We've had a lot of discussions on leadership lately. They tend to focus on people not characteristics. You know the drill, this person is a great leader and this one isn't.
It just so happened that I had a chance to meet an author, Chris LaVictoire Mahai of Aveus, who has an upcoming book on leadership. She is focused on the characteristics of leaders who can drive positive, dramatic, and fast growth in organizations. Curiosity and confidence top her list. Ah, when you think about it, some leadership positions are easier than others. Sitting atop a successful company that is racking up 5% growth in revenue and profits a year is certainly easier than "riding the wild horse" of a high-growth company or dealing with an organization in crisis. Yes, it may be easier, but it certainly isn't much fun.
So, here are a few more thoughts to add to Chris' list:
- The mission is first, but they take care of their people: There is a great book about this by an ex-Delta Force Commander, Pete Blaber calledThe Mission, The Men and Me. Great leaders know that they have to drive their people but they also know they have to take care of them along the way.
- They're not afraid to push…hard, if needed. Great leaders get their people to extend beyond what they believe possible. Everyone knows about Jack Welch's success at GE, but what they often forget is that when he took over, it was an inefficient bureaucracy. Welch set specific performance criteria and pushed hard to achieve them. It took him years to achieve great results, but he did.
- They have a style that's adaptable. OK, Steve Jobs did a great job at Apple….that's "push hard," but when he took over "struggling on the brink" Pixar, he adopted a more relaxed and supportive style (yes, that is very hard to believe), and he turned that company around, too.
- They are with their people. I worked with a great leader, John Hodgson, when he was at Lucent Technologies (His portion eventually became Agere Systems). We rolled out a multi-level value-based selling program to a global team of sales agents. He attended as many of those sessions as he could, gave a nice introduction about how important it was, and sat in the back of the class for the whole session. Great leaders don't delegate everything.
- They don't let their people hold the company back. Too many managers are afraid to fire poorly performing people. Welch, Jobs, and others learn quickly that if you have someone holding the organization back, they have to be a) given feedback and a chance to perform, b) possibly repurposed or c) released, RIF'd, fired, or whatever you call it.
When it comes out, I'd encourage you to give Chris' book a read, and think about some of the great leaders in your own lives. Something that comes to mind is that while there are many characteristics of great leaders, when it comes down to it, being a great leader is about setting the example and being the example--it is all about action. You know, talking the talk and walking the walk.