Webster says that leadership is “the position or function of a leader; the ability to lead; an act or instance of leading, guidance, direction.” Do you enjoy leading, guiding or directing? Do you look forward to making decisions that impact the lives of others? Would you rather give the responsibility for making choices to someone else? Most of us have been in a position of authority and all of us have met someone who possesses the qualities of an effective leader.
Being a leader is a difficult task especially if you are given responsibilities that you are not familiar with. If you accept this position, you are going to be scrutinized by how you act, the way you look and the way you talk. It is important to be conscious of your actions because the goal is to project an image of influence. Good leaders possess certain characteristics that can help them gain the respect and recognition of others, these are know as leadership qualities – and the good news is they can be learned and applied to help you become a successful and authentic leader.
Be A Good Example. The first concept is to lead by example. You need to work harder than those who surround you in order to gain their respect. Demonstrate your dedication by being early and staying late. Distinguish yourself through character and integrity when situations are difficult or they are not going your way. Go the extra mile for those who are in your circle of influence.
Be A Good Listener. The second quality of an effective leader is the ability to listen more and talk less. It is more important to listen to the issues that are being raised instead of expressing your opinion about them. Some individuals have the misconception that a good leader talks as much as possible. Effective leaders realize that listening provides them with a deeper understanding of the needs of those that surround them. It also gives them a greater insight into the issues that must be addressed.
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself. All excellent leaders regularly invest in themselves – they realise that the payoff will always be positive in the long run. Leaders have often sought out useful leadership books and learning material that will help them along the path to happiness and leadership. Leaders also invest in their own leadership training programmes or leadership coaching.
Be Concerned. The third concept for effective leadership is the ability to ask the appropriate questions. Analyzing information provides the opportunity to probe the concerns and issues that confront those around you. Express sincerity and as you examine the regards of others. Asking penetrating questions provides the possibility to discover the root causes of problems so that they can be addressed.
Be Decisive. The fourth quality of an effective leader is the ability to make decisions. Make a choice and stick to the plan. A conscientious leader will have options if the original solution is not working. With leadership comes the responsibility for making selections that affect the lives of others. If one has taken the input of those who surround them before making a decision, other considerations can be developed. It is important to examine all of the options thoroughly to avoid unnecessary mistakes and failures.
Not everyone wants to lead. If you are the owner of your home business, the head of your family or the director of a social group you are wearing the hat of a leader. Effective leadership is not necessarily an inherent quality. It can be learned and applied to the different areas of your life. Consider these four qualities as a foundation for developing your leadership skills.
“People never improve unless they look to some standard or example higher and better than themselves.”
John Fortner lives in Oregon and works from his home through his online pursuits. He is the owner of Best-Income Opportunities which offers free information and proven opportunities for creating work at home businesses. To learn more about this topic please visit his website at: http://www.best-incomeopportunities.com
We hear every day of poor leadership decision making, so I thought I would share a story with you of dynamic and inspirational leadership at its best – even in very tough conditions.
Ingar Skaug took a deep breath as he stepped into his first CEO job. He’d be picking up new responsibilities. He’d be picking up experience in a new industry. And, he’d be picking up the pieces after the entire management team had been killed in a plane crash.
It was like a scene from a Hollywood screenplay. Wilh. Wilhelmsen, an international shipping company in Scandinavia, had just added a ninth large carrier to its fleet. It was time to celebrate. So on a cool September morning in 1989, its management team boarded a plane in Oslo and headed to Hamburg for the customary christening ceremony.
Suddenly, celebration turned to tragedy as the plane crashed, killing all 50 passengers and wiping out the top two levels of Wilhelmsen management.
At the time, Skaug was Chief Operating Officer of Scandinavian Air (SAS) and loved his job. Under his watch, SAS had achieved double-digit growth and had transformed its culture to where it was listed as the #1 place to work in Norway. Skaug thought he’d be at SAS for the rest of his career.
“It took me three months to decide whether to take the Wilhelmsen job,” admits Skaug. “But in the end, I realized that this would be a leadership challenge of a lifetime.”
And indeed it was. When Skaug took the reins from a caretaker who had been loosely watching over Wilhelmsen since the accident, he found a company in disarray. Skaug recalls: “When I realized how bad things were, my first thought was, what the hell have I done?”
Wilhelmsen’s financial performance was floundering. The offices and plants were disheveled and disorganized. And employees were trapped in mourning, unable to focus and make decisions.
“It was an organization paralyzed by grief,” says Skaug. “I’d be in a meeting discussing a business issue, and someone would start talking about the accident. I could feel the energy drain from the room as the conversation went in a completely different direction. It was hard for anyone to stay focused. I had to work at keeping my mouth shut and my ears open.”
