No matter the engagement, having leadership involved in our work is vital. Over the years, some very talented people have defined leadership. Great authors and business coaches have also defined leadership. I did a quick Google search on the definition of “leadership” and here is what I found:
the action of leading a group of people or an organization
“different styles of leadership”
Synonyms: guidance, direction, control, management, superintendence, supervision; organization, government
the state or position of being a leader
“the leadership of the party”
Synonyms: directorship, governorship, governance, administration, captaincy, control, ascendancy, supremacy, rule, command, power, dominion, influence
“the leadership of the Coalition”
Talented Leadership is critical for a company to succeed, because without it, there is chaos, mismanagement, and no direction. I have also read some good books that discuss or mention leadership. One of my favorites is “Good to Great” by Jim Collins.
Now, I have my own life experiences that have helped me define my version of leadership. I can share with you what has worked and what has not worked in the last 28 years of my career. I can also tell you about the different leaders I have dealt with in many organizations – both huge publicly traded multi-national companies and small private companies. What is interesting is that the leadership roles that worked in huge companies and small companies share the same characteristics. This has helped me define what it takes to be a successful leader.
What is clear is that there are things that do not work and destroy leadership. Leading out of fear surely does not work. In addition, leading with threats does not work. A leader that does not communicate is sure to fail. I have seen my share of failed leadership and leaders that were failures. It is amazing how these individuals made it to the top of these organizations. They usually operated by:
- Threatening those below
- Operating with a big stick
- Greed: Looking out only for personal gain
- Horrible communicators
- Did not trust many, or anyone at all
- Short term thinkers
- Created silos in the organization
- Had favorites that they worked with
- Felt empowered by the title they carried
The above characteristics simply do not work. The failed leaders that I have dealt with have many of the above characteristics or behaviors.
What A True Leader Wants
A true leader wants to know that he has a strong team behind him. A leader wants to know that there is no doubt that those that follow him will follow him over a cliff. In addition, a leader wants his team to trust their judgment, but at the same time, his team has enough confidence to respectfully challenge an idea or concept if they truly believe it is flawed. A leader also wants his team to have excellent communication both up and down the chain of command. A leader also must have a right hand person. This is someone who is talented and can step in just in case something happens to the leader. A leader wants to be successful because that is his nature, but he also knows he cannot do it alone.
What It Takes To Be A Successful Leader
Over my lifetime, I have seen several successful leaders in the business world. Here are a couple examples that stand out.
Paul was the owner of a large equipment distributor here in Texas. I met this business owner because we used some of his construction equipment. I got to meet several people that worked for him. The business owner and CEO grew his company from a small $2 million company to a business that was well over $100 million in revenue. He went from less than 10 employee to close to 200. His employees loved him, and he had a well run business that was very successful. I watched him, and I made a mental note of what made this leader different from other executives I encountered.
Paul’s Leadership Characteristics
These are some of Paul’s characteristics as a leader:
- Compassionate: He had a big heart, but he knew exactly when someone was trying to take advantage of that
- Accountable: He held his employees accountable
- He hired very talented people, paid above market and delegated
- He had his employees help him set the goals and got them to buy in to them
- Caring: Different from compassionate… He truly cared about his employees, from the receptionist to the CFO and COO
- Disciplined: Early riser, stuck to his business plan, had good social habits, never broke rules
- Excellent communicator
- Zero tolerance for unethical behavior
- Humble: Although he was personally worth millions, he never forgot where he came from and he treated everyone with equal respect.
- His goal was not to fill his own pocket with cash, but to share with others and allow the team as a whole to benefit from success
- He knew what he did not know; this led his to have the right strategic advisors and executives; he trusted his executives
- He never uses the words, “my” and “me;” instead, he uses “us” and “our”
- Transparent: If it is good news or bad news, then you will hear it… No hidden agendas
Hugo was a leader from early in his career. After working for a travel company in his early years, his entrepreneurship led him to start his business on his own. He started in travel, then expanded and ultimately had a very successful construction company. In the later years of his life, you would never know that Hugo was worth millions. He was humble, but he knew how to build teams. He led by example, and was often found literally getting his hands dirty in a construction business. Hugo loved success, and he enjoyed a nice lifestyle. But he never forgot his roots.
Hugo’s Leadership Characteristics
He had the following leadership characteristics:
- Discipline: He was as straight as an arrow and all those around him were also
- Compassionate: He literally spent much of his wealth helping needy children
- He was an incredible communicator
- Zero tolerance for unethical behavior
- Accountability: He made sure his employees knew where they stood at the end of every month
- He never uses the words, “my” and “me”… He frequently uses the words “us” and “ours”
You will note several characteristics that the two aforementioned leaders had in common.
Now, it is my turn. I am leading a consulting firm with talented people. I know I cannot grow this firm alone, and I need great people to do it. But I also know nothing is done with short-term thinking. The work we do for our clients are always keeping in mind the best interest of the client and the long term relationship. If there is ever any doubt about billable hours, then the client is not getting those hours billed. I must never forget where I came from and where I was just a few years ago. In our firm, we are all very transparent. We speak our mind, but we have professional respect to each other. Communication is the key-stone in our firm. We are treated equally no matter what the title. Our success will be shared with all employees; this is not my firm, it is our firm.
My Definition of Leadership
So how do I define leadership? It is the action of leading a team of individuals that you relay on, that you trust and respect. The team you lead believes in you because you have always been ethical in business and socially. It is a team that you have open communication with and that you never feel you are above. The team you lead believes in you so much they will follow you off of a ledge. That is leadership. If you want to learn how to be a more effective financial leader, click here to access the free 7 Habits of Highly Effective CFOs whitepaper.