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Adjunct Professor, Public Relations and Communications Graduate Program,
Georgetown University, and
CEO, EnviroComm International
August 15, 2011
Leaders like to win. In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins found the one-two winning combination for building a company's enduring greatness: a fierce, professional will and a comfortable, personal humility.
For all leaders, whether or not they meet the Collins "level 5 executive" model, one outcome that must be pursued is what we can describe simply as victory.
Victory in achieving goals — beating the competition, meeting stakeholder expectations, building a motivated team, and executing strategies that sustain an exemplary, authentic enterprise — is the name of the leadership game.
What are some of the key traits of leadership observable as business leaders engage followers in the promise of win-win deals and outcomes?
With the seven letters of the word VICTORY as a mnemonic, we can recognize seven qualities or personal traits of successful leadership.
Vision. A survey by Charles Farkas and Suzy Wetlaufer¹ found relatively few CEOs describing themselves as the corporation's chief visionary. However, how else to describe the leader who looks at the future for the company, and, from where he or she is standing, points to what is required, possible and achievable? Leader A sees a path for a company recovering from a slip and rising to a front position. Leader B points toward a product strategies that will engage with developing government interests. Leader C envisions a trusting and productive sales method that will lift the company to success. Forward thinking sets the course for the company. So our leadership communication genesis is the leader's vision; if the vision is successfully communicated, it is adopted, translated into ideas, missions, strategies and execution relevant to the company and its stakeholders.
Integrity. Leadership is enabled or disabled by its level of honesty, truth and fair play. The leader's first orientation must be to assure that his or her word is a bond. The ideal of the leadership concept is that followers look to a leader for direction, the leader will lead by example, and what followers expect in terms of honest, ethical behavior, is what they will get. Bill George's books on leadership² say authentic leaders demonstrate passion for their purpose, practice their values consistently and lead with their hearts as well as their heads. He concludes, "They know who they are."
Communication. It almost goes without saying that there is no leadership without communication. And yet, while every leader — and certainly every CEO of a public company — knows this, communication competence is not automatic; it doesn't come naturally to some who move toward leadership; and it can be mishandled or neglected, to the leader's and the organization's loss, especially in times of stress. The CEO of BP's communication gaffes during an oil-spill crisis were a significant factor in his losing his job. Expert communication counselors — chief communication officers in modern corporations — help leaders to lead in the interplay and engagement with stakeholders. The content, contexts and tones of the leader's communication opportunities will support or handicap the leader and the organization.
Trust. The number one reason followers give for following an individual is "I trust her (or him)". The leader must be trusted to act and deliver, to be as good as his or her word, to be worthy of followership. This quintessential condition, however, is a two-way street. The other direction is that in which the leader respects and trusts those he or she wishes to engage. Inside the company, the trustworthy leader trusts — declines to micromanage — team members to carry out their jobs related to visions and missions. Stakeholders, from investors to customers are trusted with information and business dealings. Warren Buffett invites full engagement with stockholders at an event in which he is open to direct questions and conversations. Tony Hsieh builds his Zappos shoe and clothing business by trusting customers to buy or return products sent to them on inspection.
Optimism. This is the emotional driver of confidence. During winning seasons and losing, business leaders, like sports coaches and leaders, are the source of personal and professional confidence that goals can and will be achieved. When things went wrong with a trusted executive, Warren Buffett assured followers that one bad actor in his management team would not spoil the company's prospects. Followers need to see in the leader the strength of belief in achievement. A leader's communication of confidence must be authentic, based on reality, acknowledging the limits as well providing rationale of the achievable stretches. A 2011 research study showed how a CEO's over-enthusiastic outlook, expressed on a quarterly call with investment analysts, can backfire. Authentic confidence is based on reality, acknowledging the limits as well providing rationale of the achievable stretches. The CEO of Ford reinforces statements about the future by consistently coupling them with "proof points."
Resourceful. This is the ability to act effectively or imaginatively, especially in difficult situations. A Harvard Business Review blog by John Baldoni puts resourcefulness at the top of the skill-set key to leadership. He says resourcefulness in a company is about optimizing what you have to work with. It's the ability to stay open to change and to "redefine the possible." He cites the co-founder of India's $2 billion IT service company, who helped fellow Indians to realize how they could refocus and leverage their talents to empower themselves to fulfill goals. Good leaders know that innovation is not just about creating something new; it also applies to making old things work better.
Yes. Harvard professors wrote a negotiation guide entitled, Getting to Yes, which supports win-win outcomes. "Yes" — reaching equitable, value-based agreement with all desired stakeholders — needs to be the money shot for business leaders. Management experts such as Baldoni and Ram Charan remind us that the leader who steps up and says "yes, we can do this" is one who can push colleagues to do things that some might consider impractical. Apple's Steve Jobs personifies this leadership trait. Leaders and communicators are enabled for win-win work — for victory shared with stakeholders — when qualities like these are actively in play.
¹ The Ways Chief Executive Officers Lead, in Harvard Business Review
on Leadership, Harvard Business School Press, page 115.
² Authentic Leadership: Rediscovering the Secrets to Creating Lasting Value,
Jossey-Bass; George served as CEO of Medtronic.
Bruce Harrison is an adjunct professor in the master's program at
Georgetown University, Washington, DC. He and Judith Muhlberger teach
courses in leadership communications and corporate crisis communications.
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