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Sunday, February 26, 2006

On Leadership

A lot of chatter on leadership in my personal life recently, so I thought I'd put down my thoughts on the matter -- more as a sort of personal bookmark than any attempt at spouting wisdom.

I've reached a point in my own career where leadership has become central to just about everything. As my staff has swelled to approach 40, and my charge extended to three or four functional areas, I can't rely on individual relationships, clubhouse attitude, and strategic 'atta-boys' to get from here to there.

This is the personal side. I've found that while I don't take to it naturally, I do get it. I can even be good at it at times.

As a member of senior management, I'm also seeing the bigger picture challenges with leadership. To be honest, I now understand that most personal challenges with leadership originate at this level. Achieving clarity of purpose of the whole can make the rest of it very easy. Without it, gears grind, and it becomes very hard for people to fulfill the intermediate leadership roles.

But its very hard to achieve clarity of purpose that translates to all levels in the ranks, as well as the full range of major internal and external stakeholders.

The other day, a friend mentioned that Leadership is figuring out where everybody wants to go, then jumping out front and saying 'Follow me!'

There are a few great nuggets in this very simple statement. First, you need to talk to everybody -- employees, investors, partners, independent smart people. You need to listen. This is not to say everyone will agree... some will be flat wrong, others crazy. But this is where you find the answer.

Second, once you've figured it out -- achieved clarity of purpose -- you have to throw all of your weight behind it. Once you've figured it out, stop figuring and take responsibility for pulling everyone along with you.

Third, you have to say 'Follow me!' You have to communicate, in as many different ways as possible, where you are going and why you are going there. You have to preach. The message must be a part of the answer to every question.

If the core organizing principle, the defining element that yields clarity of purpose is simple, you are home free. But odds are that most of 'everybody' that you intend to lead will not have your perspective. You have to speak to them; you have to make them believe. Otherwise you are just a loudmouth, not a leader (or maybe just content to be the boss).

Complexity makes it even tougher to be disciplined about leadership. It becomes harder to motivate individual employees or even entire divisions with the same message that motivates investors. It all has to fit together, or it’s going to fall apart.

What gets us the financial results, the market share, the product capabilities, and the buzz that makes people want to continue to push towards those ends? Its leadership.

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