“America is facing a critical need for more leaders – true leaders – who are prepared with the skills to deal with the problems of today and the challenges of tomorrow…”
―Jennifer Sirangelo, President, CEO, National 4H Council
Where does leadership start? What secrets are there? What characteristics make some leaders more attractive than others? These are just a few questions leaders should ask themselves and answer if they want to grow their impact and effectiveness.
1. Where Leadership Starts
When you think of great leadership, what names come to mind?
For me, it is my father. I think of him first. He was and still is my hero.
He taught me leadership starts with self.
As a young boy, I asked him one evening why he does the dishes every night. He shared, to accomplish anything, you need to be able to repeatedly get yourself to do what needs to be done, whatever that is.
So if the dishes need to be washed, you wash them. If the trash needs to be taken out, you take the trash out. If the job requires 52 hours, you give 52 hours, even if you are paid for forty.
What he demonstrated daily is the most attractive way to lead is by example. What I found myself wanting to do was help or follow. When I did, it ultimately led to our increasing our productivity as a family unit.
“We need a personal leadership model that comes from within.”
―Douglas Conant, Conant Leadership
When we lead by example, it establishes a tone. It earns respect. It inspires others to give of themselves, sometimes their best. It simultaneously minimizes the need for words and fills the ones used with authenticity.
Perhaps most importantly, leadership by example attracts the right kind of people to the team. That by itself simplifies leadership and elevates its effectiveness.
In his book ‘Playing for Keeps,’ David Halberstam states that Michael Jordan was always the hardest working player on his team in practice. Because he was, it made it easier for him to lead up and down the organization with teammates and management. It helped maximize everyone’s potential, individually and collectively.
It is something anyone can choose to do.
One of the best examples of this style of leadership I get to enjoy frequently comes from a local small business owner. His team of employees refer to him as “Mister John.” Mister John owns and leads two pizza restaurants and perhaps 40 to 50 people.
On the surface, there is not anything extraordinary about him. He is average height. He is average looking. He is no different from anyone else. However, he is an extraordinary leader.
What makes Mister John extraordinary? Mister John routinely puts in 12 to 14 hour days, 7 days a week. He makes pizzas. He delivers food items to his stores. He innovates pizzas and salad dressings. He takes customer orders. He listens to his team. He listens to his customers. He gives motivational talks. He listens to motivational talks.
He holds himself accountable. He holds his team accountable. He pours himself into his people and pizza business. His team and employees see it. His customers see it. Both are loyal. He is Mister John. He leads by example.
Leading by example does not mean you have to do everything. However, it does mean you can and are willing to do what it takes when it is needed. It is a leadership style that works whether you are leading a team of two or two thousand. It a leadership style that is attractive.
Characteristic 1: Great Leaders Lead By Example
2. The Secret Leadership Characteristic
To be a great leader, you need to both lead and follow.
The trick is to know when to do each.
Sure, the follow part can be scary, particularly for those who thrive on control, are inexperienced, or suffer from low esteem. But it needs to be done. Why? To maximize leadership and organization potential and effectiveness. Is that not what great leaders do?
Great leaders know what they know. And, equally important, they know what they don’t know.
“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.”
As you may start to realize, I am a big sports fan. The late Dr. Jerry Buss and owner of the Los Angeles Lakers was a sensational example of this concept.
While Dr. Buss made the ultimate business decisions for the Lakers, he had people like Jerry West, Phil Jackson, Garry Vitti and many others, making or leading decision making in areas where they had more knowledge than he did.
Dr. Buss leveraged the knowledge and expertise of others. The great leaders frequently surround themselves with exceptional people. Best-selling author Jim Collins shares in his book, ‘Good to Great,’ you want to get the right people on the “bus” (team), in the right seats, and take advantage of their strengths.
That is one of the primary strategies in how you go from good to great. It is one key reason the Lakers experienced incredible sustained success and grew into a global brand.
It makes enormous sense. To do otherwise diminishes and restricts possibilities while increasing risk. It limits you and your enterprise to the knowledge and leadership of one person. That is not attractive leadership.
Conversely, choosing to follow, when appropriate, in areas where others have greater knowledgeable and understanding is highly attractive, again, particularly to the right people.
Characteristic 2 – Great Leaders Lead and Follow
3. The Mark Cuban Principle
Have you ever feared or experienced anxiety about working for someone whose leadership style you anticipate will not work for you?
It has happened to me. One of the most memorable lessons I ever learned about leadership came from a corporate manager who I had tremendous trepidation about working under. He had a reputation for being impossible to please.
After a few months of killing myself for him and candidly, for me, I wanted to see if I could measure up. So he pulled me aside. He asked me a simple question. He said, “Sam what do you think my job is with respect to you?”
Before I could answer, he went on. “Sam, let me tell you. My job is to make sure I do everything I can to make certain you are successful and prepared to be promoted to your next assignment. If I have not done that within 18 to 24 months, I have failed.”
I like to call it the ‘Cuban Principle’ after Dallas Mavericks owner and billionaire Mark Cuban. He has shared one of the first things he did in working to turn the Mavericks franchise around is to meet with the players and ascertain from them what he needed to do to position them for success.
That was what my manager-leader was sharing with me. It worked for the Mavericks. That meant it also worked for Mark Cuban. It worked for me. That meant it also worked for my manager-leader. And it will work for you as well.
“Once people know you have a genuine concern for them, and what’s important to them, and they are confident that you have their backs, you’ll find they will often move mountains for you.”
―Maynard Webb, Chairman, Yahoo
I found I would push myself further for this manager-leader than others. That did not just translate into working harder or longer. It showed up in meetings. It showed up in water cooler and after work conversations. It showed up at home and with friends. I would speak up more. I would champion and defend his thinking more enthusiastically and consistently at work and after work.
Great leaders give of themselves. They invest in their people. They see to it their team has what they need to succeed, whether it is resources or confidence. They position their people for success. It is magnetically attractive, result producing leadership. That is the kind of leadership that has payoffs for everyone.
Characteristic 3 – Great Leaders Position their Team for Success
Which Characteristics Do Great Leaders Possess?
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