Leadership Qualities


Famed business guru and renowned author Jim Collins has, in some ways, revolutionized our thinking about successful leadership qualities through his best-selling books, lectures and videos. In particular, I found the “Built to Last”, “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice” series of books to be very interesting. In carrying out his research, Collins has been able to popularize the concept called ‘Level 5 Leaders’.

While his work is thought of as more business focused, I believe that his theories can be applied to a much broader range of leadership settings.

I think what Collins discovered is that ‘Level 5 Leaders’ have made a huge difference in an organization’s ability to raise its performance from ‘Good to Great’. As most of us know from our own experiences, it’s a rare territory for an organization, a team or an individual to perform at this level. To think that one single leader can be the difference between an entire organization’s successes or failures is both fascinating and foreboding. But it is these qualities that inspire legions of followers to higher heights of achievement; yet seem so elusive in situations suffering from ‘Cheap Leadership’.

For months, we have been flooded with news about the Affordable Health Care missteps that were, I think, a great example of poor leadership qualities within the federal government. In the public sector, we witnessed a Wall Street firm in a long legal battle with the federal government over the risky mortgage practices that became synonymous with the financial crisis. The result of poor leadership: a $13 billion settlement, which is the largest sum a single company has ever paid to the government.

Where were the leaders in that firm and could they have made the kind of difference Jim Collins talks about? What leadership qualities were missing? Trust, transparency, and humility, just to name a few, are repeated by several management or leadership gurus like John C. Maxwell as the bedrock of leadership qualities.

Maxwell, in his noteworthy book “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership; Follow them and People Will Follow You,” included character, courage, discernment, self-discipline, and vision, among his 21 laws of leadership. These qualities stretch our thinking beyond the attributes of intelligence, domain experience, and technical depth—though none of those can be dismissed for strong leadership attributes either. What seems more worthy of discussion is what qualities do we find critical for strong leadership? Can those qualities be taught or learned over time? And, are we witnessing more and more a selection and reward system for leaders that has obscured these qualities in favor of other seemingly more appealing personal attributes?

Let me know: what are the best leadership qualities that you have witnessed in your current or former managers? Finally, why do you think that they are successful leaders?


One response to “Leadership Qualities

  1. When I think about the phrase “the High Cost of Cheap Leadership”, I can’t help but think about the Washington DC Football team and the situation they find themselves in AGAIN! How many times have we watched the soap opera that is produced in Ashburn Virginia and as loyal fans shake our heads? Whether it’s the revolving door of head coaches, the failed conditioning tests, the Pro Bowl Quarterback who is now mentally incapable of running a 2-minute drill or not sitting down your franchise quarterback when they are obviously injured, the Washington Football team has demonstrated an ability to produce some of the best soap operas on the planet (at least in the NFL) all because of Cheap Leadership. I can only suggest that this is good news. It is good news because WHEN the next nationally embarrassing moment comes to light about our beloved Football team, we at least know what to call it – Cheap Leadership!

    In the Washington DC Football team, Cheap leadership is demonstrated when leaders allow their Ego to override doing what’s right for the team, community or society. It is further demonstrated by not being able to identify, recruit and retain their top talent and certainly not making the right decisions at the right time (timely decisions).

    When your Ego is driving your personnel decisions or worst you bend to external pressures against your “gut” you never make the right decision for the team. Cheap leaders make it about themselves and not about the team; therefore you can never bring in the best talent and make the wrong personnel decisions every time. Real leaders understand the whole is more important that themselves, they lay aside their Egos and do what’s best for the team..

    Our current team leadership epitomizes Cheap Leadership. I know these are strong words, but let’s look at our current situation with our franchise quarterback Robert Griffin III, you see Cheap Leadership. Let’s look at what we hear ;-). We have a coach saying that he’s making the decision to bench his starting franchise quarterback because he wants to protect him and allow him to have an off-season to develop into the franchise quarterback of the future. Personally, I agree with his position and applaud him. My problem, it’s a decision that a real leader should have taken a year ago! Last year when it’s apparent that our quarterback was injured and therefore required to wear a bulky brace which limited one of his greatest gifts (mobility), the coach should have formed the same words and shut him down for the final three games in 2012. After his injury in the Baltimore game was the time to say, he’s our franchise quarterback and we need to shut him down to make sure he’s has an off-season to get better. But no he doesn’t say that then, he rides him until he can’t run anymore and his knee buckles to the point where you don’t have to be a prominent orthopedic surgeon to know that he’s headed straight to surgery. He had another choice then as he does now. Cheap Leaders don’t make the tough calls at the right time, the wait a year and make the right calls too late.

    In my comments, I’m not excusing Robert Griffin III and his role in this mess, he’s a cocky, arrogant, and selfish, 23 year old who thinks he’s invincible and is more concerned about today and not the future. What’s new, that’s why he needs adult supervision, a head coach to make the right decisions for his future.

    Finally, let’s talk about the other soap opera coming out of Ashburn. The name of our football team the Washington Redskins. Let’s now call it for what it is – Cheap Leadership. Even the President of these United States has stepped into and commented about this issue. Again Cheap Leaders only consider themselves and not the broader community and society. In other words the Name Controversy = Cheap Leadership! Let’s not spend any more time on this subject, let’s not make the right decision a year later than we should. Now is the right time to change the name to the Washington Warriors! With the name Washington Warriors, you can keep your colors, logo and even fight song (Hail to the Warriors works!). Additionally, you can highlight the fight and spirit of our Nation’s first residents and acknowledge the sacrifices of today’s armed forces. Let’s stop the trend of Cheap Leadership in Washington. Let’s do the right thing at the right time.


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