Archives For Leadership

Creativity is essential in remaining relevant in a business world now characterized by fast pace and rapid change. It’s needed to stay ahead of competition that has become more global and enterprising. It’s needed not only to solve problems, but to see ahead clearly enough to identify opportunities that others may yet be missing.

Truly innovative leaders have the ability to see connections across data, ideas, concepts, and past experience. They can then see the patterns and project forward, developing even better ideas and solutions.

Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

Innovative leaders question conventional thinking and constantly develop different (and sometimes even radical) ideas about how something can be done better. They do more than merely look straight ahead for the obvious, and instead look at all angles. By always probing and questioning, they develop other mental traits such as observing, sorting, and recognizing patterns. They experiment, they are curious, and they have a love for learning. By their example, they very often establish a culture of learning in their own organizations which can also serve as a creativity-multiplier.

Creative leaders do have some innate ability to understand and solve problems. Many have a strong imagination and a healthy sense of self that often afford s them a higher tolerance for risk-taking and a lower fear of failure. Some are non-conformists and unconventional, requiring less social approval or less rigidity in organizational structure.

So, can leadership creativity be developed and nurtured? I believe so, yes. Consider the following suggestions:

• Generate lots of ideas. Look not only for the commonplace, but for the truly innovative, game-changing, and transformational. Originality is the key here.

• Experiment with the good ideas. Always look to jump from good to great. Don’t be dissuaded by the fear of failure. Thomas Edison always viewed failure as a step closer to ultimate success.

• Be a passionate advocate of creativity and originality. Never remain satisfied with the status quo. Become an organization of learners and creative problem solvers.

• Protect the truly creative. Some individuals who have astonishing creative gifts are often viewed as geeks or social outcasts, perhaps worse. Make sure their contributions are recognized and shared, and that their value to the team is understood and appreciated.

• Inspire others. Share the wins on how creative approaches set the competition back on its heels. Dissect the failures and disseminate the lessons learned. Distribute the credit liberally and unselfishly.

Creative leaders help transform stodgy companies into organizations that are invigorated, competitive, and sustainable. These companies are built to last not only by the skillful, innovative leader, but also by the cumulative creative energies of the entire organization.

This is the last in the series on 12 Leadership Traits. See the other posts in the Leadership category. All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” – Will Rogers

Judgment is the ability to think about things clearly, logically, and calmly, and to weigh facts, assumptions, and consequences (both the intended and, to a reasonable extent, the unintended) in deciding upon potential courses of action. Judgment does indeed come from experience, and is informed by one’s ethics. Having a good sense of judgment is a prerequisite for becoming an effective leader.

Business leaders today operate in environments where there are many unknowns, and where ambiguity is prevalent. Leaders must therefore be able to confront complex challenges and quickly cut to the most important considerations. The leader must see issues from multiple perspectives, evaluate the quality of information they possess, seek additional counsel as necessary, and make reasoned judgments about how (or how not) to proceed.

Even when required to act promptly, leaders should take the time necessary to consider the alternatives. The effective leader uses sound judgment to keep the entire chessboard in mind, even when focusing on an individual piece. When the time comes to make a decision, then make a decision! A good decision made promptly is far better than an even stronger decision made too late.

How can judgment be developed? While experience plays a large role in the development of judgment, as noted above, you might also consider the following:

• Develop a logical and orderly thought process by practicing objective estimates of the situation. This can be done as a matter of course on a daily basis, or it could be done through more formal training where simulation exercises are performed and then discussed.

• Don’t give in to impulse. Trusting one’s instincts is important, to be sure, but certainly not as an alternative to a more orderly, deliberate, and informed approach to decision-making. Leading with the heart is generally better left for the lyrics of a country-music song.

• Practice viewing a situation from multiple perspectives, identifying and framing the key issues, as well attempting to anticipate the intended and unintended consequences. Decisions often have impacts far and wide, and it’s worthwhile to attempt an assessment of all those ripples.

• Consider the effects of your decisions on all the stakeholders. Are employees impacted? Customers? Stockholders? Competitors? It’s worthwhile to assess the ripples here, as well.

• Appreciate the value of mentorship and learn from the experience of others. Mentoring is an important leadership function. It would be greatly beneficial to find an experienced senior leader willing to provide wise counsel and mentoring on a regular basis.

The business world of today is a complex, fast-paced, and demanding environment. Leaders must be skilled in a wide variety of methods and disciplines, both technical and interpersonal. And the trait of judgment has never been more critical to a leader’s success.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.


