Leadership: 3 things successful leaders do

George Satula
George Satula

All leaders know they’re responsible for everything. Or so it seems.

Yet leaders live in a complicated world that commonly challenges the natural boundaries of human capability and effectiveness. That means the “to infinity and beyond” style of leadership is more myth than reality.

It raises the question, how can leaders leverage their strengths while recognizing their natural limitations? To answer this, let’s start with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill: “Where there is great complexity, there is also great simplicity.”

To translate Churchill’s comment into today’s reality, you must acknowledge and accept that the business world we live and work in spins faster each day. This often frenetic pace facing leaders can be distilled down to fundamental challenges that are critical for success.

Worldwide research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership shows leaders face the same six challenges consistently:

  • Developing employees
  • Honing effectiveness
  • Leading a team
  • Guiding change
  • Inspiring others
  • Managing stakeholders

Let’s isolate three key areas where leaders often fail.

It all starts here

First, leadership is about developing the right people. Jim Collins, author of several best-selling business books including “Good to Great,” says leaders must “get the right people on the bus and in the right seats.” You can make a strong case that it’s a leader’s highest priority. The people within an organization are its biggest competitive advantage. Employees also represent a company’s biggest risk and expense. To nurture mutually successful working relationships, a leader needs to leverage an employee’s strengths, which fit best with the company’s challenges. This serves two purposes: it appeals to an employee’s sense of job satisfaction, while simultaneously maximizing employee performance and engagement.

Know me, focus on me

Second, leadership is about providing the right focus. As a leader, you can never over-communicate. A big part of communication requires knowing your people – not just on a superficial, business-only level, but by taking a genuine interest in knowing each employee as a whole person. Connect with them by knowing about their family, and even some of their personal interests, hobbies and what sports they like.

On the flip side, each employee must understand the strategic direction of your organization and how they can contribute to its success.

A culture built for success

Third, leadership is about creating the right alignment within the entire environment of an organization and its culture.

It ensures that you intentionally scrutinize every aspect of the company’s strategic vision, critical goals, operational processes, and expected results. Skillful leaders are most effective at this when they use the right tools to plan, prioritize and implement, while rallying people to achieve success. Leaders also use the best technology and provide clear and consistent communication, which fosters effective team collaboration.

Leadership is multifaceted, complicated, and fraught with competing interests and limited resources. Finding a sense of simplicity in a chaotic world can be daunting. But good leaders have the skills to solve problems and simplify the path forward for others to follow.

The whole notion of finding simplicity within complexity, as vexing as it may seem, can benefit from this perspective: the human eye can see about 10 million colors. Yet all those colors are created from only the three primary colors: red, blue and yellow.

George Satula is an executive leadership coach working primarily as a Vistage chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He is also a leadership development consultant, strategic planner and speaker. He can be reached at George@SatulaUSA.com.

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George Satula is an executive leadership coach working primarily as a Vistage chairman, leading three CEO mastermind groups in southeastern Wisconsin. He is also a speaker and leadership development consultant. He can be reached at (262) 786-7400 or George.Satula@VistageChair.com.

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