With the stock market regularly hitting new highs, there are numerous companies that are blessed with exceptional leaders. The CEO’s of two technology behemoths are particularly good examples of this: 1) Amazon is turning in to an amazing retail juggernaut, and 2) Microsoft has been totally rejuvenated by its initiatives into cloud services and turning Office into the Office 365 online subscription service.
In considering such examples, I think it is worthwhile to step back and think about the fundamentals of what it takes to lead a group to a successful outcome. In doing so, I am reminded of some work published five or so years ago in the Harvard Business Review that really stuck with me. It was focused on uncovering the key behaviors found in the experiences of others who have achieved success.
Specifically, the work was based on an in-depth study of and interviews with, individuals who had transformed themselves from mediocrity to highly success leadership; as evidenced by their personal effectiveness, and significant gains for their organization in financial performance, customer approval, and employee engagement. Here are the fundamental characteristics that I gleaned from the analysis:
1.) Ambition and Aspiration – Strong leaders have the ambition to do something of significance, and this causes them to regularly step back, assess the situation via careful analysis, develop a plan for success, modify/refine it via several iterations of input and critique from key people in the organization, and then launch the dream/vision. They take the time to carefully go over with the entire organization what is to be achieved and how they will achieve it, creating enthusiasm and excitement.
2.) Accountability and Responsibility – Realizing that he or she is totally dependent on the people in the organization to achieve the dream, the leader carefully selects the right talent and forms the right organizational structure to maximize the chances of success. Specific and challenging responsibilities are assigned and it is made clear that individuals have the authority to do what it takes to succeed and that they are going to be held accountable for their part of the plan.
3.) Authenticity and Consistency – As a leader, you must be completely open and honest in all of your dealings with your people, and not be indecisive or inconsistent. It drives subordinates nuts, and greatly impairs the effectiveness of an organization, to have a boss who just won’t make a decision after reviewing all the relevant facts and opinions. Even worse is a boss who is constantly switching directions or reversing decisions. It badly hurts morale, and most importantly, it compromises the impact the organization can have.
This all sounds so obvious, but guess what? Leaders constantly violate these fundamentals. The lesson here for the wise is to constantly and objectively review how you stack up on these dimensions.