We often see a leader as the point person but the reality is leaders very seldom take the point and when all goes well maybe shouldn’t. That is not to say that leadership doesn’t take courage; it means a great leader must first accept all the responsibilities of the decision but then must inspire the courage of others to act on those decisions. Taking responsibility is difficult because of the possible consequences and the requirement to step forward when things go wrong and own the consequences. At the point of a miss-step or failure, the leader quickly and purposefully steps into the point position.
A real skill of leadership is a person’s ability to empower the team to demonstrate the courage to act and execute on the strategy; to make the ongoing decisions that allow for excellent execution. This courage is transferred to others naturally when the leader communication resonates with integrity, transparency, and purpose.
Courage transference also requires allowing imperfection to happen. Expecting 100% perfect at all times is an impossible goal and stifles innovation and appropriate risk-taking. What is not acceptable is a disastrous result. To attain final success while allowing imperfection along the way takes honest communication by all team members about what is going wrong, what is broken or what mistakes were made so they can be corrected immediately, so the damage to the outcome is mitigated. It also requires continual testing and verifying to ensure issues, mistakes and problems are uncovered as early in the process as possible.
The last element of leadership is to inspire people; getting the right people, on the right job, with appropriate deadlines and keeping them energized to execute expertly. Inspiration is accomplished with honest feedback, recognition, and correction, in real-time. This can be done via email, but face-to-face is more powerful. Over-reliance on electronic communication can undermine a leader’s best intentions. Everyone likes and needs to feel a personal connection to their leader when they are expected to assume the courage to do their job expertly and communicate honestly — the bigger the strategic challenge, the more critical the personal Connection. Employees are inspired by people, not emails or text messages.
Once a strategy is agreed upon, a leader seldom leads from the front unless they must accept responsibility for errors or failure. When a successful outcome is delivered leaders return to the rear to enjoy the glow of success enjoyed by the team.