Friday, July 9, 2010


Leadership is a vital role in the business world. Leaders tend to drive all business cultures which means their impact on the individuals in those business cultures is very significant. We see everyday what happens when the wrong business leadership is followed. Often the consequences are beyond the comprehension of those who were the victims of poor leadership. Given the dire importance of effective leadership, I thought it might be useful to address this question – What makes a great leader?

The 4 Pillars of Great Leadership

Character– As I have noted in prior blogs, character is a measurement of selfishness. To be a great leader, you have to put the service of others above your own needs. I believe that the large majority of the issues in the world today are a symptom of a major problem in society – poor leadership. In my study of economic history I have learned that the major economic cycles are a result of leadership decisions. If you study timelines leading up to the big economic winters, leadership at all levels was defined by serving their own agendas vs. serving those who they lead. Over time, this selfish behavior has created major consequences that lead to Economic Winters. Sadly, correcting this cycle often takes many, many years. Remember, it is certainly important that your needs are fulfilled in business, however, the path to fulfilling your needs MUST be secondary to fulfilling the needs of others. It has been my experience that great leaders have the ability to fulfill BOTH their needs and those of the people they lead.

Value – Value is your ability to fulfill the needs of another. If you do not have the ability to fulfill the needs of those you lead, then you cannot succeed in leadership. This is often why personal growth/development is viewed as one of the more critical aspects of life. As the old adage goes – you have to grow before your business grows. Remember, when it comes to value, be sure you can answer the 3 critical needs questions:

1. What is the person’s need?
2. How does that person measure how the need is fulfilled?
3. What does that person expect from you?

If you can meet the needs of those you lead, then you can EARN your title as a leader. If you do not have the ability to fulfill the needs of others, then those you lead will eventually seek other leaders. One of my core beliefs in business is that long-term success requires long-term relationships. That means as a leader you have to be able to do the job. Remember, leadership is earned every day. When entitlement takes the place of earning your way, it is only a matter of time before your value as a leader is compromised.

Commitment – I think one of the major distinctions for any leader is their ability to stay committed to being a great leader. I find that many people lead for a period of time but when their needs are fulfilled, they seem to get away from the aspects of leadership that brought them success. Instead of being the example in the present, they want their leadership to be defined by past results. Instead of setting high standards, they want those they lead to have higher standards than them (i.e. work harder). Leaders stay in the game. They don’t lead from the sidelines.

Communication – Communication is an aspect of leadership that is seldom discussed. Great leaders have very distinguishable communication patterns. First, they communicate from a position of understanding vs. judgment. They understand that you cannot build people by tearing them down. They learned to ask a critical question of good leadership – what else can this mean? Second, they communicate in a way that empowers people to be the best they can be in life. They fuel resolve in others and judge their own success by how well others succeed. I have a quote in one of my journals that best describes the ability to empower others. It was from an interview given by someone who was fortunate enough to be a part of a business culture driven by a great leader. This person said “when they touched my shoulder I could feel the warmth in my feet”. In that quote is one of the key communication points – people won’t care about what you say unless they know that you care first. In the end, that might be the most important communication point.

Can You Be A Leader?

I believe anyone can be a leader. It requires you to have a servant’s heart (character). It requires you to gain the skills necessary to fulfill the needs of others (value). It requires you to lead by example (commitment). Finally, it requires you to empower others to be their best (communication). These are mindsets and skills that anyone can obtain. Finally, remember that what defines a leader is both achievement and contribution. Achievement is how you gain a voice. It is your path to credibility as a leader. However, contribution is what defines your impact as a leader. The more people you impact, the greater your leadership.

With that being said, I believe leadership starts with serving a few vs. serving masses of people. A good example would be a parent or a teacher. While their impact might not be on the masses, it does not change the fact that the skills to be a great parent or great teacher are the same skills it takes to lead a larger group. What enables you to magnify the “contribution component” is simply leading in a bigger culture (i.e. business community, political district, etc.). Therefore, the level of your contribution is simply a result of where you elect to serve as a leader.

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