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Posted: November 17, 2009

How to be a true leader…

...and other rules for success

Laurence B. Valant

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from business performance improvement expert Larry Valant's book, "Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance."

26 - People willingly follow a leader.

By definition (mine) people follow a leader. Implicit in this statement is the concept that such following is done willingly. It is important to note that this is not about the relative "goodness" nor the "badness" of the leader in terms of values and morality, but rather about the leader's ability to have people follow willingly.

A classic example of true leadership is illustrated perfectly in the British movie The Admirable Crichton starring Kenneth More. In this old movie, a British noble family is traveling on the high seas with its retinue of servants. The ship encounters a storm and sinks, and the noble family and its servants find themselves shipwrecked on an island. Because survival is at stake, roles can and are reversed, and the natural leader takes over.

 The fact that this leader is the butler and not the lord makes for an entertaining movie, but more importantly demonstrates the point of leadership and followership ion of leadership, when circumstances opened the door for true leadership, the butler emerges as the leader.

 The butler provided the vision (survival) and the means to execute the vision. Strictly against the mores of British society, the aristocrats willingly aligned their vision (also survival) with that of the true leader and followed him willingly, to their mutual success - they survived!

True leadership is simply the ability to have people follow you, willingly. When someone with natural leadership abilities leads, they are followed. And as in the case of the butler, these abilities were not given by position or taught to him, they were God given!

27 - Rarely is a true leader in the position of leadership.

Positions of leadership rarely are filled by true leaders. To begin with, there are very few true leaders, so there is a small pool from which to choose. And rarely are the decision-makers knowledgeable about true leadership. They rely upon qualitative and anecdotal information presented by very expensive search firms and industrial psychologists. All too often, while well intended, these groups miss the mark grievously.

If decision-makers applied this simple definition of leadership - 1) the ability to have people follow 2) the ability to communicate a vision that people will embrace - they would fill leadership positions with true leaders.

It must be noted that true leadership does not guarantee management competence. Organization planning must deal not just with correctly filling the positions of leadership, but also those reporting to the leader. Those who execute the leader's vision must have strong management capabilities with demonstrated track records of successful execution.

When positions of leadership are filled with true leaders who are supported with competent managers, a powerful organization exists, an organization that can deliver on time and on budget. Such an organization benefits owners, managers, employees, and customers.

28 - A leader has a vision which can be quantified and communicated clearly.

The good news for those who are not natural leaders, but are in positions of leadership, is you can learn skills critical to successful leadership.
The most important of these skills can be summarized in one phrase: develop a clear, quantified vision of what you plan to achieve and communicate it unambiguously.

 This vision must define success in precise terms and provide the basis for your key managers to in turn define their own objectives or vision.
A natural leader instinctively creates a vision statement, the majority of us must be taught how to.

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Laurence B. Valant is President and CEO of Valant & Co., a Denver-based business performance improvement consultancy that has worked with almost 300 firms to increase their value by billions of dollars. He is co-author of the hot-selling new book, “Make Plan! With Effective Execution” and now, “Lead and Manage!” Valant can be reached at lvalant@valantco.com or at 303-589-3840. If you want more information or would like to order a copy of “Stop Breaking These Rules! 100 Hard-Hitting Truths for Business Integrity and Performance,” please visit www.valantco.com.

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