When a leader is described as professionally competent, what exactly does that imply? Is it a statement that the leader knows how to do everything? Or might it mean that the leader does some things well, perhaps even extraordinarily well?

Perhaps a designation as professionally competent means something different.

Management thinker Lionel Urwick wrote over fifty years ago, “There is nothing which rots morale more quickly and more completely than… the feeling that those in authority do not know their own minds.” Incompetent leaders have innumerable opportunities to demonstrate their ineffectiveness either by doing nothing or by doing the wrong things. Incompetence erodes credibility which in turn erodes trust and loyalty. The end result is most often ugly and disruptive.

So what is professional competence?

Every successful leader has come to understand the core competencies necessary to lead complex, dynamic organizations. Good leaders must understand not just financial concepts, business strategy, and marketing, but they should also grasp the importance of written and verbal communications, employee morale and motivation, and the value of character and integrity. Competence isn’t gained by knowing how to do everything, but more in knowing what needs to be done and how to get it done.

Leadership competence develops from a combination of institutional schooling, rigorous self-development, and diverse professional experience. Building competence is therefore a gradual process, from mastering individual competencies to eventually applying and tailoring them in concert with others. Leaders continuously refine these competencies and learn to apply them to increasingly complex situations. Competencies are thus demonstrated through behaviors that can be readily seen by many others at all levels in the organization.

Leaders need to provide their employees reasons to trust and follow them. A demonstration of professional competence is an excellent beginning point.

How can a leader demonstrate such professional competence? Consider the following:

• Set an example of self-improvement. Whether in acquiring additional schooling, self-study, or merely by asking employees to give you a better understanding of a particular business process, demonstrate a sincere, serious quest for knowledge and improvement.

• Celebrate the wins. Provide your analysis on how and why the win was earned, and share the credit.

• Do a lessons-learned on the setbacks. This not only provides some important institutional memory, but also establishes a leader as unafraid to share and learn, even when the news isn’t good. And don’t be reluctant to accept the blame if warranted.

• Surround yourself with competent people. Know your strengths, but also know your weaknesses, and build the team accordingly.

• Teach, communicate, and perform at a high level. Self-explanatory, right?

Competence alone cannot guarantee a leader’s success, since there are other important traits that play into the leadership mix. But incompetence will almost assuredly result in a leader’s undoing. Professional competence—knowing what to do and how to get it done—is vital.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

One of the more common weaknesses in leaders can be found in the trait of assertiveness. Wait, you say. Isn’t assertiveness an important quality for any leader bent on success? Indeed, it is. It’s the question of balance that becomes paramount, such that too much or too little assertiveness can illuminate shortcomings that obscure the other, more favorable leadership qualities.

Balancing this important skill with the others in a leader’s portfolio can augment and extend that same leader’s influence and effectiveness. Too little assertiveness and a leader risks being seen as weak and ineffectual; too much and the leader may come off as bullying and insufferable. In either case, the imbalance is conspicuous and constricting, therefore putting at risk the good results which might have been achieved otherwise. With the ability to find the right balance, the effective leader is forceful enough to move the organization in the preferred direction without browbeating and potentially alienating large numbers of the workforce.

Think of the right balance as much like the front-end alignment of a car: If the car’s alignment is in good order, you’ll likely notice the more favorable qualities of the car instead, if indeed you notice anything at all; if the alignment is poor, you’ll notice the obvious steering and vibration issues and perhaps even think of the potential damage to the tires and other areas.

How can assertiveness compliment the other leadership traits you possess? Consider the following:

• Create and foster an environment of teamwork and inclusion. It’s obviously important for the leader to assert his/her own opinions and expectations, but it’s also important for the leader to build a team whose members’ input is sought and valued. It’s important for the leader to display and teach the right assertiveness balance, such that the more reluctant team members aren’t crowded out by the more aggressive. An assertive leader creates, teaches, and coaches, and in the process builds something that lasts, that makes a difference.

• Break down the barriers to change. Employees are often suspicious of and threatened by change, hence making them reluctant and often resistant. A leader must not only challenge the status quo when dealing with employees, but often must convince his/her own hesitant bosses of the need for and the benefits of change. An assertive leader makes the case and drives the change process with passion, commitment, and effective, timely communication. Leading an organization through major change is hard, grinding work, and is best done not by the passive or the bullying, but by the smart, inclusive, assertive leader.

• Make it clear to others who you are and where you stand. If you disagree with a particular finding or direction, for example, then by all means don’t sit idly by and offer nothing more than the cowardice of silence. And don’t suffer fools when it comes to questions of ethical behavior. Make sure your core values are clearly understood, and that your integrity is not something you are willing to compromise. Not now, not ever. Be an assertive leader with courage here, not an equivocating politician.

