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New World Leadership

by Mark Goulston and Doc Barham

A good leader makes you want to do a better job;
a great leader makes you want to be a better person

What are the qualities and characteristics that great leaders possess?

If you’re fortunate, you’ll meet people over the course of your career and life that exceed your expectations in every way. When you work or spend time with them, you find yourself wanting to not just do a better job, but to be a better person. You put a lid on your neuroses and on your sense of entitlement and selfishness.  You work hard and as Harry S Truman would say, you do it gladly.

Why do we try to be the best that we can be with such people? Given the choice between instant gratification and the lasting satisfaction of earning the esteem of someone you deeply respect and admire, all but the most myopic of us would choose the latter.

What would happen to your leadership effectiveness if you became more like the people from whom others actively seek respect? How productive would your people become if they all felt that having you as a leader represented the rare opportunity to work with or under someone that people everywhere admire? How much harder would people work if they were inspired and motivated by the privilege of your adamant faith in their skills?

If you answered anything less than an enthusiastically positive response to those questions, imagine the effect on people if you acted in a manner that was the polar opposite of this. How motivated would your people be if you attacked, blamed, demeaned, made excuses,  complained and embarrassed them and yourself? Perhaps they’d work hard in the short run because of fear or even resentment. Your organization might squeeze a winning quarter out of intimidation, but without inspiration you will never build a winning company.

What are the qualities that leaders should aspire to in order to earn, deserve, and command respect? Look no further than a mentor whose belief in you made you want to give your best shot in your professional and personal life. Chances are they possessed the following four attributes:

  • The judgment* to know the smart, wise and right thing to do.
  • The integrity to do it.
  • The character to stand up to those who don’t.
  • The courage to stop those who won’t.

If you think the above terms are too abstract or "full of sound and fury signifying nothing," imagine the effect on people if leaders possess their polar opposites.  If instead of judgement a leader consistently makes bad decisions (that are neither smart, wise or right); if instead of having the integrity to execute on those decisions, they don't follow through; if instead of character they turn a blind eye to people who are disruptive whose negative behavior is obvious to everyone else; and if instead of having the courage to stop and/or throw out the destructive and toxic people whose behavior is either exasperating or scary to everyone else, what do you think their people would think in terms of their respect, confidence and trust in that leader?

A final perk to if you consistently practice and develop these qualities in your professional and personal life. You will accrue an additional benefit beyond getting the best out of your people, as well as your family. You will live a life that was worth giving your life to.

Usable Insight: Command respect, and people will beat a path to your door. Lose it and they'll want to head for the exits.

* Judgment which is the cornerstone of leadership, does not mean that a leader has to be a "know it all." in actuality they will do better to send their smartest, most passionate and most curious people out as scouts to find out what are in the hearts and minds of their people, customers and clients, investors, vendors and strategic partners.  One of the most innovative companies I know is IDEO and part of their tag line is that they are an "Innovation Consulting Frim."  It sends their people go out into the world as anthropologists, sociologists and psychologists to bring back where people are coming from, what they need and want out of services and products. One of the qualities that they have is that they are to quote Saul Bellow, "first class noticers."One of the best resources for developing this rare quality is: Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls by Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis (Portfolio Trade, $17.00)