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The 5 Things Great Leaders Do Very Well

Running an organization successfully requires leaders to fulfill these roles.

Leadership is one of the truly hot topics in the corporate world. Can you believe that there are more than 17,000 books on leadership available on Amazon? That statistic tells me that there are no clear answers on the best way to lead a company, organization, or team. Given that I work extensively in both the corporate and sports world, where effective leadership is essential, I wanted to share my perspective on what makes a great leader.

Let’s start with where I stand on leadership. First, what is a leader? Your answer may include inspiring employees, having a strategic vision and plan, or knowing how to hire or delegate. All of these are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for being a leader. But the purest definition of a leader I can offer is: someone with followers. Without them, there is no leader. 

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I also want to add a rather heretical view of leadership: I don’t believe in leadership styles. We certainly hear plenty from all sorts of business gurus that this style or that is ideal. You hear about autocratic, democratic, collaborative, visionary, transactional, transformational, participative, laissez-faire, servant, the list goes on. I would argue, however, that talking about styles has little value because we are incapable of leading in a way that is inconsistent with who we are as people. However you lead, there are certain roles you must fulfill to be a successful leader of your team and to achieve the goals you have established for your business. I believe that leaders have five essential roles to fulfill to be effective.

Leader as person

The key question to ask in this role is: “How can I lead from a position of respect, trust, and loyalty?” The answer to this question, and the foundation for gaining the respect, trust, and loyalty of your team, is not in how you lead, but rather in the kind of person you are and the relationships you build with your team. Are you likable, calm, and supportive? Or are you angry, critical, and demanding? Understanding who you are will help you figure out how you can best lead.

Leader as performer

The key question to ask in this role is: “How do I show my team how to be high performers individually and collectively?” For you to get your team to perform its best, you must know how to perform your best. You must possess the psychological, emotional, and interpersonal skills necessary perform at a high level consistently. With these tools, you can both role model and educate your team about maintaining a high level of performance.

Leader as team builder

The key question to ask in this role is: “How do I build an inspired, aligned, and productive team capable of meeting our biggest goals?” These days, in particular, one “player” can’t carry a team. Rather, everyone has to work not only fulfill their individual responsibilities, but also collaborate effectively to get the necessary results. Your ability to create a team, in the purest sense of the word, is vital for your organization’s success.

Leader as decision maker

The key question to ask in this role is: “How do I ensure that I’m making the best possible decisions for my team and the company?” Is there any more important skill for a leader to have for the success of their organization than knowing how to make good decisions? Yet, bad decisions are rampant in running a business for many reasons. Your goal is to create a framework and process that will maximize the chances of your team making good decisions.

Leader as change agent

The key question to ask in this role is: “How do I transform our company into an agile, collaborative, and purpose-driven force that is prepared for the challenges that lie ahead?” Here’s a simple reality in the business world: If you don’t evolve, you die. You must create a culture that has the ability to adapt to a marketplace and economy that are constantly changing.

However you fulfill these leadership roles, there are certain things you must do to ensure that your organization does what it needs to do to be successful. The heart of this mission is for you to engage in what I call Prime Leadership:

  • Create, inspire, prepare, and direct: Prime Leaders nurture their teams from birth to maturity;
  • Perform at its highest level consistently: Prime Leaders train their teams to function their best day-to-day and during “crunch time”;
  • Individually and collective: Prime Leaders focus on the contributions of each team member and the group as a whole;
  • Under the most challenging conditions: Prime Leaders prepare their teams to perform their best during times of uncertainty, instability, and crisis;
  • In pursuit of a value goal: Prime Leaders establish objectives that are meaningful to the team and the organization as a whole.

Future articles on this topics will examine these leadership roles in greater depth. In the meantime, begin to explore how you fulfill these roles as you strive to achieve Prime Leadership and lead to the best of your ability.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D., teaches at the University of San Francisco.

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