"If I had eight hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend six hours sharpening my axe." - Abe Lincoln
Leadership development is very much like building a house. If you were to build a house, you would begin with a blueprint. This blueprint proves useful because it contains more than directions on how to build a house. It also describes the finished house.
So, what does this have to do with leadership?
One time I asked an audience of leaders to tell me the ideal leadership characteristics. This is what I gathered . . .
A good listener, enthusiastic, passionate, shows appreciation, a visionary, role model, trusting, with high integrity, organized, knowledgeable, credible, persuasive, charismatic, team builder, has clarity of purpose, problem solver, attitude of service, leads by example, patient, willing to act without complete knowledge, understands followers, consistent, empowers other people, and can easily adapt to change . . . and more.
Essentially these are the same list that I receive from other audiences when I ask the same question.
Some useful insights can be gleaned from this . . .
1. Notice what the list contains.
All of these characteristics relate to the human side of leadership. That's interesting because I often hear people minimize this side of leadership with terms like "soft" or "touchy-feely." Actually, applying these characteristics requires more strength than not.
2. Notice what the list excludes.
Absent from this list (and all lists from other programs) are characteristics such as stern, mean, serious, short tempered, vindictive, tough, angry, harsh, punitive, controlling, violent, or ruthless. And that's interesting because many popular representations of leadership emphasize at least one of these "hard" characteristics. In fact, these characteristics are the refuge of those who lack the strength (or the skills) to apply the human side of leadership.
3. Now, notice what you have . . .
How would you rate yourself as a leader compared to the list of positive characteristics? If you were to survey the people who report to you, how would they describe your leadership? Would they list characteristics from the "soft" list or from the "hard" list? Could you become more effective by improving upon any of the "soft" leadership characteristics? And how about the other leaders in your organization? Do they truly maximize human potential?
People want leaders who treat them with genuine compassion, courtesy, and respect. They want leaders who help them become more successful. They want leaders who inspire them with a vision for a better world and show them how to go there. Are you?
Be well, and lead well,
The Leaders’ Ladder
People don't care how much you know, until they know how much you care. This is leadership at work!
Leaders fail, sometimes . . .
When Leaders Fail, Who's To Blame?
One time I was invited as guest speaker to a Rotary Club luncheon meeting, and gladly obliged. I delivered the talk entitled Reflections of a Leader, which I believe was well-accepted by the attendees, especially those who are leaders of their respective organizations.
The talk was followed by an open forum and a healthy discussion on leadership issues. One particular question came from a former CEO of a multinational firm, and goes this way:
“Leaders (managers) of the organization are provided training to equip themselves in handling their responsibilities. There are quite a good number of programs they attend, locally and even abroad. After a period of time, however, it seems that they lose focus and fail to deliver expected results. What can you say about this?”
When leaders attend development programs, they are presented with some scenario and given strategies on how to deal with them – ideally. At the end of the training, they emerge fully energized and feel they can conquer the world – equipped with some tools that they learned.
Back at work, it's easy for them to lose focus in the maze of deadlines, quality concerns, and the myriad of operational issues and challenges – they are now facing the actual situation.
This, is Harsh Reality for Leaders!
In every organization, there's what we call “hierarchy” of positions. Several leaders are placed in various assignments and are expected to focus on areas specific to their assigned functions.
At the top of this hierarchy is the “orchestrator,” the “maestro” who makes sure everybody plays to the same tune. This person at the top provides overall direction and becomes the “North-Star” to guide everyone in the team to follow one direction, a singular aim, the main objective.
When things don't happen as expected, perhaps it's time to look at the leaders, the "men-on-top." It is expected that when people below go off-center, it's their duty to call them back to the center; when they get lost, proper guidance is in order; when they lose focus, they must come in to refocus.
This, I believe, is his main responsibility being placed at that level of the organization. And when things don't happen as they should, perhaps it's time leaders ask some deep-searching questions upon oneself:
- Have I provided the needed guidance?
- Have I given the necessary directions for everyone to follow?
