Achieving Proven Leadership Excellence
What is leadership excellence? Think of someone you regard highly as a leader. It might be someone for whom you work. It might be someone famous, a historical figure, or someone from your old neighborhood.
Now consider what makes this leader so great. Identify the qualities that are strongest in this individual, such as:
• communicating a compelling vision
• acting with integrity
• listening intently to others
• being honest at all times
• serving rather than managing
• involving others
• holding themselves—and others—accountable
• focusing on what’s important rather than what’s urgent
• taking time to support those who need it.
The most successful leaders of world-class organizations have a high degree of integrity regarding two things: effectively working with others and taking decisive action to achieve important results, despite the risk.
The true measure of a leader is demonstrated by their followers. The connection between a leader and their followers is shared values. People will not passionately follow any leader who does not share their core priorities. We will go much more in depth about these core drivers in discussing the World Class Excellence Model in chapter 4.
Leaders and Managers
Let’s set the record straight about the terms leader and manager. There have been many attempts to create a false dichotomy between these terms: You can be either a manager or a leader. Additionally, you may have seen some comparisons, such those in Table 2-1, that can give the impression that managers are “bad” and leaders are “good.” This is woefully inaccurate. In truth, two points must be made here.
Table 2-1. Comparisons Between Managers and Leaders
|Enforces consistency||Elicits creativity|
|Asks how or seeks methods||Wonders why or seeks motives|
|Formulates policy||Sets examples|
|Corrects weaknesses||Builds strengths|
|Does things right||Does the right things|
|Wields control||Applies influence|
First, the skills and focus of a manager make a very important contribution to any successful organization. Depending on the situation, the traits and behaviors in both columns of the table can be extraordinarily valuable. To aspire to world-class results, an organization must have people who consistently master both foundational managerial traits and leadership traits. These differing manager and leader traits are like tools in a toolbox. The most effective professional will select a tool based on the requirements of the immediate job, use it masterfully, and then place that tool back in the toolbox and select the next tool specifically for the next job. The key is to use what is most appropriate for the operational need. In today’s competitive business environment, optimizing results requires not just managerial skills but also leadership skills.
Second, while managerial skills are critical, it is leadership traits that build employee excellence. The Chain Reaction of Excellence Model (chapter 1) shows how leadership excellence is the driver of employee engagement. Influential people’s leadership qualities make the difference in an organization reaching its potential. Although achieving world-class results requires management and leadership, great leadership is an extension of effective management—and the reason the focus of this chapter is leadership, not management.
Lead Through Influence
If you were asked to summarize all the key leadership attributes listed in this chapter, you could distill them down to one word: influence. Influence is a power that creates enormous potential when combined with other leadership tools—much like water, which alone may not have much of an impact but when combined with eons of time can create something as profound as the Grand Canyon. Influence is one of the most effective yet least leveraged tools in your leader’s toolkit.
It is easy to mistakenly consider someone a great leader because they’re in the top position of an organization. Far too often, society tends to have the most respect for those who are in positions of formal authority. Because of this, many people focus on simply obtaining the title of leader. They want to control the decisions that are made in their environment.
However, we would all do well to abandon this flawed perspective. Is it really about being in charge? Do control and force truly engage others in the workplace and create highly satisfied customers? Consider the pain of a parent who seeks to control everything a young child does, only to later face the consequences with a rebellious teenager who resists any attempt at control. Great parenting has little to do with power per se. Why would it be different with organizations?
Let’s consider the examples of some great leaders who had little or no formal power but enormous influence. What about people like Mahatma Gandhi or Mother Teresa? Clearly, they were leaders, but not because they were in control of an organization.
The truth is that real leadership has more to do with creating a greater span of influence than anything else. And how do you increase this leverage? You do it by embodying the qualities noted, like listening and inspiring others.
This is particularly important for those who are closer to the bottom of the organizational chart. Great organizations reinforce the reality that every person on this chart must realize that they have a span of influence. Regardless of an employee’s role, the more they exert this influence, the greater the likelihood that everyone around that employee will be engaged in creating results that matter.
That’s right: Every individual should be a leader of influence. This is the significantly different perspective that legendary organizations have on leadership.
This new perspective, or “lens,” for seeing true leadership can be likened to a lighthouse. The original source of the light, the bulb, has a limited capability. But surround this bulb with reflective mirrors and it becomes far brighter and more useful. Likewise, individuals in your organization should focus on how they can magnify their light for the greatest good.
One symbol of this magnifying influence is Robben Island. Off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa, it served for 18 years as the prison for Nelson Mandela during his 27-year sentence under apartheid. He worked side by side with other prisoners performing hard labor in a lime quarry. His prison cell was so small that a six-foot-tall person would have to lie diagonally to fit inside. For those many years, that was his circle of control—but his circle of influence was, and is, much larger. He inspired the end of apartheid. He changed the nation of South Africa forever. He influenced the world for good. Whether it’s transforming a country or transforming a work team, developing real influence invariably leaves a legacy.
Simply put, it’s not about what you control, but what you influence. Why does this matter? It is crucial, because if you want to become an excellent leader, you must stop thinking so much about what you can or can’t control, and focus on what you must do to create greater influence.
Types of Leaders
Another aspect of effective leadership is implementing the right kind of leadership in the right circumstances. In general, there are three kinds of leaders: personal, spontaneous, and positional. Let’s look at each, as diagrammed in Figure 2-1:
• Personal leaders accept responsibility and act consistently to do their work as best they can every day. This may be the individual two cubicles over from you. That person isn’t the manager, but they are always there to stay late when necessary, remember your birthday, or simply get the job done well every time.
• Spontaneous leaders take initiative and see opportunities to lead in times of greatest need. Perhaps there is no greater example than the many men and women who lost their lives helping others on September 11, 2001. Though many were running out of the World Trade Center, several ran back in, uncertain but knowing that people needed help. These are leaders whose greatness emerges during moments of crisis.
• Positional leaders are the kinds of people many typically think of as leaders. They are simply those who lead from a position of authority. They have an opportunity to lead by virtue of their title. But a title alone does not a leader make. After all, can you think of someone who was not necessarily a manager but who acted as a leader in some personal or spontaneous manner? Conversely, can you identify someone who is a manager but doesn’t exhibit the characteristics described here?
Figure 2-1. Types of Leaders
Organizations need more leaders, not more managers. Every employee can, and should be expected to, exercise some type of leadership. And when we say leadership, we again mean exhibiting those traits that influence others to do their very best. Lee Cockerell, the former executive vice president of operations for Walt Disney World, often said that “a person who has authority and doesn’t use it is irresponsible.” We are all obligated to use whatever influence we have to make a difference for the better. World-class leaders are constantly looking for ways to guide circumstances forward—they are continuously improving operations to achieve better results.
As an organizing principle for the chapters making up the book’s four parts, we introduce a comprehensive and unifying operational model that enables us to progressively reveal the process of how to achieve excellent, sustainable results. This model will help us consider in more detail the hidden forces that drive the entire process of leading with both your external and internal customers in the quest to achieve World Class Excellence. In the two chapters that follow, we will overview this operational model.
Next Steps for Understanding How to Achieve Leadership Excellence:
Gather accurate feedback about your skills and knowledge regarding influence, engagement, business fundamentals, and the like. Are you a role model in all that you do? Do you have integrity?
Do you have an organizational goal about which you are passionate? Are you able to articulate your vision for reaching this goal in a compelling way?
How engaged are you with your team? How engaged are the team’s members with one another?
Are you actively involved in developing new leaders in your organization?