In my thoughts on strategy, I mention why I think leadership is hard. It’s one thing to come up with a grand, inspiring vision, and a strategy to get there – but actually executing on it is pretty darn tough, especially when you need help from others to get there.

My tenet: Leadership is about being able to get stuff done through others.

There’s many models to get people to do your bidding. The threat of something dire (dictatorship), gratitude (implicit promise of something – lifetime employment, protection from something, etc.), obligation (if you collect a payment from me, you’re obliged to do my bidding), barter (diplomatic or otherwise, trade one favor for another), or outright bribes.

As experience shows, these models do not seem to be sustainable. Dictators are eventually toppled. Promises turn out to be empty, so gratitude fades. Obligation buys you work, but not people’s active engagement. Bartering works only so far as you have something the other party desires. Those who accept bribes lose trust – not only of their constituents but also those who bribe them – and that very loss of trust makes the model unsustainable.

But there’s clear examples of leaders that didn’t use any of these and delivered long-term, meaningful results – in society and business. Examples are: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, and J.R.D. Tata.

Leadership qualities

As I reflect on these grand people and how they achieved their greatness, here’s – in my view – the leadership qualities that emerge:

  • Vision: Something grand and inspiring – visceral, not a borrowed vision
  • Boldness: Willing to take on incumbents, take risks, accept failures and learn from them
  • Conviction: No doubts when things are down
  • Integrity: Actions are consistent with words
  • Active engagement of others: Make it about everyone, welcome everyone
  • No blind spots: recognize own limitations, bridge gaps with great a team
  • Trust: Invest the agenda in others; you can’t do it all alone
  • Humility: Judge ideas based on merit, not where they come from

What followers like

When people follow such great leaders, they seem to experience:

  • Purpose: Meaning in what they do
  • Inspiration: In ideas and in the person of the leader
  • Sense of community: Bound by common goals; they’re not alone
  • Sense of achievement: Together, they’re achieving something great

Becoming a better leader

While most of us will never become a Gandhi, I believe each of us can live out our potential to a greater extent. This means we can achieve greater things teaming up with those around us – at work, at home, and in the community. Our projects may become more streamlined, the environment in our team may become more relaxed and friendly – allowing us to gloss over interpersonal differences in pursuit of a team goal, our kids may become inspired to pursue bolder goals, and our community may team up to do something they may not have otherwise.

What do we stand for?

As we consider rallying those around us to pursue a great goal, what should they expect of us? Can they tell what we stand for? Can you tell what you stand for? Giving this thought requires us to face our own selves. What we truly care for. What we aspire for.

My leadership stand

Here’s my attempt to articulate what I stand for. Thoughts welcome.

  • I stand for humility (recognizing that complex projects are more than what one person alone can achieve, therefore, recognizing my limitations and having gratitude for my team) and meritocracy (judge things for their merit, not where they come from).
  • I strive for consensus, but no analysis paralysis, please.
  • I believe in taking care of my team.
  • It’s ok to fail. Bring up issues and put them on display; don’t hide them. I want to hear the bad news – otherwise we can’t solve for it together.
  • Take risks and fail fast. Learn. Get better. Repeat.

What is your leadership stand?

If you haven’t already, take a moment to think about what you stand for. Run your thoughts by people you trust and respect. You may be surprised to see what you learn about yourself. And if you practice what you say, you may see a new confident side of you emerging – comfortable in your own skin, and ready to take on more ambitious goals together with those around you.


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