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Larry CheccoWhat Does It Mean to Be a Good Leader?

January 2012

No brand, no matter how good the products, services, or messaging it represents, can ultimately succeed in the absence of good management leadership.

Two primary schools of thought about leaders seem to prevail. One is that leaders are born, not made; that they are anointed from on high, or somehow are genetically programmed to go to the head of the line to lead the rest of us.

The other school of thought says that through instruction and mentoring, leadership skills can be taught, if not to everyone, at least to many people.

The bottom line is that those who find themselves in leadership positions, regardless of whether or not leadership was bestowed on them as a natural birthright or they came upon it as an acquired skill—or simply by accident—must manifest certain leadership skills if they hope to succeed.

And the most essential leadership skill I can think of is the importance of creating healthy environments in which the people a leader is responsible for leading can feel safe, creative, productive, and appreciated.

The fact is that no one exists in a vacuum. We are all acted on by—and react to—the environments in which we live, play, and work. These environments may either be conducive to our living, playing, and working our best—or not.

It follows, therefore, that one of the responsibilities of a good leader is to ensure that the people he or she leads are responding to the best possible environments that the leader can create.

Some Thoughts for Getting There

Put organizational goals in perspective. Hyper-focusing on organization goals most often results in that old fallback position that the end justifies the means. This leadership model almost always leads to a management structure and corporate culture that erroneously perceives workers as dispensable tools for achieving business objectives instead of the indispensable employees they truly are for helping achieve overall organizational objectives.

Leadership is a contact sport. Good leaders don't hole themselves up in ivory towers. Neither do they lead by being in front of their people. Good leaders lead by working beside their people, letting them know the valuable role each plays in achieving the company's mission and that "we're all working together as a team to achieve our common goals."

Don't confuse charisma with leadership. There are many charismatic personalities who have an innate ability to draw people to them but have nowhere to lead them. You can fool people only so long with a pretty face or glib talk. Instead, start by asking: "Where am I capable of taking this organization? How do I propose getting there? Is that place the right destination for this organization? If so, am I creating the kind of workplace environment that will get us there?"

Don't confuse power with leadership. Just because you can tell people what to do doesn't mean you're leading them. It could mean that they are doing what you tell them to do out of fear of reprisal, which is a push-pull mechanism that may work in the short term but over the long haul inevitably leads to a dispirited, lifeless, and often disgruntled and unproductive workforce.

Thank you is the most undervalued expression in the English language. Many leaders view kindness as a weakness, even in themselves. They think that thanking others for what they have done is somehow beneath them.

On the contrary, thank you is an essential expression of gratitude when it comes to acknowledging someone for what they've done. It bespeaks respect for the person as well as the value you place on what they've accomplished. A sincere, heart-felt thank you is a small investment that can return huge dividends for those who lead—as well as those who are being led.

Larry Checco, Checco Communications
© 2012, Larry Checco

Larry Checco is president of Checco Communications. The above article is excerpted from his new book Aha! Moments in Brand Management: Commonsense Insights to a Stronger, Healthier Brand. Larry is a nationally recognized public speaker, workshop presenter, and consultant on branding and leadership. His first book, Branding for Success: A Roadmap for Raising the Visibility and Value of Your Nonprofit Organization, has sold thousands of copies both here and abroad.

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