From an organizational perspective, leadership can be defined as: the ability to influence, motivate, and enable people to attain goals and contribute toward improving the effectiveness and efficiency of an organization.

Why is developing strong leaders such a top priority?

Leaders initiate and sustain the cycles of organizational change. Without encouraging and inspirational leaders, organizations are fragmented, unaligned, and demoralized. Top companies recognize that they are only as successful as their next great leaders, and work to constantly groom and develop key staff.

In 1977, Abraham Zaleznik documented some of the key differences between leadership and management. He viewed leaders as inspiring visionaries who are interested in prospects; while managers he viewed as planners who are concerned more with processes.

Following in his path, Warren Bennis (1989) documented the leader/manager dichotomy to help organizations evaluate their key players.

Leaders Managers
Power by Influence Power by Position
Inspire Innovation Manage Administration
Ask What and Why Ask How and When
Focus on People Focus on Systems/Processes
Do the Right Things Do Things Right
Inspire Trust Rely on Control
Long-term Perspective Short-term Perspective
Develop Maintain
Challenge the Status-Quo Accept the Status-Quo
Eye on the Horizon Eye on the Bottom-line
Originate Imitate
Free Thinking Rigid Thinking

Essential Leadership Qualities

Many studies have shown that there are common traits or qualities that most leaders share. Review the following list of qualities and evaluate yourself to identify your areas of strength and opportunities for self-improvement.

  • Vision – the ability to articulate a vision and outline the gaps between the current state and future state.
  • Confidence – outstanding leaders are confident, determined, and persistent with reaching their goals.
  • Role Model – leading by example and setting the standard by demonstrating that goals are attainable.
  • Flexibility – being able to quickly adapt and positively respond to changing conditions.
  • Optimistic – leaders must have a positive attitude.
  • Talent/Technical Skill – many leaders are selected because of their natural aptitude or ability to complete a specific task.
  • Initiative & Drive – having enthusiasm to do the job and displaying entrepreneurial tendencies are vital qualities of effective leaders.
  • Charisma – being attractive to others and leveraging this esteem to inspire and motivate others.
  • Dedication and Commitment – being a top leader requires a firm commitment and can sometimes even consume much of the leader’s life.
  • Results-Oriented – actions are prioritized and directed at achieving personal and team goals & objectives.
  • Able to Delegate – encouraging others to grow by sharing responsibilities and credit for a job well done.
  • Self-Aware – accurate understanding of abilities. 

Leadership Styles

This section will differentiate 6 key leadership styles and discuss when each style is appropriate.

  • Visionary – this style builds positive momentum by motivating people to accomplish shared dreams. Visionary leadership is the most positive style, and is best used when organizational changes require a new vision or strategic direction.
  • Coaching – is the process of aligning personal and corporate interests, such as earning commission by making sales. Coaching is a very positive method, appropriate when developing capabilities and skills.
  • Affiliate – connecting people to each other can have a positive impact on culture, such as arranging a company volleyball team.
  • Democratic – a democratic style, by nature, develops commitment by leveraging the ideas of the constituents and is useful for driving consensus, or gathering feedback from staff.
  • Pacesetting – this works most effectively with a motivated and competent team. Leaders communicate challenging goals and build an environment of excitement. Often, this style has a negative impact on culture, especially when the leader is unable to implement this strategy properly. Set the pace when the engine is already running very smoothly.
  • Commanding – this style can be effective when clear direction needs to be given to deal with an crisis or when a massive organizational change needs to be made.

The best leaders are able to seamlessly transition between styles as circumstances change. Work to understand each style and determine the appropriate time to pull it out of your leadership toolkit.

Leadership Principles and Best Practices

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie has sold over 30 million copies. Amazingly, this book was written 70 years ago. These leadership principles are time-tested and applicable in every country of the world.

Following is a recap of the 30 principles Dale Carnegie taught developing leaders. Periodically reviewing this brief listing is a beneficial exercise for new and seasoned, competent leaders.

Fundamental Techniques for Handling People:

1. Don’t Criticize, Condemn, or Complain.

2. Give Honest & Sincere Appreciation.

3. Arouse in the Other Person an Eager Want.

How to Make People Like you:

4. Become Genuinely Interested in Other People.

5. Smile.

6. Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

7. Be a Good Listener.

8. Talk in Terms of Other People’s Interests.

9. Make the Person Feel Important; and do it sincerely.

How to Win People to your Way of Thinking:

10. The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it

11. Show respect for the other person’s opinions.

12. If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

13. Begin in a Friendly way.

14. Get the other person saying, .Yes, Yes. Immediately.

15. Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.

16. Let the person feel that the idea is his or hers.

17. Try to see things from the other person’s point of view.

18. Be sympathetic with the other person’s ideas and desires.

19. Appeal to the Nobler Motives.

20. Dramatize your Ideas.

21. Throw Down a Challenge.

How to Change People without Arousing Resentment:

22. Begin with Praise and Honest Appreciation.

23. Call attention to people’s mistakes indirectly.

24. Talk about your own mistakes before criticizing people.

25. Ask questions instead of giving direct orders.

26. Let the other person save face.

27. Praise the slightest improvement and praise every improvement. Be “hearty in approbation and lavish in your praise.”

28. Give the other person a Fine Reputation to live up to.

29. Use Encouragement. Make the fault seem easy to correct.

30. Make the person happy about doing what you suggest.

Becoming an effective and inspiring leader requires constant diligence. Focusing on people and opportunities, rather than systems and processes, is the key differentiator between a strong leader and a devoted “manager.”

While processes are certainly critical for every business, rigid thinking about policy and procedure leads to stagnation and demoralized staff. A business needs to view its inner workings as an organic process where creativity and change invoke efficiencies.

If you are in a leadership position, or are charged with developing new leaders, be sure to pay attention to the essential leadership qualities and styles. Challenge yourself to select one quality or style to improve upon each month and ask a close colleague for feedback.

Finally, remember to review the Dale Carnegie leadership principles for winning friends and influencing people. Remembering to apply these 30 best practices is guaranteed to improve your ability to facilitate change in any organization.

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