Patiently Planning for Change
That first year, Skaug did a lot of listening. “I walked around and asked a lot of questions. And I’d look into my employees’ eyes. It told me a lot. I found that the younger people who hadn’t been there very long were desperate to move forward, while the people who had been there for a long time were stuck in the grieving process.”
Eager to get Wilhelmsen on a path to success, Skaug wrestled with how much pressure to apply, and when. He decided to spend the first nine months evaluating talent, meeting with customers, assessing the culture, strategy, business processes…all very quietly. Meanwhile, he began to talk publicly about the importance of a performance-based culture, sowing seeds for changes to come.
“I felt it was important to let the organization go through a full cycle of mourning while I earned their trust and helped them understand that change was coming,” recalls Skaug. “I let them go through all the holidays, all the annual milestones. On the one-year anniversary of the accident, we had a ceremony and invited the relatives of the deceased. As far as I was concerned, that was the moment of closure for the organization. It was now time to move forward.”
The Turnaround Begins
Skaug began to lean on his people, refusing to make decisions that belonged at lower levels. “At first, they thought I was being indecisive, but I needed them to know that they were accountable,” he says with palpable conviction. Skaug realized that certain members of his team were incapable of rising to the task, and he began making changes, promoting some from within and bringing in others from the outside.
He also did a formal internal culture climate survey. Skaug already knew that the culture had become dysfunctional, but he understood the importance of having objective data to pave the way for change.
Dismal results in hand, he brought together the first two levels of management, co-opting them to make improvements. “It was very difficult having those first conversations about what was broken in the organization,” recalls Skaug. “But when we got focused on putting together action plans, it became much more productive.”
Then, Skaug took the group off-site for three days to codify the company’s vision, strategy, values and leadership principles. “I know most organizations take longer to clarify such things,” admits Skaug, “But I had been thinking about them for a year, and although our outcomes may not have been perfect, they were good enough to take us to the next level of performance.”
With the leadership team in formal agreement about the company they aspired to reshape, Skaug now had license to put his foot down.
“It quickly became clear that not everyone was willing to live according to our agreements, so I had to let them go. Some were very good business people but didn’t model the culture we were trying to create. I needed to send a very clear signal about the values I expected the company to live by.”
Skaug instituted a cascading process, taking groups of employees (60 at a time) off-site for 2 days to ensure they were clear on the company’s direction, values, strategy and guiding principles. He did this until every employee had been included in the process.
He also committed to doing a climate survey every year.
Then, Skaug began correlating Wilhemsen’s financial results to the climate survey data. The profitability of the company began to track with the culture. “Once people saw the connection, they were totally bought in,” he recalls. “Commitment to a healthy, productive culture became part of our DNA.”
With a foundational culture in place and financial performance on the rise, Skaug began to focus on growth and started buying companies. “We were able to integrate our acquisitions fairly easily because we had a crystal clear process for culture and strategy deployment. We used the same process with each acquisition. Consistency was very important.”
The Report Card
During Skaug’s 20-year tenure, Wilhemsen successfully transitioned from a shipping company to one of the world’s largest maritime and integrated logistics operations. It grew from $250 million to $5 billion in revenue; from nine ships to 164; from a handful of offices to 500 locations in 100 countries; from 3,500 employees to more than 23,000 employees in 75 countries.
Skaug demonstrates determined leadership qualities and today, he serves on a myriad of boards and is the Chairman of the Board of Governors at the Center for Creative Leadership, one of the top independent leadership development organizations in the world.
When asked about the most valuable leadership lesson he learned through this experience, Skaug answers with an immediate swell of passion. “Culture drives your business, period. It’s not the other way around. Get your culture right, hold firm to your values, and the financial results will follow.”
Guest Post: Susan Tardanico is CEO of the Authentic Leadership Alliance, a leadership and communications consultancy. She is also Executive in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership, as well as a professional speaker. A former corporate senior executive and broadcast reporter, Susan has a passion for authentic leadership and courageous career management.
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“It struck me so forcibly that I shall never forget him. He had ‘leadership qualities’ which I had never seen in any other man. Never had I seen such concentrated attention. His eyes were mild and genial, his voice low and kind. His gestures were few. But the attention he gave me, his appreciation for what I said, even when I said it badly, was extraordinary. You’ve no idea what it meant to be listened to like that.” The narrator describes his experience of meeting one of the world greatest ever listeners, Sigmund Freud.
The late great Dale Carnegie How To Win Friends And Influence People tells the story of a time when he met a woman at a dinner party, who had heard about his travels to Europe and was desperate to hear all about it. She commented that she and her husband had recently returned from a holiday in Africa.
