“Effective leadership can be learned, and indeed should be learned, by those with responsibility for the performance of their enterprises and their employees.”
I have concluded that effective leadership can be learned and indeed should be learned, by those with responsibility for the performance of their enterprises and their employees. I have also found that leadership benefits from an approach built upon specific guiding principles that, taken together, create a clear road map for navigating any situation. The Leader’s Checklist, a complete set of vital leadership principles that are tried, tested and true.
Fifteen Core Principles
The principles of the checklist should be applicable to most leaders, in most endeavors, in most circumstances, whether investment banking, high technology, or public service; whether good times or bad; and regardless of company or country. But a checklist is only as good as its underlying foundation, and the foundation is only as solid as the materials and engineering that go into it.
Here are the fifteen essential principles that taken together, I believe, constitute an irreducible checklist for leadership action:
- Articulate a Vision. Formulate a clear and persuasive vision and communicate it to all members of the enterprise.
- Think and act strategically. Set forth a pragmatic strategy for achieving that vision both short- and long-term and ensure that it is widely understood; consider all the players and anticipate reactions and resistance before they are manifest.
- Honer the room. Frequently express your confidence in and support for those who work with and for you.
- Take charge. Embrace a bias for action, of taking responsibility even if it is not formally delegated, particularly if you are well positioned to make a difference.
- Act decisively. Make good and timely decisions and ensure that they are executed.
- Communicate persuasively. Convey messages in a way that people will not forget; simplicity and clarity of expression help.
- Motivate the troops. Appreciate the distinctive intentions that people bring and then build on those diverse motives to draw the best from each.
- Embrace the front line. Delegate authority except for strategic decisions and stay close to those most directly engaged with the work of the enterprise.
- Build leadership in others. Develop leadership throughout the organization.
- Manage relationships. Build enduring personal ties with those who look to you and work to harness the feelings and passions of the workplace.
- Identify personal implications. Help everyone appreciate the impact that the vision and strategy are likely to have on their own work and future in the firm.
- Convey your character. Through gesture, commentary and accounts, ensure that others appreciate that you are a person of integrity.
- Dampen over-optimism. Counter the hubris of success, focus attention on latent treats and unresolved problems and protect against the tendency for managers to engage in unwarranted risk.
- Build a diverse top team. Leaders need to take final responsibility but leadership is also a team sport best played with an able roster of those collectively capable of resolving all the key challenges.
- Place common interest first. In setting strategy, communicate the vision and reaching decisions, common purpose comes first, personal self interest last.
Customizing the Leader’s Checklist
While the fifteen principles provide a solid template for action, suitable for most leadership moments at most organizations at most times, “most” is not always good enough. Customized checklists are required for distinct contexts, and among the most important divisions are those of company, role, and country.
The Leader’s Checklist for General Electric, according to those highly familiar with the company, would include, for instance, teaching others how to lead their divisions, making tough – often wrenching – personnel decisions around performance, and continually innovating. A checklist for Google, by contrast, would place greater emphasis on pursuing individual creative sparks, keeping teams small, and guiding others in an even-keeled manner. A checklist for a major professional services firm might identify nearly a dozen special capacities that it holds to be vital for its managers, including seeing the world through its clients’ eyes, enthusiastically engaging with clients, and working with them to transcend conventional thinking.
“While the 15 principles provide a solid template for action, customized checklists are required for distinct contexts; most importantly the divisions of company, role, and country.”
Role. Distinct positions necessitate their own unique additions to the core Leader’s Checklist. The customized principles for top executives are different from those for frontline managers. They, in turn, are different from those for company directors.
Country. Specific principles are essential for varied national locations as well. What is required in Argentina or Great Britain is at least partially distinct from what is essential in America or France.
“Even the best checklist has no value unless it is routinely activated to guide a leader’s behavior.”
“Organizational leadership has its greatest impact in times of uncertainty and change. It is when uncertainty becomes the norm that a Leader’s Checklist becomes most valuable.”
When markets are predictable, when change is not in the offing, leaders can coast, at least for a while. It is when uncertainty becomes the norm and turbulence more commonplace that a Leader’s Checklist becomes most consequential.