Monday, July 07, 2008

The Boundaries of Leadership

For sure FastCompany doesn't need me to flog their magazine. I have been a reader almost since day one and despite its going through some ups and downs (who hasn't?) I still like it.

I also should add that the fact that the guts of this post comes from their April 2004 issue is not the result of what you might think (i.e. that I'm a bit behind in my business reading - although there's some truth to that as well). No, I decided to post it because we just passed the half-way point of the year, and aside from eating too much and watching lots of fireworks, I also took some time to reflect on where things stood after the first six months, and more importantly, how I thought I was doing against my "to do" list for '08.

In thinking about this, I came across a list published as I said, in the April 2004 issue which they in turn got from Jeff Immelt,, GE's CEO. Maybe you too saw it, but if you didn't, I thought it a list well worth repeating.

For sure there are plenty such lists around, including all sorts of Letterman Top Ten's not to mention lots of others from various management consultants, Bschool professors, and all-round gurus of one kind or another. I still think this one is as good as any I have ever seen. See if you don't agree.

Things Leaders Do

1. Personal Responsibility.
"Enron and 9/11 marked the end of an era of individual freedom and the beginning of personal responsibility. You lead today by building teams and placing others first. It's not about you."

2. Simplify Constantly.
"I always use Jack [Welch] as my example here. Every leader needs to clarify explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can't, they you are not leading well."

3. Understand Breadth, Depth, and Context.
"the most important thing I've learned since becoming CEO is context. It's how your company fits in with the world and how you respond to it."

4. The importance of alignment and time management.
"There is no real magic to being a good leader. But at the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes, and rewarding them."

5. Leaders learn constantly and also have to learn how to teach.
"A leader's primary role is to teach. People who work with you don't have to agree with you, but they have to feel you're willing to share what you've learned."

6. Stay true to your own style.
"Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It's about being self-aware. Every morning, I look into the mirror and say 'I could have done three things better yesterday.'"

7. Manage by setting boundaries with freedom in the middle.
"The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there's plenty of freedom. But no one can cross those four boundaries."

8. Stay disciplined and detailed.

"Good leaders are never afraid to intervene personally on things that are important. Michael Dellcan tell you how many computers shipped from Singapore yesterday."

9. Leave a few things unsaid.
"I may know an answer, but I'll often let the team find its own way. Sometimes, being an active listener is much more effective than ending a meeting with me enumerating 17 actions."

10. Like people.
"Today, it's employment at will. Nobody's here who does not want to be here. So it's critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best in them. And when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal."

Pretty good list, no? Hold a gun to my head and tell me I could only pick one, I would frame #7 and maybe tattoo it to my forehead.

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