Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

Research Executive Summary – What Makes Leaders Great

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The following executive summary details the findings of my extensive research of 160 great and influential leaders, spanning 235 years.

The premise of my research is that in order to understand what defines effective leadership, one must study the actions and behaviors of the great leaders. If one examines this premise, then several questions become readily obvious:

  • How did some individuals earn the mantle of greatness?
  • What defines them as great, and what were they able to achieve that others did not?
  • What lessons can be learned and applied from the examples they provide?

My research and analysis aims to answer these questions, and specifically defines and focuses on the key reasons why specific individuals are considered great leaders, including:

  • They acquired legitimacy by establishing trust, credibility, respect and emotional bonds and standing with all of their key constituencies.
  • They were selfless, placing the needs of others before themselves.
  • They epitomized courage, competence and candor.
  • They consistently reflected their personal values of humility, empathy and humanity.
  • A prolonged period of adversity, disappointment, discouragement and failure early in their careers, defined their character, shaped their vision and values, refined their critical thinking and established their legitimacy as a leader.
  • They were able to identify and take advantage of major economic shifts to fuel the growth of their company into a dominant market leader.
  • They acquired the right skills and abilities to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.
  • They were master architects and builders, immersing themselves in the details of their business.
  • They were practitioners of ruthless efficiency, improving the customer’s experience while driving down costs and increasing profit through market growth.
  • They exhibited the talent to execute and get things done, while acquiring a passion and zeal for the execution of their plans and strategies.
  • They exhibited proficiency as consummate masters of marketing and building emotional connections to their brands.
  • Many created a demand for their products and a market where none existed before.
  • They built high performing organizations by focusing on attracting the right people to their companies, and utilizing their individual strengths by placing them in the right jobs.
  • They exhibited the intellectual honesty to completely comprehend the reality surrounding their circumstances, employing a factual approach to decision-making, objectivity and open-mindedness.
  • They generated enduring organizational values that mirrored their personal attitudes, values, thinking and work ethics.
  • They generated stellar and balanced financial performance due to a long-term, strategic perspective, rather than through focusing on short-term profitability and shareholder-value.

SPECIFIC FINDINGS

Vision

The great leaders created strong, simple and deep visions that defined their purpose, shaped their thinking, and influenced their decisions.

  • They defined their major purpose in life, and staked their existence on achieving it.
  • They cultivated a strong, enduring and lifelong vision of where they wanted to go and what they wished to achieve.
  • They kept their eye on the ball through a sustained long-term focus.
  • They generated a mission focus, clearly specifying what they wanted to achieve.
  • They effectively prioritized to keep their organizations focused on what was important for accomplishing their vision and mission.

Values

The great leaders generated enduring organizational values that mirrored their personal attitudes, values, thinking and work ethics.

  • They acquired a deep sense of integrity and courage of their personal convictions.
  • They exhibited a strong moral compass, guided by deeply held religious values.
  • They developed and relied on a strong internal compass, incorporating it into their beliefs, guiding principles and core values.
  • They displayed unwavering principles and uncompromising ethical standards.
  • They possessed a deep personal sense of responsibility toward others.
  • They assumed a universal servant mentality, which was derived from personal empathy and humility.

Crucible

The great leaders experienced a prolonged period of adversity, disappointment, discouragement and failure early in their careers, which ultimately defined their character, refined their critical thinking and established their legitimacy as a leader.

Emerging Markets

The great leaders identified emerging market opportunities and trends that offered tremendous advantages.

  • They became market leaders in emerging markets.
  • They experienced tremendous levels of growth, fueled by dramatic expansions in their external markets.
  • The tremendous levels of growth allowed them to dominate their markets and industries.

Business Creation

The great leaders capitalized upon the opportunities presented to them.

  • They utilized the process of business creation and development to build a sound foundation for generating sustained profitability.
  •  They exhibited high degrees of confidence in themselves, and in their own ideas.
  • They boasted a strong sense of intuition, supported by wisdom and common sense.
  • They acquired accurate and circumspective thinking skills.
  • They persisted, refused to quit or accept defeat, fueled by their determination and resolve.

Capabilities

The great leaders acquired the right skills and abilities to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them.

  • They exemplified visionary thinking, anticipating the future with an acute sense of clairvoyance.
  • They embraced change to capitalize on new and emerging markets.
  • They perceived failure as a learning experience rather than as a defining event.
  • They used their failures to channel their thinking into a more fruitful direction.
  • They viewed mistakes and failure as an acceptable part of innovation.