- Am I congruent, and focused, not just in my words but more so in my actions?
This is the essence of . . . Reflections of a Leader . . . the ability to look upon oneself when things go wrong, to take accountability for the results that happened, to assume responsibility for the outcome yet to come.
I hope some of the self-reflection questions above disturbed the peace of leaders, and provide them with the inertia towards self-improvement.
Be well, and lead well.
The Leaders’ Ladder
Like ice cream, leaders come in different flavors. Which one are you?
Leadership matters . . .
What is leadership? How are leaders developed?
Upon hiring people, management universally hopes that their new employees develop leadership qualities . . . and they don't know how. They know that leaders are people who are effective in what they do, are respected by others, and typically rewarded for those skills in a variety of ways . . . and they don't know who. During the early days, weeks and months of employment, they see their hopes crumble . . . and fall . . . and they don't know why.
As new employees look up to people around them, those that motivate others, they also share the hopes of management and dream that one day . . . they would be leaders of people, just like they've seen. But they don't know when.
As they mature and gain experience, they begin to understand the deeper meaning of leadership and relate to other leaders in their lives – ministers, teachers, police officers. And later Mayors, Presidents, and CEO's . . . One day, finally, they become one!
Looking back, they begin to ponder, now as leaders . . . all these thoughts and experiences define what desirable traits these leaders have, and the roles they play.
All of these experiences and thoughts help us determine why leadership matters . . . It matters because leaders make a difference – they shape the future. It matters because leaders are valued – they provide value. It matters because leadership affects the bottomline – through the frontline.
In everyone's mind, leadership matters, especially where it matters most.
Leadership Questions, and Answers
What then is a Leader? A leader . . .
. . . is a person who sees that something needs to be done, knows that it can be done, confident that they can do it, and knows they can't do it alone.
. . . sees that the future can be better, and helps others see that picture too.
. . . is a coach, and a motivator.
. . . views change as their ally, and is willing to take risks today for a better tomorrow.
. . . is a learner, communicator, and coordinator.
. . . takes a long view, and lets their vision keep their daily steps on track.
. . . values results, cares about the people making those results, and makes a difference in their lives.
A leader is all of these things, and more. . .
Leadership is a birthright. If so, Are Leaders Born or Made?
Chicken or egg, which goes first? Brilliant thinkers create an endless cycle out of this simple equation. I don't want to take sides, so I'll take both sides: Leaders are made, after they were born. I bet no one can argue that.
But for the sake of argument, let's examine the differences of opinions . . .
When people describe someone as a “born leader” they typically mean that the person is naturally charismatic, an innate motivator, and an exceptional communicator. And it is true! Some people are blessed at birth with more natural leadership abilities than others. Perhaps men are not born equal after all, who knows.
But people in leadership roles can be great with different innate characteristics as well. And there is no single small skill-set that defines perfect leader, much more guarantee leadership success.
Everyone is born with a unique set of natural abilities, and has the capacity to develop leadership requisite – knowledge, skills and attitude to augment those abilities. Thus, leaders are made, only after being born.
So, Who is the Leader?
This question on the surface is the easiest so far. After all, some examples have already been given.
People are placed in certain roles and leadership posts . . . whether they've studied for the role, got elected to the role, or worked up through the role like supervisors, managers, Vice Presidents or CEO's . . . basically speaking.
You can ask most anyone the question “Who is the leader?” and those are the kinds of answers you receive. They are right, of course, but only partially right.
Leaders aren't leaders because of “the” title. Leaders are leaders because they lead.
Which takes us back to the previous question – “Are leaders born or made?” Yes, they are born. But there isn't just a few that have been hand-picked by our Creator, or some random genetics. There is more to that than meets the eye.
We all know that the opportunities for leadership are endless, and the rewards are boundless.
As a leader, let me ask you:
- Have you watched your leaders lately?
- Have you watched yourself closely?
- Have you asked the question . . .
What Makes a Great Leader?
Be well, and lead well.
The Leaders’ Ladder
Leadership starts with . . . Yourself!