“A huge amount of research shows that effective
leadership accounts for, at the very least,
15 percent of the success of any organization.
Today’s leader isn’t
“born,” but made.
The idea that only certain people, or certain types of people, are cut out to be leaders
is another myth. What is true is that some
people believe (or have been told) that they
are not cut out to be leaders, and, as a result,
they don’t step up to the plate, says Dr. Bruce
Avolio from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Gallup Leadership Institute.
Warren Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
interviewed leaders of different generations—
under- 35 dot-com innovators and seasoned
70-plus leaders—for their book Geeks and
Geezers. All of the leaders credited a life-changing experience with getting them to
reevaluate the path they were on and redirect
it in some way.
“The one key asset that all leaders share,
whether young or old, is their adaptive capacity,” the authors note. “The ability to process
new experiences, to find their meaning and to
integrate them into one’s life is the signature
skill of a leader and indeed anyone who finds
ways to live fully and well.”
If leadership results from on-the-job
training, so to speak, it would seem everyone
has the potential to be a leader. As Dr. Avolio
has said, “Leadership development occurs
across one’s lifespan.”
their organizations are informal leaders, line
workers without any official supervisory or
Today’s leader isn’t
only in big business.
Reviewing the array of books available
on the topic of leadership, it would be easy to
assume that only large organizations spawn
leaders. Whether the tome is on being a change
agent, a “servant leader” or a “primal leader,”
the focus is usually on big business.
While it’s true that most small-business
owners are focused on bottom-line issues, how
they run their businesses demonstrates their
leadership. Are they customer focused? Do
they treat their employees well? Are they fair
and ethical in their business dealings? Are they
working in their communities in chambers of
commerce, Rotary and other organizations?
And, most important, do they walk the talk?
In addition to the books and Web site
already mentioned, here are some further
resources to learn more about leadership.
■ Leadership for Dummies, by
Marshall Loeb and Stephen Kindel
(IDG Books, 1999)
■ Leadership Is an Art, by Max De Pree
■ Big Dog’s Leadership Page (includes
excellent quotes on leadership):
■ Emerging Leader: www.emerging
Leadership is based on character.
Today’s leader isn’t
always the boss.
There are many opportunities for people
to assume leadership roles without having
been anointed as such. As Michael Useem, director of the Center for Leadership and Change
Management at the Wharton School, has
noted, “Everybody should be good at leading, whatever their level in the hierarchy.”
Within organizations large and small,
work teams form around special projects.
Leaders are often selected informally by the
group, and leadership may switch from one
individual to another depending on what
strengths are needed at the time to move the
project forward. In a small business these opportunities can groom people for future management roles as the business grows. In an
open environment, employees can feel free to
use their best skills and make suggestions for
Bob Nelson, author of 1001 Ways to
Take Initiative at Work, agrees. “Anyone in an
organization can be a leader. The ability
to lead is not a trait formally conferred only
on supervisors or managers. In fact, some
might say that the most effective leaders in
What is leadership? At its most elemental level, we know it is a tripod of factors: a leader, followers and a goal.
We also know that leadership is
of fundamental importance for
the success of any organization,
from a Girl Scout troop to a
Fortune 500 company, from a
church to a school system. A
huge amount of research shows
that effective leadership accounts
for, at the very least, 15 percent of
the success of any organization.
We also know that the tripod
is only the anatomy of leadership,
and it is a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve excellence. In
order to take the organization to the highest
possible level, leaders must engage their people with a compelling and tangible vision.
They must generate and sustain trust. They
must be able to navigate the delicate balance
of success—as illustrated by profitability, for
example—and a culture of human decency.
At the end of the day, character is the
core competency of leadership. Everything
else is perishable. This brings me to another
tripod, that of character, and this one must be
kept in balance or it tips over. The legs of this
tripod are ( 1) ambition and drive; ( 2) competence and expertise; and ( 3) a well-exercised
moral compass. An effective leader balances
these forces. Drive without competence and
integrity produces a demagogue. Competence
without integrity and drive manifests a technocrat. Someone who
has ambition and competence but
is void of integrity is a destructive
achiever. We’ve seen all too many
Leaders and managers are not
one and the same. Leaders do the
right things. Managers do things
right. Managers focus on the how-to, the short-term, the bottom line.
Leaders build cultures that create
self-esteem, generate and sustain
trust, elevate the dignity of work, create community and foster open communication and,
finally, encourage growth and learning.
Leadership is both sun and soil; it simultaneously empowers one to achieve and feeds
the spirit. That is perhaps all we really need to
Warren Bennis is the University Professor
of Business Administration at the University
of Southern California Marshall School of
Business. He is the author of the award-winning On Becoming a Leader and most
recently Geeks & Geezers (Harvard Business