If you look through history for examples of great leaders they all have 1 thing in common. They have achieved amazing results. I cannot find one person who has achieved nothing or little who is considered a great leader. Based on this it seems reasonable to assume that the ultimate measure of leadership is the results that are achieved. Maybe the correlation is not perfect but it is there and it is strong.
To me this is remarkably uncontroversial however as I have talked to others about this many people are horrified at the idea that results are the ultimate measure of leadership. For them the way the result is achieved is just as important if not more important than the results themselves. Generally you can summarise their view as being the means are more important than the ends and the ends do not always justify the means.
This is a moral dilemma and clearly there are cases where the ends do not justify the means. This is particularly true where the freedom to choose is not present or is significantly diminished. Examples of this would include living within a dictatorial or repressive regime or in relationship, especially an abusive relationship, where one party seeks and achieves complete dominance over another. However where there is freedom to choice I wonder about the practical impact of this moral dilemma. If there is freedom people cannot be compelled they must agree to participate.
In a business context which is my primary interest for now no one can be compelled. If they do not like the “means”, the way results are achieved they can and do vote with their feet and leave. If we can accept then a pretext of freedom to choose then ultimately leadership must be judged by the results that are achieved. If this is true then the ultimate leadership question is….
“Is there a recipe or formula that can be used to guarantee, or at least enhance, the chances of achieving the results they desire and therefore leadership success?”
I think there is such a formula. Based on my study to date (which I will admit is somewhat random) here is a starter for 10 on what I think it takes to be a successful leader:
1. Lead yourself. If you are not capable of effectively and constructively leading yourself how can you lead others? The best exposition of this that I have read is Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits.
2. Articulate your purpose or mission (why you exist) and your values (what’s important to you).
3. Get clear on what you want to achieve (vision and goals) and on how you will know if you are successful (measures).
4. Work out what needs to be done to get you from where you are today to achieving your goals (strategy). Monitor progress using the measures and adjust your actions as required.
- Enrol others to join you on the journey and to contribute everything they can to ensure the success of the journey. Two great books on this that I have read lately are:
• The 4 Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive by Patrick Lencioni
• Intrinsic Motivation at Work by Kenneth Thomas.
6. Don’t give up until you succeed. Stay true to the vision but adjust your actions based on your results until you get there.