I Am A Leader: Thoughts on Leadership from Tony Aguilar

Welcome to the I Am A Leader blog series, featuring leaders who make a difference. Today’s guest blogger is Tony Aguilar. Tony is a former professional poker player turned socialpreneur. His passion is creating businesses and organizations that tackle social and economic problems. He is founder of Amiti Advising, America’s first financial planning firm for Gen-Y, and Campus Slice, a social funding platform that helps students raise money for tuition.

Amiti Advising Twitter, Amiti Advising Facebook, Campus Slice Twitter, Campus Slice Facebook, Blog – http://www.pursuing.it

“An inspirational leader gets people dreaming.” — Marco Illi

I was six years old in my backyard, holding a bat with tears in my eyes. My dad was winding up to throw the next pitch and I stepped out of the way and dropped my bat. “I can’t do it,” I said, frustrated, because I could not make contact with the ball. I had to learn how to hit off a pitcher if I wanted to play with kids two years older than me. He looked at me and said, “Yes you can. I know you can.”

There was something in my dad’s eyes that instilled this extreme confidence in me. His look was so powerful that it keeps this memory so clear in my mind.

Throughout my life, my father provided words of wisdom with this same look in his eyes. I’ve carried this confidence and optimism my whole life. At times it could be mistaken for arrogance, but it is pure faith in my abilities. Without it, I would not be where I am today.

It took me two decades to finally realize what this was. I could see that he believed in me with everything in his soul and it gave me the confidence I needed to accomplish anything I was pursuing.

You can see the same look in the eyes of the world’s true leaders. Look at a speech by Martin Luther King Jr., an interview with Steve Jobs, or a pre-game talk by Ray Lewis. You can see the passion shining through their eyes and feel the belief they have in their heart. It’s mesmerizing.

Too many leaders try to “manage” and “motivate” their team. They read books, attend seminars, and try tactics to influence their team, but get frustrated when these things don’t work. They are missing the most vital piece of influencing others.

Thinking back, I’ve always been a leader in the traditional sense (school president, team captain, founder of multiple organizations and businesses, yadda yadda), but most of these endeavors were to fulfill self-gratifying goals.

It wasn’t until I started Amiti Advising where my leadership philosophy truly emerged. Amiti is the first company in the US to provide affordable financial planning for GenY – young professionals and recent college grads.

Building a new business from scratch can be a daunting task, so I immersed myself in articles, interviews, and books of people who I looked up to. I took extensive notes on everything I read, searching for the top three common traits that they all shared, so that I could implement these in my life.

After 2.5 years of studying, I realized that there are about a dozen common traits that most leaders share, but most importantly, I discovered that these traits are born from one place. They are born from inspiration.

Inspiration is the most important trait of a leader.

It cannot be taught. It cannot be faked.

There are three keys to being an inspirational leader:

1. Purpose
Inspiring leaders serve a higher purpose. Their goals are never self-satisfying. They strive to make everyone around them better and help others succeed.

2. Empathy
Inspirational leaders truly care about their team and everyone around them. Most importantly, they show this gratitude consistently.

3. Team Focused
Inspiring leaders are team oriented. They always put their team first, give them the credit, and all the praise. They understand that if it wasn’t for their team and everyone around them they wouldn’t be as successful.

These are the things I strive to instill in my businesses and relationships.

If we think about common leadership traits like motivation, charisma, and enthusiasm we can see that these are forces that we push on someone else. These forces come and go throughout our days.

Inspiration, on the other hand, is an internal force that pulls people towards us. People are drawn to the passion and energy we have about a particular subject. This passion burns steady and deep in our core. It naturally motivates people.

Great leaders inspire people. People motivate themselves.

This is what my dad did for me. He inspired me and filled me with the confidence and belief I needed to pursue my dreams.

This what I want to do for everyone around me. I want to make a lasting impact on my team and customers. I want to inspire my friends and family to pursue their dreams and achieve their success. Most importantly, I want to surround myself with people who inspire me every day.

A special thank you to Tony Aguilar for sharing his insights about leadership with us today! Stay tuned every Friday as the I Am A Leader blog series continues. Please share this blog post via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Let’s continue the conversation on Twitter using the #iamaLEADER hash tag! You can connect with SOS Leadership on Twitter here and Tony Aguilar here.

Check out all of the I Am A Leader blogs here!

2 thoughts on “I Am A Leader: Thoughts on Leadership from Tony Aguilar

  1. Hey Tony,

    I couldn’t agree more. Surrounding yourself with people who inspire you everyday is a life well lived.

    But respectfully, I also couldn’t disagree more about your view on inspiration.

    Leadership isn’t biologically wired into humans – it’s learned. And inspiration is a byproduct of a individual or organization’s ability to stimulate creativity by asking why. Why do you do what you do?

    Sure, some people may posses inspirational qualities like charisma and enthusiasm. Yet, the three traits you mentioned are learned habits. You learn about the world and discover your purpose. You learn about people and discover empathy. And, you learn about the power of many and focus on your team.

    But these are all choices. Learned choices. You can learn how it works, but without intentional focus, it won’t create habits. Choices create habits.

    Inspiration is not the most important trait of leader. Understanding their “why” is.

    Understanding why you believe in what you believe creates a discovery channel to choose what to focus on.

    By focusing, you’ll discover (and choose) the patterns worth learning to take action and create the success you seek.

    People who discover their why and choose to focus are the ones that make a dent in the universe.

    And that my friend, is truly inspiring.

  2. Hey Anonymous poster,

    Thanks for you awesome feedback.

    I totally agree that “leadership” can be learned. But just because someone is a leader does not make them inspirational. Traits like enthusiasm and charisma can be learned, but it does make them genuine.

    I know plenty of “leaders” that are great at what they do, but they do not inspire in the slightest bit.

    You cannot tell me that Steve Jobs’ passion for changing the world around him was learned.

    You cannot tell me that Martin Luther King’s drive to change America was learned.

    You cannot tell me that Ray Lewis’ work ethic was learned.

    These are all burning desires inside that are biological. The greatest part about this is we all have this passion for something in our life, but only a few true leaders find it.

    This burning desire inside is what true leaders have. This what really motivates people. This is the “why” that is inside of us. This cannot be learned. It cannot be taught.

    Our habits and choices are just a by-product of the inspiration that we have inside.

    You cannot learn to be inspired.

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