When considering the attributes of effective leaders, your list should at least include some or all of the following:

  • Vision
  • Symbolism
  • Integrity
  • Loyalty
  • Stamina
  • Intestinal Fortitude
  • Passion
  • Interpersonal Skill
  • Inspiration
  • Sincerity

Vision

At times elusive, and often difficult to articulate, vision is a critical component for great leaders.  Vision is the ability for a leader to understand the current state with all of its advantages and flaws, while at the same time constructing a mental picture of a desired state for the future.

Understanding the current state provides insights regarding the heartbeat or DNA of an organization.  It sheds light on a group’s strengths and areas of excellence.  It helps a leader articulate the personality or nature of the organization, stating, “who we are” as an organization.  When asked the DNA or heartbeat of Dell Computers, many would say that they are a computer products company.  I believe Michael Dell has a different view.  He does not view Dell as a technology company, or even a computer products company as much as a distribution company.  Because he sees the heartbeat of his company being the packaging, marketing and delivery of technology, he based his vision for the company around this concept.  In doing so he built a company that has taken the PC, notebook computer and server world by storm.  He built a business around the concept that, at the time, defied conventional wisdom and was diametrically opposed to everyone else in the industry.  While everyone else in the PC industry was relying on alternate sales and distribution channels to sell their products to businesses and consumers, Dell went with a Direct Marketing strategy, selling directly to customers via phone and the Internet.  While most of his competitors were applying their resources to technology enhancements or improvements in the manufacturing process, Dell focused on packaging its systems in such a way that customers could custom-configure systems to meet their needs.  While others were focused on differentiating their products with best-in-class service, Dell relied on partnering to gain that advantage.  In other words, he was able to visualize a vision and communicate it throughout the organization by making it clear what the heartbeat of the company was—marketing and packaging.[1]

Honda is another example of a company that has been successful in articulating a clear vision over the years because of the clear understanding of the company’s DNA.  While the big three US auto companies viewed themselves as automobile companies, Honda viewed its heartbeat to be engines.  Based on that understanding and conviction they built a company that has not only grabbed considerable market share in the auto industry, but they have become a household name for motorcycles, powered lawn products, and just about anything else that has an engine.[2] Because of this vision, it does not come as a surprise that they were one of the first companies to come out with an automobile utilizing a hybrid electric-combustion engine.  Because they knew who they are it became easier to understand where they wanted to go.

Integrity

Webster defines Integrity as 1. Rigid adherence to a code of behavior; probity, 2. The state of being unimpaired; soundness, 3. Completeness; unity.  Physical structures must have integrity or they will eventually become unsound and crumble.  Organizations must have integrity or they will eventually lose unity and come apart.  Leaders must have integrity or they will betray the trust of their followers and lose them.  A synonym for integrity is honesty.  Without it followers become suspicious of motives, and view the leader as unpredictable and volatile.  No one wants to follow an individual who can’t be trusted, and no one wants to do business with a company that is viewed as dishonest.  Former President William Jefferson Clinton provided an object lesson in honesty and integrity.  I do not think history will be kind to Bill Clinton.  He may be remembered as one of the most brilliant and knowledgeable leaders of the United States.  He may also be remembered for many of the good things he did while in office, but more than anything I believe Bill Clinton will be remembered for lying to a Grand Jury and to the American people regarding an affair with an Intern.  He will also be remembered for the countless pardons of individuals of questionable integrity hours before leaving office.  Some will remember him as the President who made off with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of articles upon vacating White House.  Why?  All these things bring his integrity into question.  As with all leaders, I am convinced that Bill Clinton was concerned about his legacy as President.  However, all the work he did to build a legacy for himself may be for naught because of his questionable integrity.  Never underestimate the power of integrity as a leader.

Stamina

The word stamina conjures images of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, when he uttered those immortal words “never, never, never give up.”[3] If you want to be a leader you better build stamina.  You will need it.  You will need it to keep your head up during the most trying times and your people will need to see it in you when they are about to falter.  It is through your stamina they will be able to endure.  By your example they will persevere.  It took stamina for Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of Egyptian slavery and it took stamina for Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to work for peace in the Middle East.  It took stamina for Nelson Mandela to endure political imprisonment for so many years, but because of his stamina, apartheid in South Africa was defeated.

Passion

Passion can be one of a leader’s greatest tools.  Passion is what caused a small nation to rally around Fidel Castro in the early 1960s.  Passion is what caused the Palestinian people, and even the United Nations to acknowledge a once known terrorist and leader of the Palestinian Liberation Army—Yasir Arafat as the leader of the nation of Palestine.  Passion is what helped a nation in one of its darkest hours to follow a President confined to a wheelchair because of Polio—President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.  If you do not demonstrate passion in your leadership you should not expect passion from your followers.  Passion about the right cause or purpose is contagious.  This brings us to inspiration.

