The Most Valuable Leadership Quality

There are characteristics and traits that enhance a leader’s effectiveness but that doesn’t necessarily mean these characteristics are critical for real success. Take all the elements considered for good leadership and there is one that continues to surface for those whom we consider good leaders past and present. That element is humility.

When teaching classes on leadership I have students name those who are considered great leaders both good and bad. The usual suspects show up with past presidents, military commanders, astronauts, and civil rights activists. By the way, typically Jesus of Nazareth shows up between the third and fifth round and at that time students get one of those, “Aha” moments and really start to think about what actually makes a good leader.

The next step in the process of determining good leaders is assessing their characteristics. Certainly, charisma and the ability to positively influence people head the list but when we get right down to it humility is the one attribute that gives good leaders their strength, longevity, and ability to persevere. It is the basis for their character. Upon that base is the foundation for everything else we seek in good leadership.

We need to start looking at our potential leaders with a different set of eyes that seeks first those subliminal character traits especially with regard to humility. When you start seeing these people beginning with their personal humility you begin to get a glimpse about their character and motivations for leadership. Humility is the true north for all great leaders.

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Leaders Who Are Owners and Take Ownership

In progressive management circles and even some staff meetings one seems to frequently hear these terms. They are similar but they are also very different in what they represent. “Being an owner” means behaving as if one is fully and personally invested in a company or organization. “Taking ownership” means accepting responsibility.

Being an owner signifies a full and unfettered commitment to the ideals and philosophy of the organization as if one was there at the start. It means personal decision-making and actions reflect what an actual owner would do. In theory, an owner has unequaled ethics and integrity as his or her actions reflect on the company.

Taking ownership means no matter what happens the buck stops here. Good, bad, or indifferent taking ownership signifies the acceptance of consequences no matter what the outcome. Although it has somewhat of a negative tone it also represents the positive taking of ownership.

In the world of leadership you will know leaders by their deeds. They behave as actual owners and take ownership for the decisions they make. In essence, leaders do what few are able to do. They fully commit and accept personal responsibility.

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Leadership Preparation 101

Many leaders don’t plan on being leaders. They typically have enough to keep themselves busy. The truth be told they live their lives one day after another making intelligent decisions and one day they are called through circumstances or situations to move an organization or an idea forward.

Leaders are usually ordinary people doing extraordinary things. From where then does the strength or power come for leaders who suddenly find themselves in the main arena? History is fraught with people who seemingly came out of nowhere and were thrust into leadership roles.

Leadership is developed everyday with every situation one faces no matter how small. Every decision made is either developing leadership or tearing it down. Also, always remember that for every person who says, I’m going to do this” there is usually someone in the background saying, “No, you can’t, “or “No, you shouldn’t.” Leaders persevere. They overcome negativity.

The bottom line to leading others is knowing how to lead oneself. This is key. Look at those people who are quiet, humble, do not want or require fanfare for the excellent job they do, and influence others in a positive manner and you have the beginning formula for a true leader.

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Leadership Essentials: Good Decision Making While Under Fire

There are hard decisions to be made in organizations that don’t have the luxury of time to assess, plan, implement, and adapt. Typically and ideally, good leaders gather as much information as possible from trusted staff and other sources and choose the best course of action always thinking of a Plan B and even a Plan C. It is one’s training, education, and experience that comes into play and sets one leader apart from another. Results matter. So too, does a leader’s adaptability in the face of temporary setbacks or challenges.

A previous blog post detailed “Speed of the Leader. Speed of the Pack.” Organizations mirror leadership. The pertains to not only general attitude but to critical decision-making. This applies to the decision-making that needs to be done quickly and with only the best available information. Speed in decision-making, especially during critical times, is important. There is no room for laissez-faire leadership or laissez-faire decision-making.

How is critically important decision-making done? Practice. Be good at the small things and when larger issues arise, even with limited information, then decision-making behaviors that have been practiced will be second nature. Rarely, will young leaders exhibit the complete discernment and wisdom necessary for quick and intelligent actions. It is possible but there is no substitute for time and experience.

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The Journey on the Road Less Traveled Through the Wilderness of Life

The wilderness in our lives prepares us. It forges us. It forces us to live in the moment and become stronger than we first entered it. We all make choices. It’s the one thing we have control over in our lives besides our attitude. It’s just a question how one prepares for change that is about to occur. Remember, forward motion toward goals instills hope and a goal without a plan is merely a dream. Set goals. Make a plan. Measure progress, however incremental, and keep the momentum going forward. The wilderness, like the storms of life, will eventually end.

