Do you have what it takes to be a good leader?

This checklist highlights the characteristics of effective and sustainable leadership


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Brad Lebo, a principal at Vital Growth Consulting Group, Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-502-9955 or brad.lebo@vitalgrowthllc.com.

In our experience, organizations with effective leadership are more likely to thrive than their competition. They respond more quickly to the opportunities and challenges of the marketplace, and they leverage the talent of the people in their organization better.

Often it is not just effective leadership at the top. In some organizations, the most effective leadership is at the management team level. At others, it is on the shop floor or among the individuals who deliver service.

The following checklist – which highlights the characteristics of effective and sustainable leadership -- is not for those who lead by intimidation or formal authority. Those leadership practices work for a while, but they eventually implode as followers turn into revolutionaries.

It is also not a checklist for those who lead through inspiration alone. As exciting and motivating as it is to be charmed by a charismatic leader, these types tend to lose their luster as time passes without much really changing for followers.

 • Characteristic 1: having the courage to imagine and act on a vision. This is at the core of what leaders do. Creating a vision means rejecting the status quo. It means imagining a different path and daring to think it might be better. Acting on a vision introduces the possibility of failure. It takes fortitude to look failure straight in the face.

 • Characteristic 2: knowing how to quiet doubt and worry. Leaders have to be better than most at quieting doubt and worry. This is because they must face uncertainty head-on. At one level, leadership is chiefly about acting in spite of uncertainty. A leader who does not have an effective strategy for handling doubt and worry will be paralyzed by uncertainty to the point of inaction.

 • Characteristic 3: knowing how to care for the interests of self, including both the personal (physical, emotional, spiritual) and the professional self (need to achieve, direct others, affiliate). One leader we know sets a pace that risks his own health and burns out (turns off) all but his most loyal subordinates.

 • Characteristic 4: knowing how to care for the interests of others. This means spending the time and energy to identify the interests and then establishing an environment that is supportive. Leaders who fail this item frequently are seen as self-centered. As a result, their leadership is easily dismissed.

 • Characteristic 5: knowing how to navigate competing interests. All leaders must be able to weigh competing interests using a combination of reason-based (analysis) and intuitive (gut feel) strategies. Great leaders also know that mistakes will be made when trying to decide between competing interests. They look at these mistakes as an opportunity to learn how to better weigh pros and cons and listen to gut feelings the next time.

 • Characteristic 6: knowing how to benefit from feedback from a partner or team. This means being able to own mistakes and admit to a need for improvement. Indeed, great leaders serve as models for taking responsibility for shortcomings and bad decisions. We all know leaders who fail the test of taking feedback seriously and alienate their followers in the process.

 • Characteristic 7: knowing how to hold self and others accountable to reasonable goals. Great leaders hold themselves accountable to goals that are achievable and teach others to do the same. They also are good at coming up with ways to measure progress, checking in on the progress regularly and adapting goals as needed by changing circumstances. Finally, they are skilled at confronting people who fall short, without destroying motivation and self-worth.

 • Characteristic 8: knowing how to communicate a vision to others. This is easier said than done. Effective leaders know that it takes a combination of metaphorical hand-holding and pointing/directing to communicate a vision. They also know repetition and endless questions go with the territory. We’ve seen too many leaders who only reveal bits and pieces of their vision to others even though in their heads everything is explained in detail.

 • Characteristic 9: knowing how to influence and motivate others. This is a fundamental task of leadership and is common to most leaders we see. That said, it can often be improved. Some resources to help with influence and motivation are Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: Science and Practice” and Daniel Pink’s “To Sell is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others.”

How do you do on this checklist? How do people throughout your organization do? If you want a competitive advantage in the marketplace or in your job, develop yourself and others as leaders. The differences you see may just amaze you.

Brad Lebo, a principal at Vital Growth Consulting Group, Portsmouth, can be reached at 603-502-9955 or brad.lebo@vitalgrowthllc.com.

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