Leaders: Fundamentals Create Vibrant Cultures and Brilliant Performance

Why are some leaders mediocre while others are wildly successful? Exactly what differentiates the leader that their followers “love” from the one who may have subordinates but no followers?

Over my 30+ year business journey I have witnessed and reported to many different leaders; some brilliant and some not so much.

My conclusion is that those who constantly deliver superlative performance through passionate and turned on teams have a very specific profile.

1. They are of “average” intelligence ; NOT superstar intellectuals. Their academic pedigree satisfies the entry requirements to climb the ladder and they view it that way - the ante to play the leadership game.

2. They acquire a repertoire of practical skills from their experience. They build it by actively engaging in the implementation activities of their organization’s strategy. This allows them to be able to solve a range of problems that others without implementation depth cannot.

3. Their stable of mentors is broad and deep. They are able to draw on a vast resource base of skills and experience to support them and provide advice.

4. They are strategic micromanagers . They pick and choose the “hills” that require their personal involvement as the leader and they dive in. They don’t believe in across-the-board delegation; particularly in matters dealing with serving customers. They personally “paint a picture” in great detail to all employees of what they expect the customer experience to look like.

5. They spend copious amounts of time with the frontline . Gathering feedback from the people who are key to executing the organization’s strategy is a top priority to them, and frontline employees continually witness the leader’s presence in their workplace - listening, asking questions, taking notes.

6. They are consummate communicators . They are able to draw emotional support from people by presenting their vision and values in a compelling and passionate way. And they are “in the faces” of employees regularly, reporting on the progress of their strategy and stressing what action needs to be taken in the short term to improve performance.

7. They never break a promise . They do what they say, and influence others to adopt the same behaviour as a fundamental organizational value. And ultimately this treatment is manifested in how customers are served and forms a vital component of their competitive strategy.

8. They are effective at letting go . They treat eliminating work that is no longer relevant to their strategy with the same priority as adopting new challenges. They close the doors on new hires until they can be satisfied that no further “CRAP” can be eliminated.

9. They thrive on imperfection . They understand that seeking the perfect solution consumes time and energy that could be applied to implementing and learning. They emphasize that “doing stuff” and learning on the run is more important than over-studying and risk aversion.

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“Made to lead” is not for everyone; it requires noncompliance with many accepted norms of leadership. The thing is, its fundamentals create vibrant cultures and brilliant performance.

So why would any leader want to be “normal”?