"Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things."  – Peter Drucker 

When I look back at all the organizations where I’ve worked, the one constant that I remember hearing is, “We are starved for leadership.  We need leaders around here.” It is quite obvious  that leadership is a pretty valuable commodity.  It also seems to be in pretty limited supply.

The interesting thing that I’ve noticed is that although I’ve heard many managers and executives mention how badly they desired leaders and those with leadership qualities, I can’t recall anyone ever providing a clear-cut definition of what it was they wanted.  I’m sure other employees had to be perplexed as well.  I mean, how are we supposed to emulate something that has not been clearly defined?

Let’s take a look at what it is and how we can develop more of it within our organizations. 

If I had to make a guess, I’d say I that what executives and managers are referring to when they mention leadership is really proactive behavior; someone who is willing to take the initiative in addition to being responsible for producing results.  In my mind a leader is someone who studies a situation, decides upon a more suitable destination, assesses the current status, comes up with, or solicits feedback from others and then plots a course to get there.

A leader has to identify a direction and then inspire others to follow their vision.  In addition to setting the direction, leaders also need to shepherd the team through the inevitable challenges that crop up as they strive toward the grand prize.

Taking the initiative.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve noticed something that wasn’t right and went ahead and fixed it.  If I mention it to someone later on, they mentioned noticing it, but did nothing about it.  Leaders jump in and tackle problems.

Process Improvement.  Solving problems, looking ahead, and engaging in the process of “kaizen” – the practice of continuous improvement.  A leader always asks, “Is there a better way to do this?”

Ability to change direction when necessary.  A leader should not be so stubborn as to cling to a path or direction that isn’t working.

Humility.  Can you accept criticism?  How well do you receive input from others?

Guts.  Political will.  Taking an unpopular position.  When I think about being a real leader I ask myself, “Who is willing to take on an unpopular position and fight the good fight no matter the consequences?” Dr. Martin Luther King is a great example.  He risked and ultimately lost his life for what he believed. Take gun control.  After each mass shooting tragedy there is the predictable hand-wringing but in the long run nothing ever gets done.  Why?  No political will.  

Putting the interests and well-being of “team” (followers) ahead of their own.  Wow.  This is a big one.  We’re all one big family during the good times but when things get dicey sometimes executives have been known to take action to save themselves to the detriment of others around them. Remember the Captain of the Costa Concordia?

A compelling vision.  This goes back to my comment about identifying a direction.  Does your staff truly feel, embrace and understand your vision?  This ties in with an ability to communicate effectively.  In the beginning when you start a new project, it’s likely that you’ll have lots of enthusiasm for it. However, as time goes by it can be difficult to find ways to keep your vision inspiring after the initial enthusiasm fades.

Sense of Humor.  I’m friends with a married couple that I met at my old gym.  I was talking to the wife and she told me that one of the things that attracted her to her husband was his sense of humor.  She knew it would come in handy during the rough patches in their relationship.

Think of how important this attribute is in a leader.  The team will take on the personality of the leader. Can you guide your team without panicking or stressing out?

Honesty.  Do I really have to explain how important this one is?

Delegation and Identifying strengths.  How adept are you at identifying the strengths of your team, and capitalizing on them? Do they have everything that they need in order to succeed?  Finding out what each team member enjoys doing most (and does best) is the key to delegation. And delegation is a key component of maximizing your efficiency as a leader.

Creativity.  I think this one is a “nice to have” and not a “must have” for a leader.  If your team has more creativity than you and you are able to let it flourish, everyone wins.  An exception would be if you had to make a not so obvious decision.  Can you think outside of the box and make it work?

Ability to Inspire others.  Good professional sports coaches are experts at this.  We’ve all heard athletes say, “I’d go through a brick wall for that guy.” Team members need to feel that their hard work is leading somewhere.  Are they invested in the accomplishments of the company?

What effective examples of leadership have you noticed in your work career?  What worked? What didn’t?




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  1. Wanda Riley says:

    Hi Kevin,

    As always, I enjoy reading your Blog. Thanks for the wonderful insights.


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