Starting and building a company is all about leadership: formulating an idea, building a unique plan based on vision and experience, and forging a path over and through all obstacles. Yet the image of leadership in business is at an all-time low, according to national leadership experts, considering the political debacles, record business bankruptcies, and executive fraud cases.
If the country is to recover financially and politically, new leaders will have to emerge to fill the leadership deficit—new leaders who understand that leadership is a privilege, not an entitlement—according to executive coach Michael Schutzler, author of the book Inspiring Excellence: A Path to Exceptional Leadership.
Entrepreneurs are well positioned to become the new leaders, because they perceive problems as opportunities and have the mindset to innovate and execute. They have the required passion, perseverance, and work ethic. What they don't have by default are the skills required, or the relationships. These don't come automatically with the CEO title.
Schutzler's view of leadership is different than many academics and executive coaches, who feel that leadership is an innate character trait. He urges people to focus on developing a few key relationship skills, and I agree. Here are some key conclusions:
- Leadership is a learned behavior, not a character trait. Good judgment, for example, is certainly a hallmark of exceptional leadership, but it isn't something you are born with. "More than anything, good judgment comes from listening," he says. It also comes from paying very close attention to every situation, and learning from it.
- Listening is the most important skill for a leader. We need to pay attention to the words and actions of others while suspending judgment long enough to allow your intellect to catch up with your instincts. Why? Because as leaders, if we speak too soon, we shut off creation. We shut off contribution. We force the adoption of our ideas.
- Communication and storytelling are skills that not everyone is born with, but are ones we can all develop. People on your team want to believe! They want to believe you know where we are going, or you will get us there even if you aren't sure of the exact path at this moment. They want stories that compare what they are doing with others.
- Acknowledging contribution is necessary to sustain motivation during the hard times. It's not hard to do and doesn't require a lot of effort or expensive gifts. A thank-you note or peer recognition is enough most of the time.
- Negotiation is a practical skill for every leader. It's often misunderstood to be the domain of clever deal makers. It's actually really simple: Make very clear requests for a promise, understand exactly what the promise is—what is being done, when, and what the standard of excellence is—and then check up on the status to make it happen.
- Too many leaders are focused on personal ambition. He believes that we need leaders who use power as a tool for inspiring others to create a better future, not as a tool for retaining their position or perks.
The middle four points are the essential skills for great leadership, inspiring excellence, and building a successful business. They are easily practiced and serve as the foundation for successfully attracting talent, reaching consensus, making tough choices, and harnessing ambition.
In this fashion the general leadership deficit is really an opportunity for new aspiring entrepreneurs in business. So practice the leadership skills needed, and step in when you are ready. Now is your golden opportunity. Let's see how many of you are up to the challenge.