Inspiration

The word inspiration is defined by Webster as “the stimulation of the faculties to a high level of feeling or activity.”  It also has a theological definition; “Divine guidance or influence exerted directly upon the mind and soul of a man.”  In a leader, the difference between passion and lunacy is often defined by inspiration.  There are plenty of homicidal maniacs walking the street that are passionate, but they are unlikely to inspire others with their passion.  The two definitions given are complementary.  Inspiration often comes when we talk of things larger than life—a purpose greater than the individual.  In September of 1980 Solidarity, the Polish independent trade union federation was formed.  It’s then leader, Lech Welesa, showed passion about something much greater than he.  He had a vision that inspired others to risk their livelihoods and their lives for a noble cause.  As a leader you must look to inspire others by the significance of a purpose greater than the individual.  The Hebrew people followed Moses through the wilderness for 40 years not because he was Moses, but because he inspired a vision that was greater than any one person.  You can do the same.

Symbolism:

Symbolism in leadership is often overlooked or dismissed as being too corny for the sophisticated followers of today.  Somebody forgot to tell that to Andy Grove, the CEO of Intel in the 1990s when he moved into a cubicle as his office—just like everyone else in the company.[4] In doing so he gave a simple message—what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.  This symbolism extended beyond the boundaries of Intel to other major companies.  Somehow, it made it acceptable for a successful executive to have something other than the opulent trappings of a large office suite.  In a similar act of symbolism John Opel, former CEO of IBM was known to have a stand-up desk in his office—the kind of desk you work at while standing.  The message he imparted by this simple piece of office furniture was that he was a man of action—not one to sit down on the job.  What is interesting about these acts of symbolism is that the reality of the situation may have nothing to do with the message.  John Opel liked to stand when he worked at his desk because it was easier on this back.

In 1986, I moved to Boulder, Colorado to take over an elite team of individuals.  At about that time we were moving our offices to another location.  I was working remotely one week when I received a call from the team member I had given the responsibility for managing the move.  This team member wanted to inform me that there was a small problem—there were eight members of the team, but only seven window offices.  She also informed me that she was going to solve the problem by assigning herself to the interior office.  After all, she was the lowest level employee on the team.  I told her that I had a better idea.  I told her that I wanted the interior office for myself, leaving window offices for each of my team members.  I told her that I did not mind, since I would be spending most of my time in their offices anyhow.  What message do you think the members of my team received by that symbolic gesture—the new boss is an idiot?  I hoped not.  I was trying to send two messages to the team.  The first being that I did not see myself as superior to them in anyway other than in my role as leader, and the second being that I did not intend to spend too much time hiding away in my office.  I expected to be the leader, and I expected them to contribute to the work of the team regardless of their level, and I planned to be right there with them as we worked together to accomplish our goals.  There is an ironic twist to this story.  When I returned I found that, indeed, I had the only interior office, but that it was huge.  In fact it was twice the size of any other office.  When they tried to fit the furniture I inherited into a single interior office it simply would not fit, so they had to make two interior offices in to one big one.  When I first saw this I questioned why they did not just find smaller furniture for me.  The answer I received was priceless.  I was told that they took it upon themselves to go with the larger office, which would allow us to hold department meetings in my office—freeing up a conference room.  Isn’t it amazing what people will do when they feel empowered to make decisions for the good of the organization?  To paraphrase an old cliché, a symbol is worth a thousand words.

Loyalty

Over the last couple of decades loyalty has been sacrifice at the altar of earnings per share and short-term profits.  Several years ago a colleague of mine suffered a devastating personal blow when he learned that his wife of many years wanted a divorce.  To say it knocked the wind out of him would be an understatement.  As a result his work began to suffer.  Up to this point he had been a hard working, loyal contributor to the company and the department.  In the midst of his struggle, the leader of our department met with each member of the team individually to tell them that Russ was going through a difficult time and that he needed our help.  He told us that he expected each of us to take up any slack by pitching in and doing what was necessary to carry the department.  Then he told Russ to take whatever time necessary to get his affairs in order, and that his job would be waiting for him when he returned.  To a person, the department was more than willing to pitch in, working whatever hours necessary to cover for Russ.  We were all professionals, so there was no compensation for working the extra hours.  We were willing to give unselfishly for the department, because we valued the loyalty that was being shown to one of our colleagues.  What do you think happened to Russ?  He became more loyal, worked harder than ever, and became even a more significant contributor to the company.  What did it cost the company?  It cost the company very little.  What did the company and that leader gain by his loyalty?  That leader received a level of loyalty seven-fold what he exhibited, because there were seven of us in the department.  Before you are willing to sacrifice loyalty at the altar of profit taking, ask yourself what the real profit implications will be by your actions—you may be surprised.

Intestinal Fortitude

It takes courage to be a leader.  It is not for the faint hearted.  I became a manager in the early 1980s in IBM.  That was long before business casual was introduced, and a time when IBM was known for navy suits and white button-down shirts.  It was during that time that I was approached by some members of my team and asked why it was necessary to where suits and ties even on days when they would not be meeting with customers or other executives.  It was a planning organization—one that spent many days immersed in staff work absent of interaction with others outside of the department.  I listened to their request, devised a plan that the entire team agreed to that ensured we were prepared in the event we were called into an unexpected meeting with “outsiders” and headed to the executive suite.  As I made my way down the corridors for my meeting with the senior executive in charge my bowels became a bit watery.  After all, I was a new manager and I did not want to appear the fool.  I knew this was clearly a break from tradition but it had merit.  It certainly was not a cause important to me at the time, but it seemed important to the department I was leading.

