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Monday, May 3, 2010

The Mark of a Great Leader

The Mark of a Great Leader
by Marshall Goldsmith

Years ago, when most organizations were based on the hierarchical business model of the Industrial Age, great leaders were those who were unemotional, rational, even mechanistic. Those days are gone. Today's leader, especially one who is in charge of a dynamic, global organization, finds himself or herself in desperate need of one key trait — self-awareness.

An organization's success today depends on such a variety of talents and skills that no one leader could possibly be gifted in simultaneously. There are technological issues, global issues, financial issues, human resource issues, leadership issues, employee issues, legal issues, and more. A leader who is self-aware enough to know that he or she is not adept at everything is one who has taken the first step toward being a great leader.

This sort of personal mastery entails having a heightened understanding of one's own behavior, motivators, and competencies — and having "emotional intelligence" — to monitor and manage one's emotional responses in a variety of situations. This variety of situations is not limited to the home office, or the boardroom. It is of a global nature, across cultures which are very different and can be difficult to navigate, especially for those who are not comfortable, knowledgeable, or willing to admit their individual strengths and weaknesses. Everyone has a shortcoming or two — leaders who are willing to admit these, who strive to improve, and who seek out a consulting team to fill in the gaps will 1) encourage followers to do the same and 2) make room for others whose talents lie where theirs don't.

Have you ever worked with a micro-manager? This is someone who thinks he or she needs to be involved in everything that happens within the company. These leaders are closing out the talents of others by not divesting themselves from the day-to-day problem-solving activities of the company. Great leaders let go of the day-to-day, problem-solving activities of the company. Rather, they choose to maximize strategic and relationship-building efforts. These contribute to the forward momentum of the company rather than causing a "bottleneck" at the leader's desk. No one person should do it all — and if they are self-aware, most people will realize that they really aren't capable nor knowledgeable enough to do it all.

Do you recognize the difference between what you need to do versus what you should pass along to your team? Does your boss?

Following is a short list of things you can do to achieve self-awareness and personal mastery in leadership.

  • Monitor your performance. Note areas in which you excel and need improvement. Communicate these to your team.
  • Realize that failures and mistakes are just one step on the road to success.
  • Recognize that being aware of the impact that your behavior has on other people is a critical leadership skill.
  • Remember that when criticism is difficult to accept, there is probably some truth to it.
  • And, finally, learn to give yourself and others credit for improving.

Readers: Have you worked for or known a great leader? What made him or her great?


  1. Following are characteristics and behaviors participants typically list when I ask them to identify the "Best, Most Effective Bosses" they have ever had.

    Compassionate Lead by example
    Motivator Encouraged
    Supportive Provides recognition
    Focused Hands on
    Knowledgeable Firm and fair
    Good listener Good communicator
    Flexible Polite and respectful
    Thinks win-win Integrity and honesty
    Adaptable Inspirational
    Empowers Manages employees energy
    Influential No micromanaging
    Has a heart Ego-less
    Fairness Gives recognition
    Appreciative Accountable

    Notice how many of them require or enhance by skill in Emotional Intelligence competencies (Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Management, Emotional Self-Motivation, Empathy, and Nurturing Relationships.

    Also notice the lack of technical skills or high IQ.

    Aren't these behaviors and characteristics of the best leaders too?