In their book, Fail-Safe Leadership, Linda Martin, the founder of Resource Associates Corporation, and co-author Dr. David Lutchler write about what fail-safe leadership truly is and what it is not. Following is an excerpt from their book which helps to explain the real role of a leader in every organization.
It is day one in the opening minutes of a meeting with ten Vice Presidents in the room, each of whom represent a different company. They are about to participate in an exercise that is designed to create an enhanced understanding of what it takes to be a leader today.
It goes like this. First we ask them to think of someone, separately, whom they consider to be an effective leader. Once they’ve written down the name of the individual they have selected, we then ask them to think of three qualities about that person which caused him or her to be selected as a strong leader.
Once everyone has listed the top three characteristics of the leader of their choice, we then compare the lists. Imagine that you were participating in the meeting. Would you guess that their lists closely resemble each other or that they’re markedly different? Here are their actual answers.
– Patient, unemotional, detached and able to see the big picture
– Ability to stand tough, communicative, ability to relate to diverse situations
– Decisive, visionary, good teacher
– Influential, decisive, good listener
– Inspiring, good negotiator, good delegator
– Understanding, knowledgeable, humanitarian
– Decisive, encourages working together, intelligent
– Driven, demanding, passionate about his beliefs
– Energetic, caring, not easily persuaded by others
– Involved, willing to do what she asks of others, listens to others’ ideas
This list is typical of the many we’ve helped facilitate. Not all lists contain the same exact attributes, of course. And there is usually some small degree of overlap; "decisive" appears three times, for example. But what is far more important to notice is that the list in total names a wide range of leadership characteristics, many of which are significantly different from the others.
We ask the group, "What does it mean that there are so many differences?" "Which characteristics are the true leadership qualities?" "Will the real leader please stand up?"
"All of them are true," someone says. "But how can that be," we ask, "when some of the qualities are practically the opposite of others — passionate versus unemotional, for example, or demanding versus understanding? Or what about involved versus detached and able to see the big picture?"
"Hmmmm," someone says, as if voicing the temporary confusion of the group. Then momentary silence, pause for reflection. So we ask, "Is there any one thing about each of these individuals that they all have in common which may not have yet been listed?" Then after a few moments someone says it. "Each of them is (or was) successful in his or her own right." We ask what this means. "Each of them is (or was) able to set goals and reach the results they wanted to achieve." They all agreed.
So we asked that they explain their comments further.
– A former high school basketball coach led his team to many championships
– A current CEO drives corporate profits beyond expectations year after year
– By encouraging her students to a higher education, a former teacher impacted the lives of many students who would otherwise not have gone to college
– A general led his troops to victory against unbelievable odds
– A manager is able to keep her staff continuously motivated to perform beyond expectations.
What is particularly interesting about this exercise is that no one, whether in this group or any other, ever picks a "loser," which is to say someone who didn’t or doesn’t GET RESULTS. For example, no one ever picks the general who lost the war, the ex-coach who rarely won any games, or the CEO whose company loses profits year after year. Regardless of the role, title, or occupation, the behavioral characteristics that we typically associate with leadership, such as a good delegator, visionary, etc., are of secondary importance. In fact, they are of little significance except to the extent that they contribute to getting desired outcomes.
This then is the first principle you must embrace in order to shore up the leadership difficulties in your business; your definition of leadership must change if you plan to keep pace with the competition. Short of doing so, your leadership may be hopelessly destined to fail because, like the proverbial house built on sand, its very definition is built on a weak foundation.
What makes any person a leader is his or her ability to set goals and achieve desired results — nothing more, nothing less.
To Your Success! And be ever Striving – Performing – Achieving…