Attention to Details

The great leaders conscientiously focused and immersed themselves in details.

  • They investigated new possibilities as imaginative, curious and investigative thinkers.
  • They employed thorough and adequate preparation.
  • They personally prepared themselves through in-depth study and analysis.
  • They accumulated a mastery of knowledge and expertise as life-long learners.

Intellectual Honesty

The great leaders carefully calculated the gains and consequences of their decisions so as not to place themselves or their companies in jeopardy.

  • They exhibited a sense of intellectual honesty for completely comprehending the reality surrounding their circumstances.
  • They employed a factual approach to decision-making, being objective and open-minded.
  • They permitted their actions and decisions to be challenged, while also challenging others’ thinking, perspectives and points of view.

Architects of Growth

The great leaders were architects and builders of growth.

  • They created detailed blueprints.
  • They forged building blocks of growth.
  • They fostered growth.
  • They built and grew their companies.

Ruthless Efficiency

The great leaders effectively practiced the concept of “ruthless efficiency.”

  • They improved the quality of their product.
  • They improved their customer experiences by building products faster and cheaper.
  • They did everything possible to drive down all associated costs.
  • They built and sustained profitability by increasing sales volumes.

Execution

The great leaders were masters of execution.

  • They acquired a passion and zeal for execution of their plans and strategies.
  • They exhibited the talent to execute and get things done.
  • They kept their finger on the pulse of their business.
  • They effectively linked structure to their actions.
  • They manifested a depth of personal commitment to execution.

Right People

The great leaders built high-performing organizations by focusing on attracting the right people to their companies, and utilizing their strengths by placing them in the right jobs.

  • They respected their employees as being valuable assets.
  • They recognized that their companies were comprised of people and not faceless assets.
  • They harnessed the organizational power of their people.
  • They empowered, motivated and inspired their employees through delegation and team building, and creating a supportive environment.
  • They exhibited the ability to effectively communicate sweeping strategies.

Marketing

The great leaders exhibited proficiency as consummate masters of marketing.

  • They built emotional connections to their brands.
  • They created a demand for product and a market for their products where none existed before.
  • They established the infrastructure to support innovation.

Organizational Reputation

The great leaders produced a strong organizational reputation that became a projection of their attitudes, values, decisions and actions.

Financial Performance

The great leaders generated stellar and balanced financial performance due to a long-term perspective, rather than by focusing on short-term profitability and shareholder-value.

  • They concentrated on their customers, not on creating wealth and developing shareholder value, considering both of these to be outcomes, not a primary driving force.
  • They leveraged resources to drive down costs.
  • They maintained a strategic focus on long-term growth to sustain their business.
  • They simplified their organization’s business process.
  • They acquired the operational savvy to deliver on quality financial goals.
  • They viewed value creation as a measurement tool, consistent with their vision and values.
  • They perceived wealth creation as a consequence of their strong vision and subsequent focus.

SUMMARY

The findings of my research substantiates that effective leadership does matter. Great leaders have a strong enduring influence and impact upon the performance of their companies. Unless their vision, values and practices are continued by their successors, the performance of their organization vastly diminishes after their retirement or departure.

Adapted from Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, 2011)

If you would like to learn more about how the great American leaders built great companies through their own inspiring words and stories, refer to Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It. It illustrates how great leaders built great companies, and how you can apply the strategies, concepts and techniques that they pioneered to improve your own leadership skills. Click here to learn more.

Copyright © 2011 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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2 Responses

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  1. I do simple kinds of engagement using Square Wheels cartoons and team building games to create a sense of collaboration and teamwork, as well as ownership and engagement in the different workshops I do. I think that this list of findings is most interesting, since I think this flows through the work I do as well as the leader that I am.

    Nice summary of issues and opportunities, as well as a list of possible accomplishments.

    Creating a vision of the future is important, and this pushes me to consider those additional aspects of what I do.

    One thing I would like to accomplish before all this ends is to leave a legacy – a footprint — that has some value. I think Timothy has done this and I hope to continue to move in that direction.

    .

    Scott Simmerman

    September 28, 2011 at 9:32 am

  2. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You clearly know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something informative to read?

    Keena Voelz

    October 2, 2011 at 9:57 am


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