Each week we will be asking Dr. Covey to comment on common questions. This week we ask: what makes a great leader?
Q: What makes a great leader?
A: My definition of leadership is communicating to people their worth and potential so clearly that they are inspired to see it in themselves.
Q: You often say that leadership is a choice not a position. Can you elaborate on this?
A: Because of the definition I use for leadership, the ability to become such a leader is a choice that any person can make; any parent or grandparent, any teacher, any coach, any co-worker, and friend. When I speak throughout the world, I often ask audiences,
“How many of you had someone in your life that communicated your worth and potential so clearly that it profoundly influenced your life?”
Inevitably over half the people raise their hands. I walk around the room and ask them to share their experience with how it happened, who did it, the impact that it had upon them, and if they, too, are making the choice to do the same with other people. People often become very emotional when they talk about the parent, the coach, the teacher, the formal leader, the friend, the neighbor, or the relative who really became very close to them and communicated to them their worth and potential. This is always an inspiring experience.
Q: Is there a formula for becoming such a leader?
A: I believe there is a formula. They are what we call the four imperatives of leadership.
- The first is to inspire trust. You build relationships of trust through both your character and competence and you also extend trust to others. You show others that you believe in their capacity to live up to certain expectations, to deliver on promises, and to achieve clarity on key goals. You don’t inspire trust by micromanaging and second guessing every step people make.
- The second is to clarify purpose. Great leaders involve their people in the communication process to create the goals to be achieved. If people are involved in the process, they psychologically own it and you create a situation where people are on the same page about what is really important—mission, vision, values, and goals.
- The third is to align systems. This means that you don’t allow there to be conflict between what you say is important and what you measure. For instance, many times organizations claim that people are important but in fact the structures and systems, including accounting, make them an expense or cost center rather than an asset and the most significant resource.
- The fourth is the fruit of the other three—unleashed talent. When you inspire trust and share a common purpose with aligned systems, you empower people. Their talent is unleashed so that their capacity, their intelligence, their creativity, and their resourcefulness is utilized.
I would add that these are based upon principles that build upon each other rather than techniques or steps that have to be taken independent of each other. These aren’t “management tricks” but real principles that guide a true leaders character.
The world is vastly different today and ever-changing. If we can develop leaders who can withstand and embrace the changing times by deeply rooting themselves in these principles of great leadership, then we can develop great people, great teams and great results.
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