Do you know the key to great leadership? When I do an introductory session on leadership I ask the group of participants to list the characteristics that they believe make a great leader. They are next asked to give some examples of great leaders and leaders that they admire. You probably would not be surprised to learn that there is a considerable difference in the lists. Some are even opposites of each other.
One person may say that a great leader is steady and predictable while another person may say that a leader is unpredictable and thinks outside of the box. One may say tough minded while another may say soft spoken. As a further example to this point I received a number of challenges from readers to my recent blog 7 WAYS TO IDENTIFY A BULLY FROM A LEADER.
When people gave examples of great leaders and those they admire the characteristics were as diverse as the leaders. The leaders were as different as Jack Welch, Winston Churchill, Joe Torre, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. How can that be? These people all have many different leadership characteristics. However, there is one very important thing that they have in common.
They all successfully led sports teams, companies, armies, and nations. They all achieved great things. This is what they have in common and this is why their names are mentioned. Does anyone ever mention the sports coach of the team in last place? No
All of these leaders mentioned led their organizations to achieve the organizational goal. If you want to measure the quality of a leader, look at the success of the organization he or she runs. Great leaders achieve their goals.
In companies, too many HR people spend too much time looking for competencies that will make a good manager. They look at a successful manager and identify that person’s characteristics. Then they recruit a new manager with the same characteristics. No wonder there are so many failures. There are many performance management systems based on competencies but not nearly enough based on achievement of goals.
The new paradigm for leadership focuses on goal achievement within the context of the organization’s values. Although we can see from the examples that successful leaders possess a wide range of often-conflicting characteristics, not all characteristics are acceptable in every organization. Patton was a great leader of an army in battle. He would not have been effective as a CEO for a non-profit organization.
The goals must be aligned with the overall strategy of your business and with each other. People must then be held accountable for achieving their goals within the values of your organization. In our experience such a system will not only deliver outstanding results, but will also develop outstanding leaders for the future.