Three Keys to Great Leadership

There is much written about leadership.  What makes a great leader and what doesn’t.  Whether or not they are born or created.  On and on.  And being an avid reader (See my Reading List) and one who is always seeking to learn and grow, I’ve read my good share of them.  The more I read, the more I believe that we complicate things.  Really, good (and bad) leadership comes down to success (or failure) in three areas:

  1. Clearly Defined Expectations
  2. Tools for Success
  3. Means for Reinforcement

Let me explain further.

Clearly Defined Expectations:
To be an effective leader, one must clearly define and communicate expectations.  If managers want subordinates to perform well, they must outline, in as much detail as possible, the roadmap to success.  “To be successful at this job, you must..”, “I expect you to..”, and “The things on which you will be measured are..” should be included in every-day language used by bosses.  These conversations are often difficult, but as Tim Ferris says in his book “The 4-Hour Workweek“, “a man’s success if often measured by the number of difficult conversations he is willing to have.”

Tools for Success:
It’s not enough to tell your team what is expected.  If you want to be a good leader, you must give them the tools that will enable them to succeed.  Whether it’s adequate training, realistic time and deadlines,  or effective software and business processes; making sure success is possible is obviously integral.

Means for Reinforcement:
Carrots or Sticks.  Positive Reinforcement or Punishment.  It doesn’t matter what method you use, as long as it’s effective.  And as long as it matches the motivational tactics that work for the individual.  If the employee, player, or child does what is expected, provide a means for continuing that.  For some, it may mean a pat on the back.  For others, a more formal show of appreciation may be necessary.  If the outcome is less than what is desired, or a severe deviation from the expectations that have been clearly outlined (See #1), serious reprimand may be necessary.  Or, if the individual is self-motivated, a simple talk and reminder of expectations may be more than enough.  Reinforcing (or discontinuing) the behavior completes the loop to successful leadership.

Obviously, few managers are great at all three key ingredients.  The good ones are natural in one or two of them and seek to improve upon the third.  For example, I believe I’m great at providing tools to my team for success.  As a coach and sports trainer, my toolbox of drills and exercises to make young athletes bigger, faster, and stronger is immense.  As a father, I make sure my children go to a good school and ensure they get plenty of rest and understand respect and good behavior.  And as a Finance and Accounting Executive, I am continuously building and developing new processes and easier ways to get business done.  So I think I have number two down pat.  The other two, defining expectations and reinforcing or halting behavior through adequate motivational techniques, are areas in which I’m continuing to learn and grow.  I understand that, to be what I want to be- a Great (not good) leader- that I need the whole set.


About bbluford
I am an executive finance professional with a love for process and application development (MS Access, Excel, Quickbooks), mostly as it relates to Accounting and Business Functions. I also love to write and share ideas with other people in this world. I'm an admitted Gym Rat who works out excessively. The best summation of me is that I love to teach and to learn.

3 Responses to Three Keys to Great Leadership

  1. Nainesh Wadke says:

    I liked your article very much, we encounter these questions during interview process and will be usful



  2. Pingback: Leadership: The Tone at the Top | Executive Leadership Alliance – On Leadership

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