Remember, assertiveness is an important trait, and just as importantly must be maintained in the right balance to achieve optimum effectiveness.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Have you ever worked with or been influenced by a leader who had a compelling vision for the organization? Did that leader’s visualization have a discernible bearing upon the organization’s ability to focus on its goals and objectives? And was the organization’s overall performance improved as a result?

An important part of a leader’s role is to provide a vision that paints a picture and lays out a roadmap of where the organization is going. At its best, that vision inspires and motivates, and can provide a compelling image of the future. A vision can create a climate of shared understanding, shared effort, and shared accountability for results. It can also align an individual’s own job responsibilities with the organization’s goals, creating a stronger sense of purpose and commitment that likely wouldn’t exist to the same extent otherwise.

In May, 1961, President John F. Kennedy spoke the following words to a Joint Session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely.” Thus the efforts of thousands of engineers and planners, contractors and subcontractors, astronauts and administrators, and millions of dollars were directed toward the bold vision of a young American president. Hence, in July, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first person ever to set foot upon the surface of the moon. He and fellow astronauts Buzz Aldren and Michael Collins safely returned to earth, fulfilling JFK’s goal.

So, how does a leader create and communicate a vision?

• Develop your own vision. It should be bold and challenging, yet realistic and achievable. Make sure it is consistent with and supportive of the company’s overall goals and objectives. Be certain that you can articulate it fully.

• Communicate it to your employees. Paint a compelling picture with words that everyone can comprehend. Understand that your own enthusiasm, passion, and sincerity, along with your own discernible confidence, will be keenly observed. Be sure that employees understand why the changes are necessary, the benefits to the company, and how their own actions and buy-in provide assurance that the goal(s) can be met.

• Act upon the it. Jack Welch, former Chairman and CEO of GE, said: “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate it, passionately own it, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” A leader’s vision is worth little or nothing unless something worthwhile is accomplished. Constantly reiterate the vision, measure the progress and close the gaps, and never cease to drive the results.

No organization can be completely successful without a clear vision of where it is going, along with some understanding of how it will get there. It is the job of the leader to provide and articulate it, along with the discipline and single-mindedness to push for the results.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

When you think of the word dependability, does someone come to mind who embodies this trait? If so, why? Do you have a view of yourself as a dependable person? And if not, why not?

Merriam-Webster defines dependability as, “Capable of being depended on; reliable.” Dependability means that a leader can be relied upon not only to perform one’s duties in a proper manner and with integrity, but in so doing building the trust and accountability that result. A leader makes and keeps commitments, has the discipline to avoid procrastination, and puts forth a full effort to complete a task.

A dependable leader isn’t easily discouraged when faced with obstacles, but instead finds ways to improvise and overcome. A dependable leader has earned credibility and is therefore considered trustworthy and believable. A dependable leader takes a certain pride in being reliable and accountable, and zealously protects that accrued trust with consistent, steadfast behavior. A dependable leader meets the above definition, and in so doing sets a standard that employees can not only perceive, but follow.

So, how can you develop dependability as a leadership trait? I would suggest the following:

• Accomplish the task. Don’t be dissuaded by obstacles; instead, find ways around them. Problems are inevitable, so developing a tightly focused, results-driven, problem-solver mentality is a must. Keep a keen eye on the timelines, involve others as needed, and ensure that progress is maintained. Many excellent project-management resources are available and should be utilized, as appropriate.

• Don’t offer excuses or blame others. The world is saturated with excuse-makers who attempt to deflect responsibility. A leader who avoids responsibility and blames others for shortcomings will eventually lose all credibility, both up and down the chain of command. A dependable leader is always accountable, and in so doing accepts the blame when things don’t go as planned.

• Keep the commitments you make. If you say you’re going to do something, then do it. Simple as that. A commitment is your word, your promise, and by not keeping that commitment you are risking the trust that you may have previously earned. Is it worth that risk? I think not.

• Show up on time, every time. Being tardy shows a lack of discipline but more importantly displays a lack of respect for the time of others. Little things count, and this is one that counts heavily. In this regard, being dependable means being prompt, on time, and attentive. It sets a standard that should apply to everyone, especially leaders.

• Always bear in mind that others are counting on you. When you signed on to become a leader, you accepted the fact that others will be entrusted to your care. Your employees will look to you for guidance and feedback. They want and need to trust you, perhaps even to emulate you. And certainly they need to count on you. Never forget or ignore that.

