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[The following is a guest blog posting from Mr. Jim Holland, former CEO of Holland Enterprises].

Somerset Maugham said, “There are four basic steps to becoming a great leader.  Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”  Trying to describe a great leader is like trying to describe the wind.  You can not really describe the wind itself.  However, you can certainly see its effects.  There have been tens of thousands of books written, thousands of classes taught, and eons of seminars lead on the subject of leadership.  Therefore, I feel thoroughly unqualified to offer my humble thoughts on the subject.  However, I believe there are some very basic characteristics of leadership, especially as it relates to the workplace, that we all could use a bit of a reminder.

 Any company or organization that has any hope of being successful in today’s market place must have strong leadership.  No matter how good the product, how cutting edge the technology, or how slick the advertising, the ultimate success of the company will depend on the effectiveness of the organization leaders from top to bottom.  General Patton said, “ten soldiers wisely led will beat a hundred without a head.”  Napoleon Bonaparte said, “I am more afraid of ten sheep lead by a lion, than by ten lions led by a sheep.”  Strong leadership is a must.

 There are numerous theories on exactly how one becomes a leader.  One theory is that leaders are born to the position. That based on personality, charm, etc. they are simply destined for leadership positions.  Another theory states that one can be thrust in to a position of leadership based on an event or circumstance that may occur. The third theory is that someone can desire to become a leader, and be transitioned to a position of leadership through training and education. I submit that all of these theories have some degree of merit.  However, I believe that the most effective leaders are those who have some combination of these three. Leaders who have risen to the occasion in some crisis, or filled the leadership void when no one else would or could, leaders who have a natural disposition for leading others, and leaders who understand their need for training, improvement, and education, possess those qualities that are truly the measure of a great leader.

Now less talk about leadership as it relates to the workplace in 2011. The following is a list of traits that I believe are imperative for success in today’s workplace. Today’s leaders should be:  honest, forwarding looking, competent, inspiring, intelligent, fair, assertive, persistent, self-confident, ambitious, optimistic, courageous, humble, and lastly, encouraging. They should possess integrity, emotional maturity, great communication skills, and a sense of humor.  They should be well organized, good delegators, possess good human insight, be willing to take criticism, and last but not least, they should be flexible.  Of all the traits that I just listed flexibility in the workplace is the most necessary trait of a successful leader today. Situational leadership is a mandatory skill for a successful leader in the workplace of 2011. 

 The necessity to understand the changing skills of the employees and the ever changing  culture of the workplace, and adjust management stiles to most effectively deal with these changes is one of the most difficult challenges facing company leaders today. Many times upper management will wish to move their company in a specific direction, and will make changes in policy and procedure to facilitate that move. It may be a move in culture. For example, management may wish to move toward a more self-directed workforce and challenge their leaders to make this move successfully.  However, if the leadership of the company does not understand the existing culture of the workplace, it will have a difficult time knowing what direction to move to allow the results it requires.  To explain: assume that you wish to go to Nashville. That seems very simple. However, assume that you do not know where you are now. The effort to go to Nashville becomes almost impossible if you have no idea where you are.  Do you go North or South?  This is the problem facing a leader who does not bother to find out where his team is. If he or she has one, and only one leadership style ,how can this person possibly be flexible enough to adjust his or her style to best lead his or her team to where they wish to go? 

In 1960 McGregor published a book on leadership that was the bible of leadership training for decades.  He stated that workers belonged to two distinctive groups.  Group X:  This group is supposedly composed of employees that are motivated by money and security; they do not like work, are not ambitious, not creative, not interested in team goals, resist change, and are not particularly intelligent.  Group Y:  This group was thought to be motivated by self-fulfillment, they like to work, they are creative and self-directed, they are rewarded by those things that are a boost to their self-esteem, and they like responsibility. For many years leaders were trained to buy in to one of these philosophies or the other. Their management style was either to treat all employees on their team as Theory X employees or theory Y employees. Obviously this “either or” method of leadership was and is very ineffective.

Flexibility in leadership allows a leader to adjust his or her style of management to best fit the group that he or she is leading. Each member of the team requires a different set of leadership skills, different motivation, different training, different rewards, and a different corrective approach. The greater understanding the leader has of the personalities and needs of his or her team members, the greater chance he or she has of properly training, motivating, and managing his or her team to reach its goals. 

Ultimately leadership is based on inspiration not domination, on corporation not intimidation. The basic difference between a leader and a boss is that a leader leads, and a boss drives. 

Lastly, if leaders will remember these phrases, the most important six, five, four, three, two, and one word phrases in leadership, they will have a greater chance for success.

  1. I’m sorry, I made a mistake.
  2. You did a great job.
  3. What do you think?
  4. Will you please?
  5. Thank you.
  6. We
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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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  2. Alisa DelCampo on January 27th, 2011 at 10:36 am