Writing the Book on Leadership

There have been thousands of books published on leadership and tens of thousands of articles, whitepapers, and blogs (plus one, if you count this one!). Some of them focus on the process of good leadership; some of them focus on the characteristics and traits of good leaders. Some of them on the art of good leadership; some of them on the science of good leadership. Defining good leadership is nebulous at best – why else would there be 130 million entries on Google when you search for “good leadership”?! Obviously, there isn’t a single, simple definition.

But there are some common themes. In all of the literature, there seems to be a handful of best practices that ensure — or at least promote – effective leadership. I’ve summarized 35 here – very simple, straightforward tips to improving and ensuring great leadership. After you’ve reflected on the list, post yours – either on our LinkedIn discussion page or my Twitter account (I’m tweeting one of these each day for a month, and would love to have a dialogue!). Here they are, in no particular order:

Great leaders…               are authentic.                  They are genuine – in their faith, their values, and in their character. People know where they stand. They are dependable and reliable.
Great leaders…               listen.                  Not only do great leaders solicit input from a variety of stakeholders, they are able to synthesize the information to produce a better outcome. They understand that “all of us” is better than “one of us.”
Great leaders…               collaborate.           They put the team over self. They look for the “and” not the “or.” And they know that true partnerships leverage the strengths of each of the parties, increasing the chances of success for all.
Great leaders…               are approachable..       They welcoming, available, accessible, and generally amicable. Most good leaders are a pleasure to be around.
Great leaders…               balance process with pragmatism..           They know the value of being systematic – repeatable, consistent, predictable, and data-based. But they also have “street smarts,” knowing when to rely on intuition and instinct.
Great leaders…               know themselves.           They know their own strengths and their own limitations. They know their blind spots, and they find others that shore up their shortcomings.
Great leaders…               have integrity..           They are trustworthy, credible, and dependable. Trust is the lubrication that allows all relationships to work.
Great leaders…               are creative..           They are inventive and resourceful, finding – usually through others – innovative solutions to complex problems. They have the ability to synthesize and integrate information, finding ways to make meaningful change.
Great leaders…               handle obstacles and challenges..           Great leaders thrive on ambiguity and welcome challenges, because they know that challenges bring opportunities and room for personal and organizational growth.
Great leaders…               are inspiring..           They inherently motivate – they stimulate energy in others. Generally, others like to work with (and for) great leaders.
Great leaders…               have unwavering character.         They have strong values, and never stray from those convictions. They make decisions based on their core values.
Great leaders…               serve others..           They focus on cultivating relationships. They put others – their team, their family, their customers, their fellow human beings – above themselves. And they usually find that this yields a return for themselves and the organization.
Great leaders…               have a strong appetite to improve..           They value continuous learning – of themselves and their people.
Great leaders…               are flexible, given the situation..           They are versatile and agile, adjusting their style (but not their values or convictions) to match the environment and circumstances.
Great leaders…               focus on excellence..           They focus on great, not good. They are never satisfied with the status quo or average. They push themselves – and encourage their people – to always do better. And they create an environment where others can achieve excellence.
Great leaders…               are appreciative..           They celebrate successes through reward and sometimes simple recognition. They also encourage their people to balance work/life, always aware of the potential for burnout and the need to recharge batteries.
Great leaders…               empower others..           They create an environment where others can succeed. They know how to delegate, trusting others to do their jobs (but providing resources and support to help them accomplish their goals).
Great leaders…               are compassionate..           They are caring and compassionate. They understand that their people have lives, and show empathy and concern for the human side of their people.
Great leaders…               take intelligent risks..           They use data to make decisions, understanding that some opportunities for potential gain outweigh the risks of harm or loss by not exploring them.
Great leaders…               communicate.           They know that effective, two-way communication is critical to any team’s or organization’s success. They listen; they share their vision and perspective many times in many ways; and then they listen again.
Great leaders…               hold people accountable.           They set high standards/goals and they work to help their people achieve them. But when results are not achieved (or behavior not appropriate), they enforce consequences.
Great leaders…               provide meaningful feedback.           They provide frequent, concrete feedback to their people – both positive and constructive. They focus on specific behaviors, attributes, and activities that are enabling (or inhibiting) progress, and the follow up to make sure changes are working.
Great leaders…               focus on outcomes, not tasks.           They focus on results, not just the activities behind them. But they do understand the connections between tasks and results, helping others to focus on causes that eventually lead to desired effects.
Great leaders…               embrace diversity.           They understand that diversity of opinion and diversity of people leads to greater perspective and better outcomes. They are inclusive.
Great leaders…               are transparent..           They are forthcoming, honest, and trustworthy.
Great leaders…               learn from and celebrate failures..           They know that success comes from taking chances and that risk and reward are linked. They support their people for doing what they feel is right, and they focus on learning rather than punishment when things don’t work out.
Great leaders…               focus on developing the next generation of leaders..           Ralph Nader once said: the role of leaders is to produce more leaders, not more followers. Great leaders focus on the development and growth of their people.
Great leaders…               ask great questions..           They get to the root cause of issues by asking the right – and a lot – of questions. They never lose sight of what’s important, and they ask probing questions to understand and remove barriers.
Great leaders…               have focus..           They know where they – and the organization – is (or should be) going. They articulate a strong vision, and they demonstrate constancy of purpose toward that vision.
Great leaders…               have passion.           They have a passion for what they are doing – they live, breathe, eat, and sleep the organization’s (and/or their personal) mission. Their passion is contagious and it fuels forward progress.
Great leaders…               are respectful.           They don’t play favorites on their teams – they treat people with respect, dignity, and fairness.
Great leaders…               are confident.           They know that if they don’t believe in themselves, no one will.
Great leaders…               have humility..           But they also know that too much confidence can be perceived as arrogance, so they strike a balance and always strive to remain humble. Many good leaders also practice an appropriate amount of self-deprecation.
Great leaders…               have perspective..           They keep things in perspective: they don’t over-react to minor issues, or under-react to major issues. They’re even and steady.
Great leaders…               have a sense of humor.           They know that morale and productivity are linked, so they try to keep things fun – to keep positive energy.

So there they are: 35 simple, straightforward tips to improving and ensuring great leadership.

Agree, disagree? Or what did I miss? Post your reaction, or offer additional leadership best practices on our LinkedIn discussion page or my Twitter account account.
Yours in Performance Excellence!

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