Being a Good Leader is Tough Stuff

Anyone who supervises others is automatically tasked with planning, organizing, and directing. Every boss gives orders and assigns work. Their employees follow their directions and complete the work assigned to them within the parameters given. This transactional stuff is all part of being a manager.

Getting the leadership part of supervising others right, however, is trickier because emotion and connection enter the picture. People willingly follow the directions from an effective leader, not only because they have to if they want a paycheck, but also because they want to.

People respect a good leader’s knowledge and are motivated by their vision. People see how their tactical work fits into the boss’s overall strategy. Effective leaders let their employees know the work they do each day matters and so do they. Their people know they’re more than a cog in the wheel or a means to an end.

Effective leaders give employees the space and time to grow and to give to others.

These priceless individuals value results and the bottom line. They also prize connection and relationships. They push for quantity, but not at the expense of quality. They care about tomorrow, the end of the quarter, and ten years from now. They ask their employees if they’re going to meet their deadlines and if they’re having fun. They value traditions while encouraging innovation and creativity.

The leaders people want to follow balance bottom-up and top-down decision-making. They know when to centralize and decentralize to maintain efficiency without sacrificing effectiveness. They ask people what they think, what they want—and listen.

They nurture and demand, praise and correct. They know when to be rigid in enforcing the rules and when to flex them. They understand that “we” is more powerful than “me.” They find a way to bridge the simplicity and complexity of leveraging the diversity of thought, opinion, and perspective.

First-rate leaders are strong enough to be vulnerable and to care. They have both confidence and humility. They admit to being wrong and making mistakes. Being popular isn’t important to them but being respected is. They serve the greater good, not their ego, always valuing people, principles, and profits equally. Mission is never surrendered to margin. Ethics, honesty, and integrity matter all the time.

Genuine leaders manage with their head and lead with their heart.

They’re pros at the “science” part of the job, knowing the technical, operational, financial, regulatory, and process components of their job stone cold. But they don’t stop there. They ace the “art” of leadership—the people and character part. This heart focus is what sets them apart, makes them special.

As I look back over my career, what I find fascinating, puzzling, and sad is how few head-and-heart leaders I’ve worked for. I can count them on one hand. Those incomparable individuals pushed or encouraged me to expand my boundaries, take risks, and border my comfort zone with elastic, not concrete. They made me better and enriched my life.

I try everyday to emulate their good head and heart practices, balancing logic and emotion, meaning and money, results and relationships. Some days I succeed, fail on others. On the days in which I fail, I pick myself up (usually with a good someone’s good help) and pledge to do better tomorrow. You?