“Africa!” I exclaimed “How interesting! I’ve always wanted to see Africa, bit I never got there except for a 24 hour stay once in Algiers.” Dale Carnegie went on to ask if she visited the big game reserves and over the next 45 minutes, she proceeded to tell him all about her wonderful trip. She never again asked him where he had been in Europe or what he had seen. She didn’t really want to know – all she wanted was an interested listener, so she could expand her ego and relive her memories.
Is this unusual? No. Most people are like that. Most of us prefer to talk than to listen. There is a saying:
We were all born with two ears and one mouth, but we don’t use them in proportion.
Dale Carnegie knew the art of listening. He could listen for hours to people talking about what interested them most, without hardly saying a word, but still be known as a ‘good conversationalist’.
Years ago a Dutch immigrant boy whose family lived in poverty, had to gather coal in the streets that had fallen off coal wagons, instead of going to school and yet Edward Bok went on to become one of America’s greatest magazine editors. At the age of 13, he started work as an office boy for Western Union, but he was fascinated by the lives of famous people. He decided to write to them asking for details of their childhood and how they became successful. He wrote to the then President of The United States, famous inventors, industrialists and politicians. And they all replied. Before long, he was corresponding with many of the most famous people in the Nation. They all invited him for holidays, as a welcome guest in their homes. ‘This experience imbued him with a confidence that was invaluable. These men and women fired him with a vision and ambition that shaped his life’.
All because he was a great listener, genuinely interested in other people.
I once came up against an extremely irate and obnoxious customer. (I suppose we all do at some stage of our working life!) He was furious – ranting about my staff being rude to him, not following our procedures and not acknowledging our mistakes. He had written copious letters of complaint; phoned on twenty occasions; he was threatening legal action; wanted his money back and all his accounts closed. Different staff became involved and despite trying desperately to resolve the situation and explain why certain decisions had been made, he accused them of conspiring and making excuses. The matter became so vitriolic that the staff, including several managers who had been involved, couldn’t cope with him and every attempt to try to resolve the situation just seemed to antagonise him further.
As soon as the situation was referred to me, I picked up the phone, explained who I was and offered to meet him at a time and place convenient to him. “You mean you are actually prepared to listen to my justified complaints about your staff and take me seriously?” Yes I said. So we met and he ranted on for nearly 3 hours. I listened patiently to everything he had to say, making notes on key issues I felt were important to him and displaying empathy for his situation. Never interrupting, I just listened, paying attention to every word. Finally he ran out of steam. I thanked him for letting me know about all the issues. I apologised and explained that I couldn’t solve everything or change the poor experience he felt he’d suffered, but that I did take everything he said seriously and that I will do my best to ensure we improve our service to him in the future.
That was the last thing in the world I think he expected me to say. He had come ready for a fight and here I was agreeing with him, (on the premise that the customer is always right), apologising, listening genuinely to his concerns and being honest about the outcome.
A few days later another letter arrived. This time addressed to my boss, saying I was one of the most professional, courteous and honest people he had ever had the pleasure to meet and that I was a credit to the organisation. After reflecting on his own behaviour he apologised and admitted that he may originally have been wrong in the first place. He remains a loyal customer and significant introducer of new business to that organisation, to this day.
If you want to win the respect of your team, your peers, your boss, your customers and your competitors, DON’T talk incessantly about yourself. If you have an idea while the other person is talking DON’T interrupt in the middle of a sentence. People who talk only of themselves, think only of themselves. ‘A persons toothache means more to that person than a famine in Africa which kills a million people.’
So, if you aspire to be a great leader, an inspirationalist and good conversationalist, be an active listener. To be interesting, be interested. Ask meaningful, relevant questions that other people will enjoy answering. Encourage them to talk about themselves and their accomplishments.
Ask better questions and the result will be better answers.
Real listening develops emotional intelligence. You learn far more by listening to your team and the people in your life than by talking. Daniel Goleman The New Leaders: Transforming the Art of Leadership describes the rare leadership qualities of a ‘Level 5 leader’ – leaders who get the best results are often humble and show a great deal of empathy with their team.
Leadership qualities of humility and empathy come only through listening actively, engaging your teams and creating a culture where they feel they have a voice, where their opinions and ideas are listened to, encouraged and nurtured. This leads to empowerment and creativity, vital components of building top performing teams and great leadership.