After some amount of debate and consternation the request was approved—but only after I assured the executive in charge that I would not let it get out of hand.  Returning the victor—albeit the cautious victor—I informed the department of the decision.  It was a big hit.  Yet, interestingly enough only about half of the department stopped wearing suits every day.  Old habits die hard.  An interesting thing happened because of this action on my part.  Some of our sister departments chose to also adopt the new dress code—an action we fully expected.  Unfortunately, they did not bother to adopt the same plan of preparedness we had, and on one fateful day I was down in the executive suites meeting with some dignitaries when an employee from one of the other departments strolled past in all of his “business casual” splendor.  And to make matters worse he called out a big “Hi Mark” as he walked by, calling additional attention to himself and me.  As soon as he was out of ear shot the executive in charge pulled me aside and said, “No more business casual.  Fix it.”  Shortly thereafter I pulled the team together to let them know that our experiment in business casual met an untimely death.  Their response was surprising to me.  They said, “That’s OK.  We didn’t expect it to last.  We were just proud of you for having the guts to ask in the first place.”  If you want people to courageously follow you as their leader, you need to model courage.

Interpersonal Skills

This is one area that almost goes without saying.  Leadership is all about working with others.  In order to work with others effectively you need to excel at interpersonal relations.  There is an old saying in sales.  “People like to do business with people they like”.  The same goes for leadership.  People like to follow leaders that they like.

During the 1990s the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers were a disaster.  They had a lousy record and very little fan support.  But they had a very important asset in the President of the team—Pat Croce.  Pat Croce, who started out as a physical therapist and built a successful healthcare business called Novacare is a consummate marketer.  But more than anything he has built his career and his success on his interpersonal skills.  Because of his interpersonal skills and his charisma he took a team that was in the basement and moved them to the top floor.  In 2001 the 76ers, against all odds, made it into the NBA finals.  They did better than anyone expected, and won the love and adoration of sports fans everywhere—especially in Southeastern Pennsylvania.  Much of this success came because of Larry Brown, the head coach and winner of the 2001 coach of the year award and Allen Iverson their star guard and winner of the NBA MVP award for 2001.  But if it had not been for the interpersonal skills of Pat Croce none of that would have mattered.  Early in the season Larry Brown wanted to get rid of the troublemaking Iverson because he felt he was bad for the team, and he did not want to put up with his antics.  It was only after Croce worked his charm and charisma did coach and star come together to develop a winning formula.  The young Iverson settled down, becoming a leader for the team, and Larry Brown took it as a personal challenge to mentor him.  Strong interpersonal skills will bring people, who would otherwise not associate with one another, together to work toward a common goal.  That is what leadership is all about.

Sincerity

I once worked with a leader who said, “Sincerity is everything.  If you can fake that, you got it made.”  And he was right.  Sincerity is everything.  And Gary Bernstein did not fake it.  His people loved him and were willing to follow him during the most difficult times because he was sincere.  He was sincere in his concern for one of his top managers when she lost a child during childbirth.  He was sincere when another employee suffered the loss of her father, and he was sincere when he handed out praise for a job well done.

Sincerity shows people that you care about them, and that you care about the organization you are leading.  It demonstrates motive that moves beyond selfish ones, and it is hard to fake.  If you want to check yourself regarding your sincerity, ask yourself this question.  “When someone is talking to me about a problem, concern or issue, am I focused on the individual, the problem and the concern?  Or am I focused on how this is going to impact me?”  Or even worse, “Am I focusing on what to have for supper at the time someone is pouring out their troubles to me?”  If you are not fully engaged when dealing with your associates or followers you have some work to do in the area of sincerity.

Service

A common theme that I have seen over the years in great leaders is a willingness and desire to serve others.  It is at the root of many of the attributes described in this chapter.  It may seem like an odd juxtaposition to think of a leader as being a servant, but if you take time to reflect on some of the most highly esteemed leaders in history you will find that they often had a servant’s attitude.  Great world leaders should have as their first priority to serve the people they lead and to serve humanity.  Great CEOs should be ever-focused on serving the needs of their customers, stakeholders and employees.  It is an attitude of servant-hood that reflects praise and absorbs blame, and is willing to sacrifice personally for the good of the whole.

© Mark P. Loschiavo


[1] Direct from Dell: Strategies that Revolutionized an Industry, Copyrightã Michael Dell

[2] Strategy Pure & Simple II: How Winning Companies Dominate Their Competitors

[3] In a speech to the Harrow School on October 29, 1941

[4] Industry Week: 1997 Technology Leader of the Year
Andy Grove: Building An Information Age Legacy By John H. Sheridan Dec. 15, 1997

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