How and Why Too Many Leaders Get It All Wrong

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Vision or Mission. Which comes first?

How should an authentic leader behave?

And, which attributes describe the best leaders?

All interesting questions I hear frequently. Let’s see if we can paint with a broad brush in this installment.

Vision or Mission?

An academic unit within a University I’ve worked with struggled to create the guide plan for their future. They somehow knew that to build and move forward they needed a North Star, a baseline, a foundation (choose your metaphor) upon which to base all future decisions.

That they couldn’t decide which comes first, the vision or the mission, did not speak well for their future. In the end, they chose mission first.

Well, that’s wrong.

Now granted, that’s my opinion but it’s shared widely — and admittedly — not universally. Much of the Leadership literature — academic and popular — agrees that enunciation of a broad stroke, large or global statement about who you are and what you intend to accomplish is your VISION statement. And it is essential to express the company’s values, goals and dreams in a shareable, clear and succinct sentence (or two).

Like these:

· Facebook: Connect with friends and the world around you…

· Disney: To entertain, inform and inspire people around the globe through the power of unparalleled storytelling…

· LinkedIn: Create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce…

Notice, these don’t detail strategies, plans or steps to accomplish the vision. That’s the role of the MISSION statement; it should clearly and concisely express how that vision works within the practical milieu in which the company operates. It is the action-oriented version of the vision.

Behaviors and Attributes of Authentic Leaders

Google the topic and there are (in Google-speak) 26,600,000 results. And the titles of the submissions span a broad range of answers: “The 5 Essential Qualities..” the “10, or 15, or 78 behaviors…”

Point is, the answers to this question are all highly subjective and most likely, you will relate to those which the bosses throughout your career have — or lack.

Here are my Top 5:

1. Integrity. The leader who behaves from a strong ethical foundation, who is deeply committed to always doing the right thing for the right reasons regardless of the circumstances, is a principled, honorable and imminently followable leader. That leader’s integrity engenders Trust which in turn, opens an entire panoply of great organizational behaviors for everyone: healthy risk-taking, which encourages innovation and excellence, achievement along with growth: individually and corporately.

2. Lifelong Learning. The leader who intentionally learns continuously is never satisfied with the status quo regardless of how good things may be at the moment. This leader reads widely and seeks feedback externally and internally. The Learner is a healthy leader who doesn’t fear seeing new perspectives — even those of competitors or “enemies.” This leader always challenges the processes — even the ones he’s helped create.

3. Proclaims a clear Vision and Mission and acts as the corporate Pace-setter. This leader is involved. She doesn’t micro-manage, but certainly understands the power of getting everyone on-board with the directions that have been set, and knows what it takes to reach the corporate goals. These behaviors presume the leader is capable (has the necessary skills), willing (is engaged) and able (invaluable experience within the field or industry).

4. A steady-handed PROBLEM-SOLVER. This precludes panic and over-reaction when things inevitably go awry. A leader who is able to view problems and crises as temporary and surmountable, as opportunities to learn and improve, is a steadying influence on everyone involved — stakeholders, customers and employees. The sense that everything is under control provides a safe haven; an environment in which the trust already placed in your leaders is affirmed.

5. Finally and most importantly, the uncanny ability to VALUE and CARE for your personnel. This behavior is so absent in the vast majority of 21st century organizations that it’s no wonder studies constantly point to worker dissatisfaction as our most prevalent issue. Productivity is reduced. Morale is often tanking. And competitive advantages are squandered. Work to see your team members like Bob Chapman, CEO of Barry-Wehmiller and head guru of the Truly Human Leadership movement does: as “…someone’s precious child.”

Describing the behaviors and attributes of healthy leaders who truly “get it” isn’t all that difficult. Finding them, much more so.

Norm Mintle