Dependability is an important trait that every leader should embody. It is a prime building block in developing and maintaining trust, something every leader should desire and seek.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Is unselfishness an outdated concept in today’s hyper-competitive, self-absorbed society? Is successfully gaining a position of authority an entitlement to behave selfishly? Can a leader with a sole interest in his/her advancement make it to the top of an organization?

My answers to the above questions are: No, no, and maybe, but not for long. Selfish business and political leaders, among others, make it to the top of organizations every day. Once at the top, however, will those same leaders be effective under all conditions, both the routine and the demanding?

Probably not.

Why? For starters, unselfishness is a key leadership trait that is both noticed and valued by others. A leader whose personal climb is widely seen as coming at the expense of others will eventually stall and lose altitude, with the potential unpleasantness that can follow. Conversely, a competent leader who is unselfish, who has the best interests of the organization at heart, and whose employees duly recognize such, will have a level of support that could provide significant advantage in difficult times. The unselfish leader’s chances of maintaining altitude and eventually resuming the climb are considerably higher given the strong support of others.

What is it, then, that unselfishness accomplishes? How does an unselfish leader behave? Let’s use the following as examples. An unselfish leader:

• Shares the credit. Employees who are recognized for their winning efforts, whether in the foreground or background, feel a sense of pride in and loyalty to their company and their leader. Since everyone wants to work for such a leader, a deep pool of talent very often ensues.

• Takes the time to teach. Teaching is a critical role for a leader. The unselfish leader makes time to teach employees not only about business processes and results, company goals and objectives, but also about ethical and behavioral standards that are important to the organization and the leader.

• Accepts responsibility for employees’ shortcomings. An unselfish leader isn’t quick to blame others or make excuses when employees inevitably mess up. The leader first finds the fix to the problem, followed with coaching and counseling, and then looks for ways to improve the process and the training. Learning from mistakes is critical to continuous improvement. Giving employees room to make mistakes and then gaining learning and confidence as a result, is an unselfish and courageous act for a leader.

• Accepts and shares the ideas and input of others. An unselfish leader is open to new ideas and concepts, and from a variety of sources. So very often the employees actually doing the work have the best ideas on how a particular process can be improved. Let others be the experts. Build the bench strength by developing technical and leadership skills in employees. Help others to succeed and reinforce the unselfish trait.

An unselfish leader whose openness and generosity is seen by those with whom that leader comes into contact will very likely accrue significant benefits in both a personal and professional sense. A selfish leader who grabs all the credit and deflects all the blame will at some point find the world a very lonely place.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

If you want to become a more effective leader, focusing on fairness would be an excellent place to start. If you think that such a focus is easier said than done, you are quite correct. But if you think that it isn’t worth the effort to develop and improve upon, then you should probably seek a career in politics where cronyism seemingly always trumps fairness.

Fairness means dealing with others in a consistent, impartial, objective manner. Leaders who have a strong sense of fairness in their dealings with employees tend to bring out the best in terms of initiative, innovation, and productivity. Employees who feel that leaders in their workplace practice consistently fair treatment will tend to offer their loyalty and dedication in return. The sense that there is a level playing field for everyone is indeed powerful and reinforcing.

Good leaders are open and honest about the reasons behind their decisions. To the extent possible, they base those decisions on facts, not incomplete evidence. They listen carefully, give employees a voice, and communicate clearly so that employees can understand the context in which the decisions are made. They also strongly hold to the concept of transparency in the manner in which they go about their business.

Fairness is very often a question of perception, however. We may try diligently to practice fairness, but everyone tends to view events through their own lenses. The concept of fairness as seen across all employees thus has the potential to become vague and misconstrued. As a result, fairness may well be the most challenging trait to practice on a consistent basis.

Here are some thoughts for consideration with regard to leadership fairness:

• Avoid playing favorites. Nothing can undermine the perception of a leader’s fairness than by concentrating attention on a small, select group. The leader’s attention should be distributed across a wider range of people where everyone is seen as playing by the same rules.

• Involve key stakeholders in major process changes. Whether the change involves the movement of materials on a manufacturing floor or the specifics of order entry, seek the input of those whose jobs will be affected and whose knowledge can be of benefit.

• Involve key stakeholders in the hiring process. This not only increases the probability of a good hire, but it creates a transparency in the process that can help build cohesion and trust.

• Give credit liberally. Spreading the credit for accomplishments to those who might otherwise go unrecognized is fairness in its most authentic (and perhaps most neglected) sense.

