Don’t Try to Be a Great Leader … Just Be an Effective One
To be honest, we tend to go overboard when describing “great” leaders at work when what we should be discussing is effective leadership. Even the term, “leadership” has become so overused that it is losing its meaning. Take a look at Twitter for any length of time if you’re following any trainers, consultants or business leaders’ personal accounts, and you’ll see 1,500 inspirational quotes an hour about leadership. Actually, when our current crop of politicians in Washington do something stupid, you’ll see 1,500 quotes a minute. It has all become white noise on the Web and much of its meaning has been lost.
There are only a handful of truly great and inspirational leaders, and I tend to think of people like Dwight Eisenhower, who commanded the Allied forces during D-Day. For more than a year, he coordinated the invasion, eventually consisting of more than 850,000 personnel, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies, while fighting the war all over the world AND kept bickering allied forces working together. The successful invasion eventually led to the end of the war in Europe 11 months later when Hitler and the Nazis were defeated. And, on top of that, Eisenhower managed to keep the exact details of the invasion a secret from a hoard of Axis spies running around.
No offense, but that’s a bit more impressive than your company’s mid-level manager who boosted production in the 7-member accounting department by changing a few work processes.
Trying to be great can lead to frustration and disappointment … try effective leadership instead
But it isn’t my point to belittle that accounting manager, because what that person did for the department and the organization as a whole is vital for its long-term health and success. My point is to stop trying to make everything “great” and just make it effective. That accounting manager does have something in common with Eisenhower, and it’s not the ability to defeat evil regimes. It’s the ability to bring people together through the common traits that effective leaders share.
Effective leaders find a way to get more out of their people than many would think possible. No matter the situation, effective leaders tend to achieve outstanding results by outperforming the competition and surpassing their goals. And when things are bad, no matter how bleak the situation, their team always finds a way to come out on top.
You’ll learn many skills in your career, but the most potent aspect of effective leadership is accountability. Once you make yourself accountable for your progress and learning, you will excel at any new challenge. Be aware that there is always something new to learn and learning itself is not always an easy process.
The primary leadership characteristics you should develop are vision, integrity and compassion. No leader becomes successful alone. They learn to gain the trust of people through integrity and compassion, and then share their vision. Then, they make their vision a reality by inspiring others to buy in and participate.
Effective leaders have a clear vision of their objectives and how to get there. Leaders are “big picture” thinkers. They can be dreamers to a point, but with the knack of getting others to buy into their dreams and participate. Their dreams are grounded in reality; leaders plan and set objectives and establish deadlines for achieving these objectives.
Integrity involves sticking to the “unvarnished truth” regardless of the consequences. It means making restitution for wrongs even though no one asks for restitution. Integrity is honesty and fair play in all of your business dealings. There can be no effective leadership without integrity.
The compassionate leader is by necessity an introspective one. Compassionate leadership demands first looking into your own style or contribution when things go amiss. The compassionate leader exercises all options before issuing reprimands or discharging personnel. He or she recognizes that creating fear in constituents creates stress and reduces productivity immeasurably over a long time. Workers who are afraid of their boss don’t respect them and are constantly searching for an escape route.
Many people say that leaders are made, not born. Others, just to tick off the other side probably, say that leaders are born, not made. I don’t buy either side 100 percent. I believe some people are born with some inherent traits of effective leadership which makes it easier for them to become an exceptional leader later in life. But, I also think nearly everyone can learn how to become an effective leader. Oh, you may not save the world like Ike did back in the 40’s, but you can take the point in your department or your work team and make everyone better.