrate through your decisions and the way you treat your team that you are fair and give people the benefit of the doubt.

5. Sincerity: Lead by example and encourage your associates to mirror your behaviors. Ask yourself: “If everyone behaves like me, if they are as committed as me, if they are as patient and compassionate as me, if they communicate like me, would we have the kind of practice that I envision?”

Finding and keeping good people is very difficult. Getting team members to work together to provide consistent, quality care is even more difficult. There are many things that you can’t control as the owner of an eyecare business, so focus on the main thing you can control. By demonstrating strong leadership and good character, you’ll attract people who share those traits — people who are eager to follow you and strengthen your business.

With more than 25 years of experience in the ophthalmic and optometric practice industry, John D. Marvin writes about marketing, management and education at the blog. He is president of Texas State Optical, a member-owned cooperative of 120 independent, professional optometry practices. Contact him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..