Sunday, February 01, 2009


Leadership is about "what" must be done (and why). Managing is about "how" it will be done. The distinction between the two is less about an individual's level in an organization, and more about the nature of the direction being provided by that individual and whether constraints (e.g., resources, time, money) are informing that direction (leadership) or limiting that direction (management).

This distinction is important, because I'd argue that good managers are also effective leaders, great managers understand when and why they need to switch hats, and the best leaders and managers clearly understand the distinction between the two roles.

The basic keys to being an effective manager are succinctly enumerated in The One Minute Manager. Certainly far more vast volumes have been written. But few can claim to be so clear and concise in capturing the core elements of good people management.

Through a mentorship program I recently participated in, I had the opportunity to analyze and discuss the nature of leadership. I've been fortunate through my career to work with a number of great leaders, and see a wide range of leadership styles. Taking the best of the attributes I've seen, I assembled this list characterizing...

A great leader...

is honest, treats all members of their organization with respect, and communicates with integrity.

treats others as he/she expects to be treated, and leads by example.

demands accountability from all members of the organization, including themselves – both taking on appropriate responsibility, and accepting responsibility.

has a clear long-term vision for what the organization will accomplish, and clear understanding of the specific goals that must be achieved to support that vision.

effectively communicates their vision to their management team and the organization as a whole.

is able to clearly articulate a mission for the organization that inspires the members.

is enthusiastic about the organization, the people, and their collective mission.

is humble, and serves the organization.

is confident, and unthreatened by disagreement or conflicting ideas.


makes it clear that although they will listen to criticism and differing ideas, they are not looking for approval – "it's not a democracy."

provides thanks, praise, and other positive feedback at all opportunities (daily) to individuals, groups, and the organization as a whole.

provides constructive criticism and/or reprimand when necessary, and is sensitive to providing this feedback in an appropriate venue.

sets clear priorities, and makes decisions rapidly.

knows when to ask for more information in order to make an informed decision.

is comfortable not always being right, and isn't discouraged by making mistakes.

recognizes that it's often better to make a decision and be wrong than it is to fail to make a decision.

encourages a culture in which it is OK to make mistakes and take responsibility for them.

reacts positively to adversity, seeking solutions rather than placing blame.

knows the limit of their expertise and when to seek expert counsel and/or specialized professional support (e.g., logo design).

is genuinely interested in the people that work for them, and makes an effort to learn and address all members of their organization by name.

is willing to spend time with members of their organization at all levels.

Thank you to the great leaders I've worked with, who, by their example, made this summary so easy to assemble.

What other aspects of great leadership have you seen?


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