In a pithy…and handy…checklist, Michael Useem, Director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, and William and Jacalyn Egan professor of management, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, shares 15 leadership principles that apply to almost any company or organization. This posting comes to us from Forbes Leadership Forum.
By Michael Useem
Effective leadership can be mastered, and at the core of that learning, in my view, should be a Leader’s Checklist, a complete set of vital leadership principles that provide a clear map for navigating through virtually any leadership moment.
From my development work with hundreds of managers and executives in leadership programs in Asia, Europe, North America, and South America, from research interviews with many managers in the United States and abroad, and from witnessing managers facing a range of critical moments, I have concluded that their thinking and experience tend to point to a core of just 15 mission-critical leadership principles that vary surprisingly little among companies or countries.
I have also become convinced that with leadership, as with much else, brevity is the soul of wit. Albert Einstein once described the calling of modern physics as an effort to make the physical universe as simple as possible—but not simpler. The Leader’s Checklist is likewise at its best when it is as bare-bones as possible—but not more so. Here, distilled from an array of sources, is that set of core principles:
1. Articulate a vision: Formulate a clear and persuasive vision and communicate it to all members of the enterprise.
2. Think and act strategically: Set forth a pragmatic strategy for achieving that vision both short- and long-term, and ensure that it is widely understood; consider all the players, and anticipate reactions and resistance before they are manifest.
3. Honor the room: Frequently express your confidence in and support for those who work with and for you.
4. Take charge: Embrace a bias for action, for taking responsibility even if it is not formally delegated, particularly if you are well positioned to make a difference.
5. Act decisively: Make good and timely decisions, and ensure that they are executed.
6. Communicate persuasively: Communicate in ways that people will not forget; simplicity and clarity of expression help, as do elements ranging from personal actions to grand events.
7. Motivate the troops: Appreciate the distinctive intentions that people bring, and then build on those diverse motives to draw the best from each.
8. Embrace the front lines: Delegate authority except for strategic decisions, and stay close to those most directly engaged with the work of the enterprise.
9. Build leadership in others: Develop leadership throughout the organization.
10. Manage relations: Build enduring personal ties with those who look to you, and work to harness the feelings and passions of the workplace.
11. Identify personal implications: Help everybody appreciate the impact that the vision and strategy are likely to have on their own work and future with the firm.
12. Convey your character: Through gesture, commentary, and accounts, ensure that others appreciate that you are a person of integrity.
13. Dampen over-optimism: Counter the hubris of success, focus attention on latent threats and unresolved problems, and protect against the tendency for managers to engage in unwarranted risk.
14. Build a diverse top team: Leaders need to take final responsibility, but leadership is also a team sport best played with an able roster of those collectively capable of resolving all the key challenges.
15. Place common interest first. In setting strategy, communicating vision, and reaching decisions, common purpose comes first, personal self-interest last.
To illustrate just one of the principles, consider the last, placing common mission ahead of personal interest, especially when its seems least natural to do so. This precept is expressed in our oft-used phrases of “servant” or “selfless” leadership, and it is well captured in a U.S. Marine Corps dictum: “The officer eats last.” In business, Jim Collins makes it one of his defining qualities for those who lead their companies “from good to great.”
The fifteenth principle could also be heard in the White House on November 16, 2010, when President Barack Obama presented the Medal of Honor to Army Staff Sergeant Salvatore A. Giunta. During the sergeant’s second combat tour in Afghanistan, his team had been ambushed by a well-armed insurgent group. Giunta had raced forward under fire at great risk to himself to render aid to the wounded and to rescue an injured G.I. being dragged away by insurgents. The United States cited Giunta for his “unwavering courage, selflessness, and decisive leadership while under extreme enemy fire” and for his “extraordinary heroism and selflessness above and beyond the call of duty.” When the president detailed this selfless act of leadership during the White House ceremony—with Giunta’s wife and parents and the survivors of his unit present and the Medal of Honor recipient himself standing at the president’s side—the East Room, according to a reporter, “was so silent you could hear a rustle from across the room.”
Michael Useem is director of the Center for Leadership and Change Management, and William and Jacalyn Egan professor of management, at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of The Leadership Moment, Investor Capitalism, and The Go Point, among other books. His articles have appeared in Fortune, Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and elsewhere, and he has presented programs and seminars on leadership development at American Express, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Microsoft, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Military Academy, and many other companies and organizations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.