Watch out though. Listening can be one of the hardest leadership skills to learn. You will often have to stop yourself… just when you are about to wade in with reams of your own ‘great ideas’; just when you know you have all the answers. STOP. Instead of making suggestions, offering solutions and giving your opinions, ASK. Question your team – get them to come up with the answers. Sit back and LISTEN. You will be amazed at what you hear. This leadership skill takes great practice and much self-awareness and reflection, but I encourage you to spend most of your time as a leader living to Paretos 80/20 principle. Listen 80% of the time and talk only 20% – the results will astound you.
Next week we will take a look at creativity. In thinking there is creating, in creating there is doing, in doing there is learning, in learning there is success.
“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” George Bernard Shaw
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Many qualities of effective leadership – characteristics such as communicating vision, demonstrating integrity, focusing on results, and ensuring customer satisfaction – will never change. But five new factors have emerged as clearly more important in the future:
1. Thinking globally.
The trend toward globally connected markets will become stronger. Leaders will need to understand the economic, cultural, legal, and political ramifications. Leaders will need to see themselves as citizens of the world with an expanded field of vision and values.
Two factors making global thinking a key variable for the future are the dramatic projected increases in global trade and integrated global technology, such as e-commerce. Future leaders will have to learn how to manage global production, marketing, and sales teams to achieve competitive advantage.
New technology is another factor that makes global thinking a requirement for future leaders. New technology will make it feasible to export white-collar work around the world. Computer programmers in India will communicate with designers in Italy to help develop products that are manufactured in Indonesia and sold in Brazil. Technology can help break down barriers to global business. Leaders who can make globalization work in their favor will have a huge competitive advantage.
2. Appreciating cultural diversity.
Future leaders will also need to appreciate cultural diversity, defined as diversity of leadership style, industry style, individual behaviors and values, race, and sex. They will need to understand not only the economic and legal differences, but also the social and motivational differences that are part of working around the world. Understanding other cultures is not just good business practice – it is a key to competing successfully in the future.
An appreciation of cultural diversity will need to include both the big and the small things that form a unique culture. Religion is one of the most important variables affecting behavior in a region. Smaller issues, such as the meaning of gifts, personal greetings, or timeliness, will also need to be better understood.
The ability to motivate people in different cultures will become increasingly important. Motivational strategies that are effective in one culture may be offensive in another culture. The same recognition that could be a source of pride to one could be a source of embarrassment to another. Leaders who can understand, appreciate, and motivate colleagues in multiple cultures will become an increasingly valued resource.
3. Investing In Oneself.
All excellent transformational leaders regularly invest in themselves. Leaders have often sought out useful leadership books and learning material that will help them along the path to happiness and leadership. These days, many e-courses tend to be rather disappointing, but I’m always happy to personally recommend an e-course that is still respected by leadership professionals such as myself.
4. Demonstrating technological savvy.
Many future leaders who have been raised with technology view it as an integrated part of their lives. Many present leaders still view technological savvy as important for staff people and operations, but not for them. We need not all become gifted technicians or computer scientists, but we need to:
- Understand how the intelligent use of new technology can help us.
- Recruit, develop, and maintain a network of technically competent people.
- Know how to make and manage investments in new technology.
- Be positive role models in leading the use of new technology.
Organizations with technologically savvy leaders will have a competitive advantage. Without technological savvy, the future of integrated global partnerships and networks would be impossible.
4. Building partnerships and alliances.
More organizations are forming alliances today. This trend will be even more dramatic in the future. Re-engineering, restructuring, and downsizing are leading to a world where outsourcing of all but core brand-related activities may become the norm. The ability to negotiate complex alliances and manage complex networks of relationships is becoming increasingly important. Joint leadership of new business models is vital to a successful global venture.
The changing role of customers, suppliers, and partners has implications for leaders. In the past it was clear who your friends (customers and collaborators) and enemies (competitors) were. In the future, these roles will become more blurred. Building positive, long-term, win-win relationships becomes critical.
5. Sharing leadership.
Sharing leadership is a requirement, not an option. In an alliance structure, telling partners what to do and how to do it may quickly lead to having no partners.
In dealing with knowledge workers – people who know more about what they are doing than their managers do – old models of leadership will not work. Future leaders will operate in a mode of asking for input and sharing information. Knowledge workers may well be difficult to keep. They will likely have little organizational loyalty and view themselves as professional free agents who will work for the leader who provides the most developmental challenge and opportunity. Skills in hiring and retaining key talent will be valuable for the leader of the future.
Most high-potential future leaders see the value of these new competencies and are willing to have their performance measured by them. Future leaders may be recruited to help mentor present leaders. If future leaders have the wisdom to learn from the experience of present leaders, and if present leaders have the wisdom to learn new competencies from future leaders, they can share leadership in a way that benefits the organization.
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