What is the essence of powerful and effective leadership? What causes one person to succeed and another to fail? Scanning the past 2,000 years of recorded history reveals that leaders are ultimately known by the actions they take as well as the practices they demonstrate. These actions are measured by bottom-line results as well as by the relationships created. Leading is really about engaging others in a unified focus that is geared at producing outstanding results (such as achieving a vision).
Leadership has at its center the requirement of courage. You cannot be a leader unless you find a way of developing and generating courage in yourself and then “en-couraging” others. Without it, you slip into a pattern of managing the status quo and of maintaining only what is known.
Leaders are concerned with five basic tasks:
- Ensuring that the future is being planned for, anticipated and secured;
- Serving the needs and interests of, and eliciting the support from, key constituencies;
- Keeping the team, organization, or enterprise focused on substantive results while meeting the requirements of current realities.
- Building a long-term, value-added network of relationships;
- Tying it all together strategically.
It is critical for leaders to have a sense of the past – where we are coming from in this industry, business, organization, department and team. This understanding provides a sense of perspective.
Leaders must also focus on the current reality, where the technology, demographics, organization, industry, department, team, and individuals stand today. This focuses attention on where and at what level the values, morale, competitiveness, performance, and team play are currently functioning. The current reality of your life and organization forms the foundation on which you stand.
Leaders must look ahead and try to get a grasp on what is likely to be and what could happen. This is done by tracking trends, listening to others, using active imagination, searching your heart, reading far afield, and staying open and flexible. The process of outlining the potential future is a vital part of long-term effectiveness.
Understanding the potential future allows leaders to articulate a corporate vision. This allows leadership to carve out of the vast potential of the future a sense of what it wishes to own and claim. This becomes the guiding star by which an individual, team, or organization orients itself. It provides a sense of direction and coherence, a focus and aim for all efforts, energies, and tasks.
Finally, leadership must understand the constituencies it serves. These constituencies are the customers and potential customers of the services and products being offered; the employees who serve those customers and drive the work efforts that ultimately reach the customer; and the stockholders of the company. Enterprises that consistently fail to satisfy all three of these groups are ones that are failing and will fail.
Therefore, while successful leaders appreciate the past, understand and see current realities, plan for and anticipate the future, and balance the key constituencies, they also turn their vision and attention to the tasks of analyzing and traversing the two key gaps between what was or is and what is or will be. So important is the bridging of these two gaps that at Staub Leadership we call highly effective leaders “gap runners.”
A gap runner is someone with courage, commitment, a sense of vision, and the willingness to hear and see the truth. He or she is open, curious, creative, and eager to learn. A gap runner is focused upon issues of substance, looking for results while building a network or web of relationships that will help to quicken the process of identifying gaps and closing them.
Skilled leaders synthesize these understandings into a strategic path that is put into place as a means of linking and moving from the past and current realities to the desired future reality.