A good leader needs to make decisions that are fair and objective, apart from the way the leader may feel personally about the situation. Fairness deals in facts and not personal opinions. Being fair-minded is a description a leader should strive for and covet.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Have you developed the disciplined habits that will give you the momentum to keep moving forward as a leader? Do you have the discipline to put in the hard work in honing your existing skills and in developing new ones? If not, can you develop the necessary discipline to make the jump from being adequate to becoming exceptional?

Merriam-Webster defines discipline as, “Training that is expected to produce a specific character or pattern of behavior, especially training that produces moral or mental improvement.”

Whether as a business leader, musician, athlete, or military commander, natural talent is necessary and important. But talent alone is simply not enough. What many fail to understand is that a key factor in determining who will blossom into an extraordinary leader is the discipline to practice diligently, to perpetually learn and improve, and to provide a sound example to others in the organization.

Like so many other qualities, discipline begins at the top and filters down throughout the organization. Can you identify specific qualities that disciplined organizations so often exhibit? I’ll offer a few examples for your consideration:

• Exceptional focus. Steve Jobs decided to prune the list of Apple’s active products down to a relative few, and then focused intensively on making those remaining products industry leaders. Ritz-Carlton, in its focus upon customer service, instructed every employee that the ownership of any customer issue or complaint they personally received consequently rested exclusively with them. Discipline is an enabler of focus; focus then reinforces discipline.

• Ability to function under duress. When its Tylenol bottles were criminally tampered with in 1982, tragically resulting in 7 deaths, Johnson & Johnson initiated a recall of some 31 million bottles with a retail value estimated at $100 million. The company also distributed warnings to hospitals and distributors and halted Tylenol production and advertising. An undisciplined organization would have been crushed under the weight of such urgent logistical stresses, not to mention the intense public scrutiny that surrounded the event.

• Ability to adapt to rapidly changing conditions. Operational agility has been a hallmark of the U.S. Marine Corps throughout its existence. Marine unit leaders train and instill the necessary discipline to adapt to changing battlefield conditions, whether in a counterinsurgency street battle or a large-scale engagement in the desert. Highly disciplined Marines have the ability to adapt and succeed under virtually any circumstances.

So, do you have the discipline to be great? If not, begin taking steps to improve. Set goals that require discipline, and then achieve those goals. Also set an example of disciplined behavior that others can and will follow. Don’t let laziness or sloppiness stand between you and greatness.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.

Is the term integrity something that is clear to you? Is it a complicated set of principles that can vary according to a particular moral consideration or a specific set of circumstances? Or is it simply doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do?

Think of integrity as the quality of having high moral principles, of being reliable and trustworthy. It does not mean that you are near perfection as a human being, but rather that you can be trusted with words and deeds. For you, if integrity means doing the right thing, even if nobody knows or notices, then you understand the concept. If you behave consistently and use your moral principles, reliability, and trustworthiness as your guiding lights, you can rightfully be described as a person of integrity.

For certain, it is a description that is earned, and one that should be prized. If you have it, guard and nurture it. If you don’t yet have it, pursue it zealously. It is well worth the change in behavior you will have to make to earn it.

Now think of the foundation of a company as its core values. Core values can be defined as those things which we believe are the most important aspects of who we are and how we treat others. Effective core values very often operate behind the scenes, much like a computer’s operating system, keeping everything functioning in a consistent, predictable manner. A leader’s core values come to be understood by an organization from that leader’s consistent behavior over time. Those core values are then inculcated into an organization based in large measure on the leader’s example. Hence, core values and integrity are inextricably linked; it is difficult to have one without the other.

So, if you consider yourself a leader with integrity, and you have made it a practice to communicate your organization’s core values to your employees, what benefits do you think would accrue to those same employees?

I would suggest the following:

• Empowerment. If a leader with integrity is a leader who can be trusted, it should generally follow that the leader places high levels of trust in employees. Being trusted can be empowering. Being empowered can lead to many other tangential benefits such as improvements in productivity, innovation, and morale.

• Frame of Reference. Employees who understand the organization’s core values, and who see the leader as a person of integrity, will have little difficulty in determining their correct course of action when presented with a moral or ethical dilemma. Employees thus have a reference point that will guide and inform them.

• Safety Shield. Employees who see that people with low integrity are smoked out and promptly separated from the company will find reassurance in working for a leader and an organization where doing the right thing is not only expected, but demanded.

Being an honorable, ethical leader is never without challenges, to be sure, but a leader without integrity is a pathway to ultimate oblivion.

All the leadership traits I write about in this series of posts are clearly identifiable in my main character, Conor Rafferty, in my novel That Deadly Space. Find it on Amazon by clicking here.