A Recipe for Effective Leadership

November 24, 2008
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Source: James P. Hohner Jr.


All good leaders are not cast from the same mold. This is evident when we study those who have demonstrated good leadership. We might say that each is a good leader with certain characteristics that make them so, yet when we compare those characteristics with the characteristics of other good leaders we might discover that instead of a set pattern there is a wide range of characteristics-both in nature and intensity. Each of these leaders is from a different mix, yet each has achieved good leadership.

The mix, then, might be what is all important. While we cannot determine the exact amount of each characteristic that must go into that mix, there are still certain ingredients that are basic and without which the total blend can seldom achieve success. If we aspire to good leadership, we would do well to recognize those basic ingredients, and make certain that, in ourselves, all of those ingredients are present. Here is an abbreviated recipe for good leadership:

1. Effective leaders must be mentally alert.

Do effective leaders have to be the expert or genius? If that were true the number of effective leaders might be small. Of course being mentally alert does not mean that an effective leader has to be a genius. A genius is sometimes so strong in certain characteristics that other essentials are neglected. We may shine brilliantly in fields where the leadership of other people is not important-but we may not have the proper mix or balance to become a good, effective leader.

While there may not be an exact recipe, there are certain characteristics of being mentally alert that all leaders have in varying mixtures. Effective leaders, for example, have “word power,” or the ability to give instructions clearly, describe a problem accurately and write a report that is readily understandable. The ability to use words well starts with having a good vocabulary and then tailoring its use to fit the situation and the person with whom we are conversing.

Effective leaders also have a pool of general information. They must be acquainted with the technicalities of their work and how it relates to other organizational functions. Leadership qualities will be influenced by knowledge and understanding of organizational policies, the trends taking place in the industry and the economics of the competitive business system. Even seemingly mundane knowledge of baseball, music, golf, current events or fishing may prove useful.

Another characteristic of mentally alert leaders is the ability to solve problems. Effective problem solving often starts with the ability to accurately define the problem. It also involves the capacity to gather pertinent facts and to analyze them with proper perspective.

Mentally alert people have a keen interest in the work they are doing; they are persistent in their efforts to get a project completed and they are committed to succeed. Effective leaders have interest in their fellow human beings and a sense of responsibility toward society as a whole. Certainly a key part of all leaders’ makeup is an interest in the individuals within the organization and community environment, and particularly those they supervise. Leadership requires the acceptance of responsibility for helping to create a harmonious, cooperative atmosphere to get work done.

To sum up in one sentence, the mentally alert leader has a capacity to act purposefully, think rationally and deal effectively with the environment.

2. Effective leaders must be honest and have integrity.

There is absolutely no substitute for integrity. If we are not honest, all our other qualities cannot begin to compensate for, or disguise, the lack of honesty and integrity. We remember well when someone has not been honest with us. Our respect probably turned to malice, and we most likely hesitated to ever trust that person again.

Most people are honest most of the time. With that said, though, there is always that strong temptation to stray from honesty. Frequently we will find ourselves in a situation where a deviation from the truth would seem to bring a momentary advantage. We must fight to prevent yielding to the temptation. Such a momentary advantage, even if there was one, has a way of transforming itself into a lifelong disadvantage.

3.Effective leaders must have courage.

Leadership is about having courage to overcome the natural fear of the known and unknown dangers in order to successfully deal with situations and complete responsibilities.

We wouldn’t expect to fight a bear with our bare hands. (Not everyone can be Davy Crockett or even Daniel Boone.) There will be times however, when we will have to stand up for what we think is right. At these times it could be much safer and easier to sit silently on the sidelines. It takes courage to walk into a situation that may be unpleasant. Examples of courage are when we must tell people what they are doing wrong or when we must admit to our own management what we have done wrong. Yes, every day in small ways and big ways, there is need for courage.

If we have courage, those we work with are quick to sense it and will admire us for it. They will follow a leader who has courage and despite all other virtues will shun those who do not.

4. Effective leaders must be loyal to the cause.

Everyone dislikes a traitor, even those who seem to benefit by the treachery. If we as leaders can do nothing else, we must be loyal.

