Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Prime Directives of Leadership

If you have even a passing interest in the subject of leadership then your bookshelves are probably full of volumes on the subject.  New books appear monthly, not to mention journal articles and other forms of publication.  That is all well and good.  I am not here to suggest that all the attention devoted to the topic of leadership is unwarranted or unhelpful.

I do suggest, however, that the prime directives of leadership - the very core things that it seeks to accomplish, are well known.  There may be new concepts and techniques on how to successfully lead, but the key goals remain largely the same.

Leadership is personal.  It is a matter of substance but style is important as well, sometimes fundamentally so.  Since it is personal each leader must walk his or her own path.  That makes a leader’s understanding of who they are, who they are engaged with, and the environment in which they lead a most critical function.  In order to come to a point of clarity on these issues one must be thoughtful and intentional.  Leadership doesn’t just happen.

At the end of this evaluation process you will have reached conclusions about the organization and people you lead, and yourself.  What is it that makes you the right leader for this group at this time?  How does your style support or hinder what you are trying to accomplish?  Where does it need to be strengthened or changed?  With the answers to these and other questions you will be prepared to think about how to set about accomplishing your own prime directives of leadership. 

What are your leadership prime directives?  Where have all those books you’ve read, the challenges, failures and successes you have experienced, your observations about the environment around you…where has all of that led you to in terms of your own Prime Directives of Leadership?  Here are mine.

Leadership Directive 1:  Lead with Integrity
Integrity is at the top of my list because I believe effective leadership without it is impossible.  People must be able to trust those they follow or they will not do so willingly, enthusiastically, or when the going gets tough.  To me, integrity is about that earned trust.  Leading with integrity requires that you have a set of principles, goals and strategies which are transparent, worthy, and consistently applied. Leadership is not about smoke and mirrors.  It is about honesty, directness, focus and attention to detail; all applied in a way that moves individuals and organizations forward.

Leadership Directive 2:  Envision, Energize, Empower
Leaders must articulate a vision that will energize others towards a better future.  The “vision thing” is so big that without it one is not a leader.  The vision should challenge people and inspire them help create its reality.  Leaders cannot accomplish big things alone, they must have the active and enthusiastic support of others.  To gain that kind of engagement the leader’s vision must be released.  People must feel they have permission to adopt it as their own, morph it where needed, and activate it through their own creativity and energy.  One of a leader’s biggest accomplishments is the adoption of his or her vision by others.  Instead of trying to control it, release it and watch what happens.

Leadership Directive 3:  Recruit Intelligence, Curiosity, Energy
To use a sports analogy, I generally prefer to draft the best available talent instead of the best available position player.  Only when a key specialty skill or knowledge is missing from the mix do I shift to a positional focus.  Otherwise, I want the best and brightest, period.  I want their intelligence to challenge me and to create breakthroughs, their curiosity to help discover new opportunities and solutions, and their energy to see it through and energize those around them.  When you have a group like this; intelligent, curious and enthusiastic, work becomes fun, problems become stimulating, and success becomes all the more enjoyable.

Leadership Directive 4:  Serve
If I have clearly articulated a sound and achievable vision, recruited the right team and gained their trust, then all of the requirements for success are in place.  Now my most important function is to do everything I can to remove the obstacles to their success.  As a leader I should be mentoring, coaching, teaching and challenging the team.  I should also be anticipating and searching for the things that impede their progress and doing everything I can to eliminate them.  By releasing the vision to others and then prioritizing my efforts towards their success I multiply myself many times over and increase the leverage I have on any particular problem.

Successful leadership is an intentional art.  It projects the leader and the organization forward in a way that enables a better future.  It is not accidental and requires a purposeful focus, and the ability to define oneself through the success of others.  I’ve shared a few of my personal “Prime Directives of Leadership.”  Do you know what yours are?

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