Learning About Leadership: What I’ve Discovered

The research I conducted early in my career showed that leaders are more than managers. They are motivators. Studies have shown that workers who are supervised by bosses who can motivate them will produce better work than those who work for someone who tightly manages every little thing they do. 

To the extent that I became a leader during my career, it was because I have always been a student of success and motivation.

I also learned much from legendary management consultant Peter Drucker. Included in his philosophy is the need for leaders to have a high level of integrity. He wrote, “What would I look for in picking a leader of an institution? First, I would look at what the candidates have done, what their strengths are—you can only perform with strength—and what have they done with it? Second, I would look at the institution doing the hiring and ask: ‘What is the one immediate key challenge?’ I would try to match the strength with the needs. Then I would look for integrity. A leader sets an example, especially a strong leader.”

Drucker summarizes it by telling the story of a business veteran who described a leader this way: “I always ask myself, would I want one of my sons to work under that person? If [the leader] is successful…would I want my son to look like that?”

While a lot of that seems like common sense, we see CEOs getting it wrong all the time. Steph Korey, the cofounder of luggage company Away left her job once word got out about a toxic work culture under her leadership.  McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook was fired when the restaurant chain found he had violated company policies and “demonstrated poor judgment involving a recent consensual relationship with an employee.” And, after 25 years of leading Nike, the CEO left following several gender discrimination lawsuits. This list goes on and on.

While executives show expertise in many areas, no one is perfect. Some simply have a lack of judgment. Some can’t handle the pressure of a complicated job, while others let their egos get in the way of their success.

The effective leader shows grace under pressure. They know how to behave ethically.

We also see the challenges the leader faces.

They are asked to do many things, always make the right decisions, please many different stakeholders who often bring competing agendas. Corporate leaders must hit financial projections. Nonprofit leaders must demonstrate success in serving the organization’s mission.

CNN reported on the four biggest mistakes a CEO can make:

Taking too long to fire a direct report

CNN said that consulting group Heidrick & Struggles found that CEOs they surveyed regretted not firing someone sooner who was not working out. This happens out of guilt or admitting to a poor decision in hiring.

Losing touch with front-line employees

It is easy for CEOs to become isolated from what is going on in the organization. When that happens, leaders often don’t see threats until it is too late.

Not staying in your company’s lane

Efforts to diversify a business can lead to distractions. Consultant Ron Carucci told CNN, CEOs may say yes to too many initiatives and approve too many budgets. They dilute the company.” His advice is to “step back and ask who your loyal customers are and what needs of theirs you can still meet. Who are you? Be that.”

Not being aware of your weaknesses

Your anger, paranoia, and self-contempt can destroy the beat of your intentions. Executive coach and psychologist Cindy Wahler told CNN if a CEO is a closet narcissist — or simply is convinced that he always knows best — he risks alienating his executive team.

After all of the reading I’ve done and the conversations I’ve had, I believe that effective leaders have two primary characteristics:

Effective leaders have a sound vision and know how to get people to rally around their ideas.

Effective leaders behave ethically and are trustworthy.


Today’s post is excerpted from my book, “Be A Leader Not Just A Manager.”  You can purchase the book HERE.

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