Leadership Qualities for Today’s Challenges


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?


The Human Cost of the Government Shutdown

Source: cinemuck.com

Source: cinemuck.com

For over four decades, I have worked as either a consultant or a senior executive for both the private and public sectors. During that time, I had become a trusted advisor and confidant to many ‘leaders’ who wielded major influence over their followers. As a result, I have been privileged enough to have been engaged in countless conversations and deliberations with or about peers and subordinates who revealed their level of job satisfaction, overall happiness, or lack of, with the organization.

Time and time again, the typical dialogue with employees always started with those mundane technical or procedural issues only to end with complaints about the leadership styles of those who managed the organization.  At times, I found it difficult to be privy to those countless conversations because I was well-aware that in many cases it was just a matter those ‘internal politics’ that shaped the culture. It was the way that most organizations operated and survived. Then there were those ‘external politics’ that blew through the halls of each and every organization like a virus; and was often successful in tearing through the very core of those organizations. I was reminded of the consequences of ‘external politics’ during the recent government shut down.

According to reports from the Office of Management and Budget, the October’s 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government cost taxpayers about $2 billion in lost productivity from 850,000 furloughed employees. The statistics were the result of a report produced to show ‘the economic toll of the gridlock in Congress’.  In the report, the budget office estimated in 1996 that the two shutdowns in late 1995 and early 1996, which lasted 26 days total, cost the government $1.4 billion, or roughly $2.1 billion in today’s dollars.

But what about the human costs?

During the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, I was the chief information officer for a federal agency. And I witnessed firsthand how the ‘external politics’ of our political leaders tore into the very depths of the organization and produced long-lasting issues with employee morale, productivity, and most importantly, a confidence in our political as well as organizational leaders.  When we returned to work after the 1995 and 1996 shutdowns, I noticed more than a bit of re-entry adjustment after an unexpected absence.

Highly dedicated people who had devoted their professional lives to public service were wrestling with feelings of low self-esteem and abandonment. In so many ways, directly and indirectly, employees were told that their years of dedication and contributions to the federal government had very little value. Then in the years that followed, there were the budget stand offs that produced more shutdown threats and continuing resolutions as an ancedote to the intractable political posturing that only further convinced employees of their diminishing status as federal employees.

The price of that cheap leadership is paid daily throughout our federal workforce community.

As we move forward with examining the economic impact of the government shutdown, I think there also needs to be some healthy dialogue about the human impact; and how our ‘leaders’ should be making a real effort toward earning the confidence of those who follow.

Let me here about your experiences and your advice to others.


The High Price of Cheap Leadership


The shocking events that defined the “so called” roll out of the nation’s new website for our first major health insurance program— that will serve the rich, poor, young, old, healthy, and sick—have again led us back to questions of leadership.

While none or few of us will argue that serving over 30 million uninsured Americans is anything other than a daunting challenge; most of us still have an abiding confidence in our 21st century technologies, management methods and most importantly, our leadership acumen to pull off even the most ambitious programs.

The question remains: Has our confidence in our leaders been misplaced?

Have we rationalized a steady stream of failed leadership in the public, private, religious, political, sports, and academic sectors through the lens of specialized circumstances relevant only to a singular event that grabs headlines for 15 minutes? Or do we face a crisis of really CHEAP leadership that is costing us an unbearable PRICE?

Common dictionaries define cheap as “something low in cost or relatively inexpensive”. Among the descriptions of the word “cheap” are:

1. Achieved with little effort.

2. Of small value.

3. Of poor quality.

4. Worthy of no respect, just to note a few.

Are our leaders considered small in value or of poor quality? Why do we continue to see the same ‘flawed leadership’ saga time and time again that seems to be marked by fragile core values, selfish ambition, tunnel vision, and hyper-political motivations? Is this the model for the 21st century leader?  Should we just throw out the playbook and finally admit to ourselves that what works in leading mission critical or high profile endeavors just does not conform to our core values?

And what about the price, that ultimately, we will all have to pay?  As followers, disciples, employees, and members, how much longer can we absorb the domino effect of flat out bad leadership compounded by somewhat dysfunctional management styles, which is the first cousin of CHEAP Leadership? We can, in fact, find ourselves cheapening our own concepts of leadership and followship. Today, those behavioral types like the paranoid, deceptive and opportunist have become commonplace. Are we prepared to pay the price for just plain bad behavior?

Perhaps, the answers to these questions should include a discussion about leadership qualities as well as our selection process. I am sure that your experiences are rich with pearls of wisdom about leadership.

Through the “The High Price of Cheap Leadership” blog, I will be exploring those costs.

Stay tuned and Let me hear from you!