Insights into Effective Leadership

“Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” – Warren Bennis

“You don’t need a title to be a leader.” – Anon

Over the years, there has been much written on what it takes to be an effective leader. We’ve learned that leadership is an art as well as a science – it’s learned, it’s practiced, it’s perfected over time. Highly effective leadership is difficult to achieve, and even more difficult to sustain as circumstances and environments change. But effective leadership is absolutely critical to performance and success – success of organizations, of people, of communities. So, as we wind down one year and prepare for the next, I thought it appropriate to offer 31 powerful leadership quotes – one for each day in January – as well as 31 things leaders should STOP doing to improve their effectiveness. Consider it a quick, but powerful collection of other leaders’ wisdom. I hope it helps you advance your effectiveness as leaders, and I wish you and yours a safe and very happy holidays…

First, for the powerful leadership quotes. There are probably thousands of excellent quotes, but these 31 come mainly from one source – an article written by Kevin Kruse in Forbes last October. As Kevin says: “A great quote can provide personal inspiration and can be used to educate others.” He lists his top 100 leadership quotes, out of which I pulled my favorite 31 – one for each day of January. So in the spirit of learning, growing, and renewal, I’d challenge us all to take one a day, reflect on the meaning behind the statement, and think about our own personal leadership effectiveness in the context of the quote. If we all improve just a little each day as leaders, we can all make great progress. (And by the way, if you have your own best leadership quote, feel free to post it in our LinkedIn discussion group on this topic!)

  1. The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant. —Max DePree
  2. I start with the premise that the function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers. —Ralph Nader
  3. Where there is no vision, the people perish. —Proverbs 29:18
  4. You manage things; you lead people. —Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper
  5. Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others. —Jack Welch
  6. A leader is a dealer in hope. —Napoleon Bonaparte
  7. The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born – that there is a genetic factor to leadership. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born. —Warren Bennis
  8. He who has never learned to obey cannot be a good commander. —Aristotle
  9. Become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, even if you had no title or position. —Brian Tracy
  10. Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes. —Peter Drucker
  11. Anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm. —Publilius Syrus
  12. People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision. —John Maxwell
  13. The key to successful leadership today is influence, not authority. —Kenneth Blanchard
  14. Outstanding leaders go out of their way to boost the self-esteem of their personnel. If people believe in themselves, it’s amazing what they can accomplish. —Sam Walton
  15. A ruler should be slow to punish and swift to reward. —Ovid
  16. No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it. —Andrew Carnegie
  17. Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it. —General Dwight Eisenhower
  18. Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity. —General George Patton
  19. Great leaders are not defined by the absence of weakness, but rather by the presence of clear strengths. —John Zenger
  20. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader. —John Quincy Adams
  21. In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. —Thomas Jefferson
  22. Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. —John F. Kennedy
  23. Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But if you must be without one, be without the strategy. —Norman Schwarzkopf
  24. Leadership is the key to 99 percent of all successful efforts. —Erskine Bowles
  25. What you do has far greater impact than what you say. —Stephen Covey
  26. One of the tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency. —Arnold Glasow
  27. The final test of a leader is that he leaves behind him in other men, the conviction and the will to carry on. —Walter Lippman
  28. A good leader is a person who takes a little more than his share of the blame and a little less than his share of the credit. —John Maxwell
  29. There are three essentials to leadership: humility, clarity and courage. —Fuchan Yuan
  30. My responsibility is getting all my players playing for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back. –Unknown

This last one isn’t from Forbes, but it transitions so nicely to the second half of my article that I have to list it last:

 31. We spend a lot of time teaching our leaders what to do. We don’t spend enough time teaching them what to STOP [doing]. –Peter Drucker (emphasis mine)

Those are all pretty powerful quotes on what makes a good leader. But as Drucker says, we spend quite a bit of energy espousing what leaders SHOULD do, and very little teaching them what to STOP doing.

Many of you may know a simple quality tool: “Start, Stop, and Keep.” It’s a way to prioritize activities – maintaining or leveraging core strengths and creating capacity to focus on those so-called “right things” by eliminating waste, unnecessary tasks, or – in this case – downright counterproductive behaviors. So consider this our own leadership Start-Stop-Keep: the 31 quotes above are what leaders should start or keep doing; the 31 ideas below are what leaders should stop doing. Many were posted in a blog by Art Petty; a few are my own. And the commentary in brackets is mine:

