Three keys to successful leadership

Leadership is always about the relationship between the leader and the people he or she leads in the context of the organization that brings them together for a common purpose.  The nature of this relationship has three keys to successful leadership.

First Key:  Know Yourself

Here are important things we need to know ourselves.

Know your core values. 

What are the “uncompromisables?”  What are those principles and value for which you will not compromise?  This is important because ‘behavior is from the inside out.’  We make decisions and take actions based on our character, and, despite what some might say, character does count.

When decisions, actions, and circumstances touch them personally, people want to know that their leaders stand for something and are committed to clearly defined principals.

Crisis and challenge are the tests of your character; they are not the time to choose what you believe it.  They are time to confirm what you believe in and what you stand for.

Consider what happens when an ambulance arrives on an accident scene.  The emergency medical technicians didn’t decide how to pack and outfit the ambulance when they got the call.  They did not make up the triage and responses for the first time.  They solved the medical problem before it occurred by designing and outfitting the ambulance for the crises they expected to encounter.  They studied triage and treatment drills so they would know how to respond to any crisis.

As a leader, you need to know how you are going to respond when someone tempts you to compromise on your sense of honesty, fairness, and loyalty.  You cannot find a moral compass when you arrive at a crisis or critical decision; you have to bring it with you.  And, your compass is the one that will give direction to your people.   

Know your emotional quotient.

In the book Primal Leadership the authors assert that our emotional quotient is more important than our intelligence quotient.  Again, people respond to our emotions and behavior.  Unlike our IQ, our EQ can be developed.  We need to know our personal emotional competence and our social competence.

Know your temperament or personality type.

How are you wired for receiving and giving information?  Are you task-oriented or people-oriented?  Are you outgoing or reserved?  While EQ can be developed, our personality-type is fixed.  However, our dominant traits don’t always work for us in every situation.  We must know how to “flex” into another personality-type when the situation calls for it.

Know how you learn.

Are you a visual or auditory learner?  Do you learn quickly but don’t retain it or do you learn slowly and retain it forever?  Our learning style affects how we process information and respond to new ideas.  We need to know our style to structure the information flow to support us and our people.

Know how you make decisions.

Do you need lots of information or just enough?  Are you decisive or methodical?  We need to help our people to understand our decision making process, so they can support us efficiently.  Additionally, we need to know when the situation call for a different style of decision making and act accordingly.

Know your strengths and weaknesses.

Do you know when a trait works to your advantage and when it works to your disadvantage?  We cannot expect the rest of the world to mold itself to our preferences, personality, strengths and weaknesses.  We have to know how to adjust our behavior, when necessary. 

This may seem like a daunting list, but it is not.  There are numerous assessment instruments that can help you determine your personality-type, EQ, learning style and leadership style.  A coach or mentor can be a great help to learning more about yourself and getting clarity on how to tap into your leadership assets. 

Second Key: Know Your People

“To enlist people in a vision, leaders must know their constituents and speak their language. People must believe that leaders understand their needs and have their best interests at heart.  Only through an intimate knowledge of their dreams, their hopes, their aspirations, their visions, their values is the leader able to enlist support. Leadership is a dialogue, not a monologue.”

The Leadership Challenge

James M. Kouzes and Barry R. Posner

As our authors state, we need to know our peoples’ needs and best interests intimately.  We need to know them individually and as a group.

Know their temperaments

How are they wired for receiving and giving information?  Who is task-oriented and who is people-oriented?  Who is outgoing and who is reserved?

Know how they make decisions

Do they need lots of information or just enough?  Who is decisive and who is methodical?

Know how they learn

Who learns visually and who learns by spoken word?  Who learns quickly but doesn’t retain it and who learns slowly and retain it forever?

Know their strengths and weaknesses, both individually and collectively

Do you know when a trait works to their advantage and when it works to their disadvantage?

Know your informal leaders

Who do your people turn to in the group?  Who are the people of informal influence in the group? 

Third Key: Know Your Company

The company is the context of the relationship you have with your people.  You have to understand the relationship (the leader and the led) and how the company sets the tone and meaning of those relationships.  The customer base, industry dynamics, company history, and company business processes and goals all affect the tone and meaning (context) of the leader-led relationship.

Know the company’s strategic direction

What are its mission, vision, and core values?  Do people believe in the mission, vision, and values?  Are they living the values and working towards the vision?

Know the customer base

Who are the buyers and what are their needs, wants and demands?  What niches does the company serve?  How do we communicate with customers?

Know the competition

Who are the serious competitors and what do they offer a customer that is different?

Know the core processes and systems

How does the company deliver value to its customers?  How do things get done?  What is critical to the success of the company?

Know the expectations and requirements of the company. 

What is success? How clearly have we defined individual, team, department, and/or company success? How do people support one another?  What performances and behaviors must we demand?  How do we recognize achievement?

Know the lore of the company

What are the stories being told and what are their impacts? Who are the heroes and villains and why?  What metaphors are people using to describe the company?

Know the heartbeat or pulse of the company

What is the morale like?  What fears or uncertainties are influencing behavior?  What victories are people celebrating? What coalitions exist within the company and what are their agendas and impact?

 Ted Davis is Vice President of Performance and Personnel Development for P1 Group

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