Truly Understanding Leadership

“Leadership is not magnetic personality; that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter F. Drucker

As a fresh graduate entering the business world, I was immediately fascinated by the concept of leadership. An ambitious young man, I wanted to be successful. I wanted to be the best I could be. It wasn’t that I wanted to be “the boss”, but I had this unquenched desire to lead. And so throughout my career I’ve taken note of different leadership styles and approaches in the hope I could develop one of my own, stealing “with pride” the best from others.

My first job was a staff accountant with Ernst & Young. A great job, it threw me straight away into the kind of challenges that can either make or break a person. The funny thing about public accounting is that you are asked to assume management responsibilities in a relatively short period of time. Staff Accountants are managed by Senior Accountants, who have little more than 1-2 years of experience. Senior Accountants report through Managers, who at the time seemed ancient but were little more than 4 or 5 years out of school.

Those early managers were rightfully focused on the task at hand. More of a project manager than a leader. But they taught me a valuable lesson – getting the job done and doing it right were the fundamentals of business leadership. Funny how necessity builds these leadership qualities.

As my career progressed, I moved out of public accounting and in to industry. I still worked for line management, but the styles changed. Now the focus wasn’t only on completing the task, but also on developing the skills my management felt would help me succeed. Those skills were more tactical in nature, but important nonetheless. I’ll never forget the time my manager took away my ‘mouse’ for a month, and insisted I learn how to use the computer without taking my hands off the keyboard (in other words, how to use the shortcut keys). His theory being you lose productivity when move your hands to the mouse. Funny, but while I hated it at the time, I am grateful (and much more productive) now.

As I progressed in my career, I was fortunate in those I worked for. Their styles were all different, but each of them imparted new wisdom that has served me well over time. Jeff Weiner taught me how executives think. Pete Dameris taught me the art of the deal. Ken Johnsen taught me how to present (I remember he would make me practice hours on end just to present for 30 min at his leadership meetings). Mike Willis taught me to never stop trying (he is a bit of a ‘Phoenix’). Larry Enterline taught me that you can do more with less. Mike Barker taught me balance, patience, and differing perspectives. And Jonas Prising taught me executive scalability.

No two of these leaders or their styles were remotely alike. But all of them shared one basic foundation in their approach – the desire to make me a better person; to make me a better team member; to make me a better leader.

As leaders we have a responsibility to make those we work with and who work for us better. It is fundamental. No leader can be successful if they can’t do that.

I’ll close with the same quote I started with – from one of the most recognized business and leadership authors in the business, Peter F. Drucker. Read it one more time and reflect on my past experiences, and I think you’ll see the profile of a good leader emerge:

“Leadership is not magnetic personality; that can just as well be a glib tongue. It is not ‘making friends and influencing people’, that is flattery. Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to higher sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” – Peter F. Drucker

-Kip

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