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. Leadership doesn’t take courage; it takes owning the responsibilities of their decisions but then must also 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 success, while allowing for imperfections, takes honest communication about what is broken or what mistakes were made. These frank conversations will enable the problem to be corrected immediately, so the damage to the outcome is mitigated. It also requires continual testing and verifying to ensure issues, mistakes, and challenges 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 inspiration 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 needs to have a personal connection with their leader — the bigger the strategic challenge, the more critical the personal relationship. Employees are inspired by people, not emails, texts, or speeches.
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.