  1. Stop barking orders at people like you’re a drill instructor. [Employees will be much more engaged if they’re treated with respect.]
  2. Stop expecting people to read your mind. [Communicate, communicate, communicate.]
  3. Stop making people feel like taking time off to go on vacation is a sin. [An increasing amount of research is showing that workers NEED time off to reflect, refresh, and refocus. It’s all about balance.]
  4. Stop multi-tasking when someone asks you a question. [Focus on your people, and show some respect.]
  5. Stop handing out only the negative feedback. [Give five compliments for every constructive criticism. It works.]
  6. Stop dressing down people in public. [If you have issues with your employees, take them into private. It’s respectful, and the feedback will be better received.]
  7. Stop saving all of your feedback for the annual performance review. [Constant feedback is needed throughout the year to make many minor adjustments in performance and behavior before they become the need for major changes.]
  8.  Stop letting people wander through their days with no context for the organization’s strategic priorities. [Set a vision; establish a plan; help employees connect the dots.]
  9.  Stop ignoring people that you don’t like. [All stakeholders are important; don’t show favorites.]
  10. Stop reminding everyone that you are the boss. [Arrogance will get you nowhere as a leader. Be humble; be a servant leader. Don’t be needy.]
  11. Stop taking credit for the work of others. [Share – or better yet, transfer – the credit for success.]
  12. Stop playing favorites. [Appreciate the strengths that each employee offers.]
  13. Stop making everything “all about you.” [Effective leaders realize that it’s all about the customer and their employees.]
  14. Stop forgetting to provide people fresh challenges. [Focus on employees’ development; stretch them to take initiative. Turn them on, and then turn them loose.]
  15. Stop worrying about what your team members are saying to their co-workers about you. On second thought, maybe you should worry. [Be confident, but at the same time, be willing to accept feedback.]
  16. Stop declaring everything a crisis. [Set appropriate priorities and keep everything in perspective. Leaders should be balanced and should promote a certain calmness: not everything is a crisis, and not everything is your top priority.]
  17.  Stop blocking our access to people in other groups. [Open doors, remove barriers, and then get out of the way.]
  18. Stop managing by fear and intimidation. [Create an environment of openness, transparency, and trust. Accountability is important, but only in an environment that supports risk-taking, innovation, and a certain amount of failure.]
  19. Stop hoarding information on company and team performance. [Share, communicate, and be transparent.]
  20. Stop spitting in the plate where you eat. [Or, similarly: don’t defecate where you sleep! Remember: your people are critical to you and your organization accomplishing its goals. Treat them with respect and dignity, and they’ll do the same back to you.]
  21. Stop chasing shiny objects. [Set priorities and keep focused. You can – and should – adjust and change, as the environment changes and needs dictate. But, as Deming claimed: there is much to be said for “constancy of purpose.”]
  22. Stop micromanaging. [Set the vision, coach and provide support, and then get out of the way. Tell people what needs to be done, but not how to do it. Their ingenuity may surprise you.]
  23. Stop believing that you know everything. [All of us knows more than one of us.]
  24. Stop discounting employees’ ideas. [Invite suggestions, weigh the merits of each –with data! – and empower people to take action and make change.]
  25. Stop doing so much. [And start delegating, coaching, supporting more.]
  26. Stop stressing. [And start smiling. Not everything is so serious. Have some fun; create an environment in which people actually like to work. As a leader, your personality and your mood will rub off on your employees. Even during “bad days,” try to put your people above yourself.]
  27. Stop cheating. [Boy, I hope many of you don’t do this, but there is nothing more important in business than ethics and integrity. Do the right thing, and people will trust you.]
  28. Stop assuming people understand the company’s priorities. [Everyone has their own perspective, and you simply cannot over-communicate strategic priorities. Always reflect on – and communicate – your organization’s mission, vision, values, and goals. Sometimes leaders may think they are broken records, but you have to repeat and reinforce what’s truly important.]
  29. Stop stagnating. [Leadership is a constant process of learning, reflecting, and adjusting. Focus on your own professional development; invite feedback. Continue to grow.]
  30. Stop making decisions on intuition alone. [As Mark Twain said: “In God we trust; all others must bring data.” Use data to make decisions – they will be more rational, more responsive to customer/stakeholder needs, and more consistent.]
  31. Stop talking. [And start listening. It’s amazing what you might actually learn if you listen to your people, your customers, your partners.]

It’s an interesting list, and positioned quite differently than many of the positive quotes and the start/keep lists we always see. As Art Petty says, a “stop” list like this isn’t quite as confusing as the “never-ending torrent of advice on what do to” as leaders. Indeed, they are like a metaphorical kick in the seat of the pants – habit-breakers, behavior modifiers.

If you have insights on what to start, stop, or keep doing as leaders, post them on our LinkedIn Group discussion. And if you’re a leader – and we all are regardless of our roles! – try one from both lists for each day in January. I’ll check back to see how you’re all doing!

Have a safe and very happy holidays,

Brian S. Lassiter
President, Performance Excellence Network (formerly Minnesota Council for Quality)