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What is leadership?  If you go to and look at the definition of leadership you recognize very quickly that to understand what leadership is you must understand what it means to lead. takes a combined fifty stabs at defining lead as a verb and noun. To list a few as a verb it defines lead  as to go before or with to show the way;  to conduct by holding and guiding;  to influence or induce;  to guide in direction, course, action, opinion, etc.; to command or direct. As a noun lead means the first or foremost place; position in advance of others; a person or thing that leads.

What does it mean to be a leader?

In simple terms, to define what it means to lead, we could use the old Calvin Coolidge adage, “The buck stops here.”  The key is not just understanding what it takes to lead, but how it is accomplished. It means sometimes leaders are going to make decisions that are not popular.  For example, today, if we look into politics, leadership is starting to mean do what the latest poles show us. Maybe in a political sense this is okay because politicians are supposed to be representing the people.  However, this assumes that a pole will show what is better for the greater good rather than the poled population.

Leaders must use more than poles and focus groups to lead

In business we do use poles and focus groups, but it is more to help better define a business strategy than to create the original vision.  Business leadership understands it’s the variances from conventional wisdom that can define a successful business.  Consumers didn’t know they needed FedEx, cell phones, or a simple item like dust buster.  It’s leadership’s responsibility to find the edge to make a successful business.

Decisions by true leaders are not always popular

When good leaders make hard decisions they understand they are not always popular decisions. However, if leaders avoid hard decisions the organization suffers.  The organization suffers because the organization can loose focus.  Individuals within the organization loose direction and confidence that the organization can survive.  In the long run the best employees will leave.  In the short run you create chaos.

Leaders know what is going on in their businesses

Generally, when a leader avoids a decision, it is usually not about the introduction of the new model or system. It is a much smaller decision. It is about people doing their jobs and their affect on the business.  Good leaders will know what is going on within the organization.  The leader will know someone is building an empire rather than improving the organization.  Leaders must make sure that every employee understands that even though they may be just a small piece of the organization their contribution is critical.  The leader must let them know they not only need to do their piece, but make sure what they are doing is making the whole organization better.

Obviously the number one in the organization can not be everywhere, that is why it is critical the organization’s vision and mission is clearly and continually communicated down through the organization.  The leader cannot let petty bureaucracies keep an organization from moving forward. 

Leaders use benchmarking

The simplest way to understand your organization is to see what other organizations are doing.  Benchmarking is one of the most effective ways to measure the effectiveness of what the organization is doing.  If it is taking the organization “x” number of days to do something and the competition is getting in done in less time it gets you a great place to start to improve the organization. 

Organizational surveys are good tools for leaders

Internally the organization can find out what its health is by doing an organizational survey.  The survey will show you in the first year what some of your internal problems are.  The key will be the subsequent surveys.  If the survey shows the organization is improving and fixing its internal problems, the only question will be are you moving fast enough.

Leadership required to avoid mediocrity

The bottom line is good leadership will mean good decisions and move your organization forward. The lack of leadership will at best lead to mediocrity and the probable death of the organization.

Written by John Marrinan

September 7th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

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