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Drawing a Bead on Leadership
Harvey Mackay

November, 2005

What are the qualities that make a good leader? And remember many of us are all leaders. You don't have to be a general … a CEO … or president. We lead families, and we lead teams at work.

Leaders of all sorts know this to be true: It's amazing what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.

Marshall Loeb, editor at-large of Fortune magazine - and a friend - once spoke on the "10 Steps to Effective Leadership." The following principles are Marshall's. I've tweaked their language a bit and thrown in examples that brought the ideas to life for me:

- Leading is not just managing. Leadership guru Warren Bennis formulated this bombshell: The infant United States had 3 million people. "Six world-class leaders" signed the Constitution: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin and Madison. Today we have nearly 300 million people. (And, I'd add, U.S. managers outnumber the population of many large countries.) But, are we short on leaders?

- Leaders have a "sense of purpose." They think in terms of goals . . . There isn't a college football coach with a greater sense of purpose than Lou Holtz. He proved it at Notre Dame, Arkansas and a host of other universities. Did you know that Lou once coached the New York Jets? He left the job after only eight months. Why? Because, as Lou told me, he came to the job "without a clear sense of purpose...Absent a focus of my own, I couldn't give one to the team. I was embarrassed by my inability to provide them with proper leadership. So I left." Few leaders are as honest.

- Leaders have courage. As Tom Peters put it, "Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, Mahatma Gandhi: Each had a mission, a vision, extraordinary integrity, persistence. Very tough hides."

- Leaders are forceful. You don't have to guess where they stand. Take Winston Churchill's talk at the Harrow School in 1941: "Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never - in nothing, great or small, large or petty - never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense."

- Leaders are consistent. Leaders know how to help shake things up to be creative. But Intel's Andy Grove says leaders also have to "rein in chaos." He calls it "clarity of direction." Don't pile on alternatives. Don't muddle the message. "Hedging is expensive and dilutes commitment."

- Leaders are truthful . . . even when it hurts. Bill Gates puts it this way: "Bad news must travel fast." He wonders if the most important job of a CEO isn't to listen for and act on bad news. It takes guts to admit bad news happens on your watch.

- Leaders concentrate on a couple big themes; they don't try to do it all. President Carter had a fine, logical mind, but he got caught up in the details - even scheduling the White House tennis court. President Reagan couldn't remember many details. He succeeded as a leader because he stayed with his program and kept it short and simple.

- Leaders don't have to pretend they thought of everything themselves. Look at companies that stop innovating. Harvard Prof Rosabeth Moss Kanter sums it up: "The leaders who get into trouble are the ones who get lucky - and then don't realize it was luck. They think they know more than anyone else..." Suddenly arrogance takes over. (I love the line from Fiddler On The Roof, "Those who are rich really think they know.")

- Leaders are made not born. Suppose you're asked to back a candidate for public office. He wants some bucks from your Political Action Committee. Here's his resumé: Bought a small store and ran it into the ground. Left him with a wad of debt. Campaigned for the state legislature and lost twice. Campaigned for the U.S. senate and tanked twice. Interested? His name is Abe Lincoln.

- How do you spot a leader? Peter Drucker wrote that General MacArthur and Presidents Truman, Eisenhower and Lincoln had different styles. But, you could spot one common trait in these four. They all "wanted able, independent, self-assured people around them; they encouraged their associates and subordinates, praising and promoting them."

Mackay's Moral: Cream doesn't rise to the top . . . It works its way up.

Reprinted with permission from nationally syndicated columnist Harvey Mackay, author of the New York Times #1 bestseller "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive."


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