Who Are Leaders? Part 1

By William G. Mora
Great leaders follow.

Understanding the functions and characteristics of eminent leaders is a prudent prerequisite to those who aspire to such positions. There are role models aplenty one can emulate, learn from and aspire to. Volumes have been written about key traits and the modus operandi attributable to exceptional leadership. Leadership occurs in numerous, and sometimes unexpected places—in the business world, certainly. But also in the military; politics and diplomacy; sports; volunteer, civic and religious organisations; the entertainment industry; in the classroom; at home; and in myriad places throughout our communities. There are many kinds of leaders, and as a result, leadership styles. Some guide their organisations through visionary innovations. Some are brilliant at inspiring others. Others excel at performing top level administrative functions. Regardless, the outlook and behavior of one’s followers, along with the overall success of one’s organisation determine if one is a bona fide bellwether.

People Persons

Leaders make decisions and inspire followers to embrace, implement and follow-through on them.  The best care about the individuals within their organisation and spend a good percentage of their time developing their talents, strengths and skills. They genuinely are concerned about whom they lead.

Dr. Stephen Dr. Covey’s definition of leadership is empowerment.  Covey is an internationally respected leadership authority, family expert, teacher, organisational consultant, and author, providing sagacious insight to millions.  His landmark book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, was named “The #1 Most Influential Business Book of the 20th Century.”

The best leaders, asserts Covey, excel at “communicating to people their own worth and potential so clearly that they are then inspired to see it in themselves.”  Culminating in decades of research, he established Four Imperatives of Leadership:

Inspire TrustRelationships of trust are built through both your character and competence, along with the trust you extend to others.  You demonstrate your believe in their capacity to live up to certain expectations, to deliver on promises, and to achieve clarity on key goals.  You don’t inspire trust by micromanaging and second guessing every step people make.

Clarify Purpose. Great leaders involve their people in the communication process to create the goals to be achieved.  If people are involved in the process, they psychologically own it.  Then you’ve created an environment where people are in agreement about what is most important—mission, vision, values and goals.

Align SystemsEliminate conflicts between what you say is important and what you measure.  Frequently organisations assert their personnel are most important.  However, the structures and systems, including accounting, make them out to be just an expense or cost—rather than an asset as the organisation’s most significant resource.

Unleash Talent. When you inspire trust and share a common purpose with aligned systems, you empower your people.  Their talent is then maximised in full capacity; hence their intelligence, creativity, and resourcefulness are fully utilised.

Characteristics

Leaders that embrace strong strength of character within themselves inspire similar attitudes and behavior among their followers.  They realise “business ethics” is not an oxymoron.  Few are blessed in having these innate temperament and acumen.  However, most of us can culminate and practice them by choice.  Effectual leaders are in constant quest of continuous improvement; not only for their company and employees but importantly, themselves.  They are insightful: recognising their own weaknesses while capitalising upon their own strengths … along with wise task delegation. They don’t contradict themselves by using words or taking actions that aren’t allied with who they are.  This is also true for the mission they’ve envisioned and defined for their organisations.

As stated by Rebecca Barnett, internationally published author and acclaimed motivational speaker on character-centred leaders, “Your leadership must be grounded in the bedrock of your beliefs as you make decisions about people and strategy.”  The best never betray themselves or their company. “Doing what is right always comes down to the individual,” she stresses. It begins with the most basic leadership skills, supported by the organisational framework.”

Leaders walk their talk.  They’re intimately aligned with their organisation’s and their own core values and purpose.  People thus respect, listen—and most importantly—trust and follow them.  A leader’s strength of character enfranchises those around them.

Peter Eastman II, in his The Character of Leadership, echoes the sentiments of many pundits who view the recent scandals in Wall Street, the banking industry, and ripe throughout government as a breakdown of this fundamental attribute.  “The challenges we face today are not economic, environmental, social, or legal; they are challenges of character and leadership.”

In our next segment, we’ll examine more indispensable parameters of leadership, including the ability to innovate, the difference between management and leadership, and other key attributes.

William G. Mora, MBA, is an engineer and entrepreneur.  A consultant and business specialist, he has had key assignments in Europe, South America, and the U.S.

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