The Four Corners Of Great Leadership

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Since reading Primal Leadership, I’ve been a fan of this topic and a student of the discipline. 

Later, as Yahoo’s Leadership Coach, I studied the areas of excellence in leaders both inside the company, and throughout our customer and partner base.  Some, like Howard Stringer of Sony, had very clear skill sets, such as people skills.  Others, like Scott McNeely, had implicit skills, like deal-making.  After my first book came out, I was invited to speak at leadership events, which gave me valuable feedback over time.  Here are four areas of leadership excellence that all great leaders continually develop.  

1.  VISION – As Stephen Covey Sr. said, “Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success: leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.” In other words, she sees where the organization needs to go, and can enunciate it clearly to her followers.  Think of this as the strategy piece of the puzzle.  Great leaders do not guess in this regard, they must constantly research and observe business context closely – otherwise, their vision is blurry or incorrect.  This is why Readers Are Leaders.  They constantly plumb books, studies and trend data to sharpen their vision and spot strategic opportunities to pounce on.  When business misfires, they rethink their vision and are willing to shift or pivot.

2. COMMITMENT – You aren’t a leader if you don’t step up!  As Farmers Insurance executive Bryan Murphy told me, “leadership is dangerous.”  Why?  Because when you step up and say, “this way!”, you are assuming accountability for the outcome.  Get your vision wrong, and you may lose your job. But it’s a bet you must make, because with commitement comes respect and a new power – the ability to mobilize people and align them with a plan.  Commitment is an ongoing process, though.  You can lose it or let it wither due to adversity.  Great leaders constantly check in on their level of commitment and refresh their motivations, especially during tough times.

3. INFLUENCE – The Chinese proverb applys: He who has no followers is merely taking a walk! Despite your vision and commitment, if you can’t motivate and/or inspire others, you can’t lead effectly.  Influence stems mostly from our communications skills, both in terms of what we say and how closely we listen to others.  Great leaders use story devices to unite their teams, speak in clear terms and exude authenticity.  They take every communications opportunity very seriously, and prepare relentlessly to move their audiences to action. READ: Leadership Is Dead: How Influence Is Reviving It for more here.

4. PURPOSE – This is likely the most important corner of leadership excellence.  Great leaders are focused on the WHY behind the WHAT.  Their strategy has a purpose bigger than traditional business goals: Making money, growing, accumulating resources.  Leaders don’t get the means and the ends mixed up.  In True North:Discover Your Authentic Leadership, Medtronic founder Bill George talks about our compass, which is the ultimate guide for the leader.  To him, integrity and service are the true north we point our enterprise towards. In Good To Great, Jim Collins reminds leaders that their purpose needs to be worthy – something bigger than just P&L management.  This is an ongoing challenge for leaders, as they need to ask themselves, “how do we make this world a better place?” and then using purpose (think service, not self) as the ultimate device to give their followers focus and hope.