June 24

What is the Foundation of Great Leadership?

I have never fully reflected on this question until recently.  Could there be a singular item that creates a foundation for outstanding leaders?  The tap root of a tree enables the root system to grow in such a way that the tree becomes tall&strong enough to survive damaging storms, droughts, and attacks from insects.  It makes sense to me that an outstanding leader would have an incredibly strong tap root or foundation to be able to survive the harshest ‘weather’.

I have known many leaders who worked incredibly hard to make their organizations bigger, better, faster; doing everything they can to grow the top line and the bottom line at the same time.  Every quarter matters, and every year is essential.  Quite a few of these leaders either ‘hit the wall’ going 200 mph or their engines ‘burned out’ during the race.

As I did my research on the topic, I didn’t find any authors or researchers who suggested there was a sole source of the foundation of excellent leadership.  Many articles have been written identifying multiple items such as John Childress blog post; “The Five Foundations of Effective Leadership”.

However, this article resonated with me when I read about the first foundation: A Commitment to “Make a Positive Difference”.  The author states: “Effective leaders seem to have a strong commitment to a goal (dream, vision, objective – whatever you call it) that is much bigger than themselves.  They are not content with last year’s results plus 5%.  They are determined to make a difference; many are even maniacal about it.  Some say obsessed and single-bloody-minded!And the job of leader requires that level of commitment and focus, because making a positive difference in the world (whether with products, services, innovations, policies) requires going up against a great deal of inertia and reluctance to change.”

My personal assessment is that the concept of making a difference is very close to why extraordinary leaders do what they do but I prefer to call it “purpose”. The power of purpose is incredible and without it, a leader is often battered about like a small ship on the ocean of life, bobbing up and down through 40’ waves of organizational challenges.

I recently asked a group of executives why they chose to lead others or what was their reason for leading others.  “What’s your reason for being a leader?”  It’s a great question that very few people have a good answer for.  My point was that we all need a good answer to this question if we don’t want the 40’ waves to wipe us out.

Identifying your leadership purpose takes time and reflection.  From my experience, if execs will slow themselves down occasionally and listen to their heart, they will find amazing insights to the question. But choosing to slow down is hard for most of us who have become addicted to going fast and doing as much as we can.  My purpose it to help others become the best possible version of themselves that they can be.

Give yourself the gift of reflection and do it weekly.  Make it the most important appointment on your calendar.  Ask yourself tough questions that you can’t answer and sit and let things bubble up into your consciousness.  Meaningful answers are there, you just need to give them enough time to show their face.  Your leadership journal is one of the best levers you can use to learn about yourself and what makes you a great leader.  Spend time with it uninterrupted.  Start with answering:

  • Why do you do what you do? What is your reason for leading others?

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