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Management And Training

Streamlining The Path To Effective Leadership

February 08, 2012
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There is a mind-boggling array of old and current advice on how to become an effective leader.

Turn to the business section of any periodical, look at the professional books listed on Amazon.com or browse the Internet on the topic of leadership and there is a wealth of information on the path to successful leadership.

With a new year underway, we have the perfect opportunity to reflect on how leadership can be achieved without having to embrace yet another new approach that may strike fear in the hearts of promising professionals.

We already live in a workplace environment that is driven by fear of outsourcing, fear of replacement by the Generation-Z workforce, fear of forced retirement or even the ability to retire, fear of limited career advancement, fear of technology inertia and the ultimate fear of failure.

There must be some sage advice about leadership that can mitigate these fears.

Struggling to find a simpler way to look at leadership, we can turn to the teachings of the Mexican writer Don Miguel Ruiz, who has outlined guiding principles for living in his book The Four Agreements.

While not specifically geared to leadership, the four agreements he proposes individuals make with themselves appear to be a simple, yet successful, framework for any individual searching to become an effective leader.

1. Make your word impeccable

Ask any astute decision maker about this characteristic and they will agree that their word has to have the utmost integrity.

It is critical for any successful leader to be known for meaning what has been said, as words have tremendous power within an organization.

Keeping trusted information to oneself, planting information seeds that allow others to grow within the organization and championing others to speak provide a powerful bond for any organization leader.

2. Use business, not personal rationale

Distancing oneself from the possibility of using personal information and relying on facts to make decisions is a mainstay for an effective leader.

Since behaviors often indicate personal rather than business-driven actions, it is essential for leaders to create an organization climate based on shared beliefs such that all individuals operate in a fact-driven environment.

Ruiz cautions individuals to "refuse to eat poison," and it is sound advice for a business leader.

Even the most stable organizations have colleagues who try to influence others by fabricating or re-inventing the "truth," so leaders need to know how to separate fact from fiction in their organizations.

3. Never assume anything

All too often, individuals are afraid to ask for clarification on an issue, directive or decision because they are afraid of appearing ill-informed.

Recognizing that others relate to the work world differently requires an affirmation of comprehension before leaving any subject in order to ensure that the outcome of a discussion is mutually understood and agreed upon.

Effective leaders never assume they know what others are thinking or that they will reject specific ideas, so they strive for clarity in all discussion.

Mind reading only occurs on television programs, in the movies or at the circus, so a leader never assumes what another person is thinking.

4. Identify what is your best

Even the most effective leaders have good and bad days.

Acknowledging that an individual or an organization''s best is a relative term goes a long way to prevent recrimination, judgment and regret.

Achieving the "best" should be viewed as a journey with stops and starts along the way — it is a growth-centric concept that requires a leader to focus on the future and forfeit the temptation to dwell on the past.

Being able to help individuals identify what they value most about their work allows them to feel that it is less difficult which, in turn, fosters their best effort.

Effective leaders know how to balance the need to manage an organization with the need to lead one and when each of the two approaches is appropriate.

Establishing critical milestones and benchmarks related to an organization''s vision juxtaposed with the reality of acceptance by senior management helps a leader.

The leader can then support the people within an organization in their efforts to influence the thinking of customers, partners and colleagues.

It is the job of a leader to balance the organization''s idealism with the messy reality of getting a job done.

Select a leader you believe is someone to emulate and then evaluate how well they stack up against the four agreements.

If the leader measures up to each of the agreements, then study the path the individual has taken to achieve his or her position.

Once you determine the individual has pursued a journey worthy of your imitation, conduct your own gap analysis to determine where you have strengths and where your weaknesses lie so you can develop your own strategy to strengthen the four attributes.

Some believe that leaders are born, while others insist it is possible to develop successful leaders.

Using the framework surrounding The Four Agreements supports the notion that potential leaders can be developed and that a company does not have to wait for a perfect leader to arrive on the scene.


Stormy Friday is president of The Friday Group, a management, marketing and facilities consulting company. With a Master of Public Administration (MPA) and the designation as a Fellow from the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA), Friday is well-versed in strategic planning to ensure that managers and other professionals harness their organization''s strengths to maximize results for their companies. For more information, visit www.TheFridayGroup.com.

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