Monday, January 24, 2011

Leading the way to excellence: the attributes that are essential

It’s January 24. Remember that New Year’s Resolution you made way back on the first? If you’re still keeping it, bravo! Great job. Keep it up. If not, no worries. You
aren’t alone in letting it fizzle as the exuberance for a new calendar year wanes.

Authentic change typically doesn’t occur by choosing to do—or not do—something on an arbitrary date, like Jan. 1. Whether we’re talking about an individual who decides to start exercising or an organization that resolves to sell more widgets, it
usually takes a closer look under the hood.

We’ve talked extensively about the importance of creating a strong vision and mission statement when working toward true organizational excellence. Indeed, when
looking at gold-standard leadership characteristics, one of the first is the ability to establish direction and vision.

In addition, leaders must possess other attributes, many of which have little to do
with self-reliance or individual strength in the conventional sense. Gold standard
leadership characteristics include:

• Personal humility and professional will: One definition of humility is an accurate
assessment of one’s own abilities and shortcomings. Couple such an attribute with
a fearless conviction to improve, and you’re on your way.

• Inclusivity: The common theme through much of what we discuss is that one
person’s best ideas—even the best ideas of one really smart person—simply
aren’t enough to move a company or organization forward in a profound way.
Others need to be involved, and in many cases, the more stakeholders who are
represented, the better the results will be. And the smarter the leaders will look.

• Stakeholder focused, in a maniacally profound way: There’s that word again:
stakeholders. Organizational excellence is predicated on the concept that all
parties involved in or affected by a company or nonprofit must benefit in some
way from the company’s endeavors. Typically, such stakeholders include (not
necessarily in order of importance) owners/stockholders, employees, customers,
vendors, and the community in which the organization operates.

• Heart of a servant: We’ve heard the saying, “You get back what
you put in.” Leaders who focused on their own needs and desires often don’t
understand why the people around them aren’t loyal and self-sacrificing. Serve
those you lead by keeping their professional needs at the forefront of your mind,
and in return, you will get a stakeholder who is as true to the vision and mission
as you are.

• Ethical and just: The standard for ethical behavior is best set at the top of an
organization. Open conversations about doing things the right way—even when
inconvenient—will be appreciated by and ultimately benefit all stakeholders.

• Fun: In an organization that is led in such a manner, all stakeholders will
enjoy being involved. Imagine all stakeholders leaving your company with a high five everyday. Whether it’s a metaphoric high five or a physical one, it’s the kind of response you can achieve when striving for excellence.

Many or most organizations are alert enough to talk this kind of talk. Few, the
excellent ones, actually walk this walk. All should.

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