Certainly, it would be extremely difficult to force ourselves to be loyal. We either are or are not loyal. However, all too often we can be loyal and in little, thoughtless ways give others the opposite impression. We then become our own enemy, because others are quick to take little pieces of evidence and come to a conclusion (although it might not be correct but it would be a perception of the truth). Leaders whose loyalty is questioned cannot hope to be a true leader. Others, with suspicion in their hearts, will definitely hesitate to follow.

5. Effective leaders must know their people and have a sincere interest in their welfare.

People are individuals, having their own strengths and weaknesses, their own problems and their own aspirations and dreams.

To know people does not necessarily mean that we learn every detail of their personal life. All we really have to do is to show interest and respect them as individuals. They cannot help but be pleased and there will be a bond developed between them and us as leaders. It is then that we really get to know them.

If we are truly interested in people as individuals, we must try to help them. If they are in distress (even on a personal level), we need to be sympathetic. If they need to be reprimanded, we must be tactful whenever possible. They must retain their feeling of self-worth as Maslow illustrates in his Hierarchy of Needs. If they need encouragement, we must be willing to give it. If they do well, we must express our sincere appreciation for a job well done.

Effective leaders are motivated by a desire to help their people, rather than be rid of them. If we spy on our people, our motive is surely not to help. Or if we remain silent and distant and prepare a list of faults, we are certainly not trying to grow their talents and confidence. If we wish to succeed as leaders we need respect and one way to gain respect is to demonstrate a sincere interest in people.

There are times when even the best leaders are required to take action, such as discipline or discharge. However, this must come as a last resort or we have failed. Effective leaders must be sympathetic and should have tried all within their power to assist the individual team members.

6. Effective leaders are good communicators.

They keep people informed and let them, in turn, keep the leaders informed. It is certainly a human need to want to know what is going on. We want to know how we are getting along. We want to know the “why,” the “how,” and the “what.” Some of the information we need for our work. Other information can provide a broader outlook and a greater understanding. In any event, being informed makes us a member of the team. We, as leaders, certainly know the need for information so why would it not be same for our team members?

Have you ever noticed that when you give information to a person, that person usually turns right around and gives information back to you? That is how it works. The more information we give out, the more we get in return. And much of the information we get in return will be exceedingly helpful to us as leaders.

This is called two-way communication and means to listen as well as to talk. Two-way communication is critically important for leaders. After it has been developed, leaders hear suggestions, learn of complaints, are aware of problems and in all other respects know what is going on. Being well informed, we are in position to provide intelligent leadership.

7. Effective leaders accept and fulfill their responsibilities.

As leaders it is our responsibility to take initiative. We need to see that required work is undertaken, supervised and accomplished. We cannot start a project and then forget it, without the necessary follow-up. Effective leaders earn respect by getting things done.

Effective leaders make timely decisions. If the medical community took too much time to reach the right decisions, patients might succumb. Leadership positions are in a somewhat similar position, in that many decisions must be at the right time if they are to do any good, or obtain their greatest good. Effective leaders who make decisions on time not only gain the good will of their people, but also get the job done.

Leaders have the responsibility to inform their own supervisors and management of developments that should be brought to their attention. Leaders are not free agents. We are part of a team and must see that other members of the team are informed so that they may share in those decisions that should be shared.

The above are not all inclusive but they are basic ingredients for a recipe of effective leadership. There may be more but these have proven, over time, to be important. If we believe we have all of them, we would be a most remarkable individual or we are deceiving ourselves-but probably not others.

The one thing we do have though is the ability to develop our leadership potential if we really want to improve our leadership skills. Every day we do something, or fail to do something, that will give us an opportunity to test ourselves against the measuring stick of these qualifications. That is the way to attain improvement. It is the way to answer, to our own satisfaction, the question of “what is the recipe of effective leadership?” Q

Quality Online

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Tech Tips

  • Effective leaders have the ability to give instructions clearly, describe a problem accurately and write a report that is readily understandable.

  • Everyone dislikes a traitor-even those who seem to benefit by the treachery. If we as leaders can do nothing else, we must be loyal.

  • Two-way communication is critically important for leaders.
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