Five key attributes shared by effective leaders
All leaders must excel at personal proficiency. Without the foundation of trust and credibility, you cannot ask others to follow you
Execution revolves around the discipline of getting things done and the technical expertise to get it right
Leaders are learners: from success, failure, assignments, books, classes, people, and life itself. Passionate about their beliefs and interests, they expend an enormous personal energy and attention on whatever matters to them, briefs Dave Ulrich & Norm Smallwood, Co-Founders, RBL Group
If you Google the words leader and leadership, there are 487 million hits. That’s an awful lot of information to answer one simple but essential question: what leadership attributes are necessary for leaders to have impact – to actually generate strategic business results?
Faced with the incredible volume of information about leadership, our research at The RBL Group has helped us make sense of this question and led us to our discovery of the Leadership Code – five key attributes shared by the majority of effective leaders.
How did we get there? We turned to recognized experts in the field who had already spent years sifting through the evidence and developing their own theories. These thought leaders had each published a theory of leadership based on a long history of leadership research and empirical assessment of what makes effective leadership. Collectively, they have written over 50 books on leadership and performed well over 2 million leadership 360’s.
In our discussions with them we focused on two simple questions whose answers had always been elusive:
1. What percent of effective leadership is basically the same?
2. If there are common rules that all leaders must master, what are they?
We wanted to understand if an effective leader at, say, Walmart in any ways resembles an effective leader at Virgin Airlines? Does an effective leader in a bootstrapping NGO in any way resemble an effective leader at the famously bureaucratic United Nations? Does an effective leader in an emerging market resemble an effective leader in a mature market?
Synthesizing the data, the interviews, and our own research and experience, the Leadership Code framework emerged.
Rule 1: Shape the future. This rule is embodied in the strategist dimension of the leader. Strategists answer the question “where are we going?” and make sure that those around them understand the direction as well. They not only envision, but also can create a future. They figure out where the organization needs to go to succeed, they test these ideas pragmatically against current resources (money, people, organizational capabilities), and they work with others to figure out how to get from the present to the desired future. Strategists have a point of view about the future and are able to position their organization to create and respond to that future. The rules for strategists are about creating, defining, and delivering principles of what can be.
Rule 2: Make things happen. Turn what you know into what you do. The Executor dimension of the leader focuses on the question “How will we make sure we get to where we are going?” Executors translate strategy into action. Executors understand how to make change happy, to assign accountability, to know which key decisions to take and which to delegate, and to make sure that teams work well together. They keep promises to multiple stakeholders. Executors make things happen, and put the systems in place for others to do the same. The rules for executors revolve around disciplines for getting things done and the technical expertise to the get the right things done right.
Rule 3: Engage today’s talent. Leaders who optimize talent today answer the question “Who goes with us on our business journey?” Talent managers know how to identify, build and engage talent to get results now. Talent managers identify what skills are required, draw talent to their organizations, engage them, communicate extensively, and ensure that employees turn in their best efforts. Talent managers generate intense personal, professional and organizational loyalty. The rules for talent managers center around resolutions that help people develop themselves for the good of the organization.
Rule 4: Build the next generation. Leaders who are Human Capital Developers answer the question, “who stays and sustains the organization for the next generation?” Talent Managers ensure shorter-term results through people while Human Capital Developers ensure that the organization has the longer-term competencies required for future strategic success. Just as good parents invest in helping their children succeed, human capital developers help future leaders be successful. Human capital developers throughout the organization build a workforce plan focused on future talent, understand how to develop the future talent, and help employees see their future careers within the company. Human capital developers ensure that the organization will outlive any single individual. Human capital developers install rules that demonstrate a pledge to building the next generation of talent.
Rule 5: Invest in yourself. At the heart of the Leadership Code -- literally and figuratively -- is Personal Proficiency. Effective leaders cannot be reduced to what they know and do. Who they are as human beings has everything to do with how much they can accomplish with and through other people. Leaders are learners: from success, failure, assignments, books, classes, people, and life itself. Passionate about their beliefs and interests, they expend an enormous personal energy and attention on whatever matters to them. Effective leaders inspire loyalty and goodwill in others because they themselves act with integrity and trust. Decisive and impassioned, they are capable of bold and courageous moves. Confident in their ability to deal with situations as they arise, they can tolerate ambiguity.
As we have worked with these five rules of leadership, we can make some summary observations.
All leaders must excel at Personal Proficiency. Without the foundation of trust and credibility, you cannot ask others to follow you. While individuals may have different styles (introvert vs. extrovert, intuitive vs. sensing, etc.), any individual leader must be seen as having personal proficiency to engage followers. This is probably the toughest of the five domains to train and some individuals are naturally more capable than others.
Effective leaders have one towering strength. Most successful leaders have at least one of the other four roles in which they excel. Most are personally predisposed to one of the four areas. These are the signature strengths of your leaders.
All leaders must be at least average in his or her “weaker” leadership domains. It is possible to train someone to learn how to be strategic, execute, manage talent, and develop future talent. There are behaviors and skills that can be identified, developed, and mastered.
The higher up the organization that the leader rises, the more he or she needs to develop excellence in more than one of the four domains.
It is very bold to say that these five domains synthesize and summarize leadership, but we continue to believe that we have captured the essence of what attributes effective leaders need.