What gets me through the wilderness or even the storms of life as they occur is taking care of myself by eating right, exercising and, most importantly, spending time with God. There is nothing selfish about this. It is necessary to do these things in order that I can reach out, impact others, and make a difference to those for whom we are responsible. These three things work for me. Find your road less traveled and stay with it. You’ll find you’re not alone.

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Keys to Great Leadership – Reading the Signs

Six_Pack_flight_instruments

There are signs we use as a benchmark to see how well we are doing in life. One of the best examples of this is what is called a pilot’s six-pack. There are six key instruments that all aircraft have in one form or another. These instruments tell a pilot how fast or how slow the aircraft is flying, its altitude, whether it’s climbing or descending, turning, going straight and level in relation to the horizon, and in what direction the aircraft is going. Given the variability of weather and cloud conditions a pilot is able to use these instruments to keep the plane on course and flying correctly.

Whether one is flying a small single engine plane or a jumbo jet they contribute to this thing called situational awareness. The pilot cannot rely on his or her own senses. Some type of outside determination is necessary that looks at all variables and makes an assessment.

The same holds true in our lives. Before my feet hit the floor in the morning I will think about the three areas on which I need to focus to be the best I can be, i.e. the intellectual, the physical, and the spiritual. The intellectual? How will I expand my base of knowledge and, more importantly, how will I exhibit wisdom to others? The physical? Weight translated to BMI, resting pulse upon waking, blood pressure before and after a workout, and overall energy are some of the indicators of the physical. The spiritual? Time spent in meditation communing in prayer and actively looking for opportunities to exhibit what is stated in Galatians 5:22 for the fruit of the Spirit, i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Through experience I learned that if I fall short in any one of these three main areas I typically don’t have an optimum day. The only question that requires resolution is how will the three be maintained for personal growth throughout the day/week and what that looks like.

In leadership we need to look at the signs that present themselves to assess the condition of our organizations and ourselves as leaders. It makes little difference if people have been to the best management schools or seminaries in the nation or whether they were voted the most likely to succeed or whatever. The proof of good leadership is in longevity because we all know the simple axiom, life is a marathon not a sprint.

Leaders need to identify those areas they can measure themselves. Going back thousands of years there are many attributions of the phrase, “Know thyself,” but the main thrust of the saying is that individuals need to exhibit self-awareness or what I would term situational awareness of the self. Like the pilot’s instrument “six-pack” if you can read your personal leadership signs you can be assured to stay on course and flying right.

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Leaders Who Get the Most Margin – Handle It Once

If you think most good leaders are extraordinarily busy, think again. The best leaders might have a tight schedule or calendar but they also maximize their efforts to maintain margin for opportunities and situations that come up. They know well that being available is critical for the forward motion of the company and success in staying in tune with those ever-present changes that can happen in a competitive market.

One basic rule good leaders follow is “Handle It Once.” In almost every assessment center battery of challenges there is always one, or even several, exercises that rate a candidate’s ability to prioritize and handle the onslaught of information that is thrown at him or her. This also tests the candidate’s ability to perform under stress. “Handle It Once” involves individual assessment of information, dealing with it, and moving on. Anything else is a waste of time. There may be some circumstances where several pieces of information might be linked, and therefore, require the ability to connect the dots and deal with the situation in an appropriate manner. For instance, an Inbox note from a subordinate several tiers down might leave a memo requesting a personal conference regarding clarification on the organization’s sexual harassment policy. A voicemail message from the same subordinate’s immediate supervisor indicates his request to see you regarding this same employee with an unspecified topic. Clearly, before responding to the employee the supervisor needs to be contacted first. Most prioritization exercises only require the channeling of action to those who can take immediate action, i.e. day off/vacation requests, training requests, etc.

Leaders can easily get bogged down with a myriad of details and need to address situations immediately and then move on to those things that advance the mission so the organization can be successful and/or profitable. “Handle It Once” is another tool in the leader’s toolbox that helps ensure margin is maintained. Show me an organization that has leadership from within that has margin for situations and practices simple exercises like “Handle It Once” and I’ll show you a leadership team that is one step ahead of the less organized competition and has longevity in the field.

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