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by Michael Useem, Professor of Management and Director of the Leadership Center, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

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.  That also applies to effective leadership, which I believe can be distilled into a set of core principles that help leaders navigate complex challenges around the world.

To build a Leader’s Checklist, I have tapped not only my own experience but also that of an array of investigators, researchers, thinkers, and managers.  I have concluded that management experience points to a core of just 15 mission-critical leadership principles that vary surprisingly little among companies or countries:

1. Articulate a Vision: Formulate a clear and persuasive vision and communicate it to all members of the enterprise.

2. 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.

3. Honor the Room: Frequently express your confidence in and support for those who work with and for you.

4. 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.

5. Act Decisively: Make good and timely decisions, and ensure that they are executed.

6. Communicate Persuasively: Communicate in ways that people will not forget; simplicity and clarity of expression help, as do elements ranging from personal actions to grand events.

7. Motivate the Troops: Appreciate the distinctive intentions that people bring, and then build on those diverse motives to draw the best from each.

8. Embrace the Front Lines: Delegate authority except for strategic decisions, and stay close to those most directly engaged with the work of the enterprise.

9. Build Leadership in Others: Develop leadership throughout the organization.

10. Manage Relations: Build enduring personal ties with those who look to you, and work to harness the feelings and passions of the workplace.

11. Identify Personal Implications: Help everybody appreciate the impact that the vision and strategy are likely to have on their own work and future with the firm.

12. Convey Your Character: Through gesture, commentary, and accounts, ensure that others appreciate that you are a person of integrity.

13. Dampen Over-Optimism. Counter the hubris of success, focus attention on latent threats and unresolved problems, and protect against the tendency for managers to engage in unwarranted risk.

14. 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.

15. Place Common Interest First. In setting strategy, communicating vision, and reaching decisions, common purpose comes first, personal self-interest last.

To illustrate just one of the principles, consider the last, placing common mission ahead of personal interest, especially when its seems least natural to do so.  This precept is well captured in a U.S. Marine Corps dictum:  “The officer eats last.”  In business, it appears in author Jim Collins’ appraisal as one of the defining qualities of those who lead their companies from “good to great.”

And it emerged as a vital theme when I interviewed Samuel Palmisano this past January.  He said that if you don’t put yourself first, then leadership decisions become easier.

“Because if you’re worrying about your reputation or your legacy or whatever – you put something first beyond the institution – then it’s hard because your reasoning is clouded,” he explained.  It is best to look at your leadership decisions and say, “No, it’s not about me.  It’s about the future of the IBM company. How does IBM stay sustainable for the next 100 years?”

List adapted from The Leader’s Checklist by Michael Useem.

Editor’s note: This post is the first in an occasional series, NextGen Leaders, which presents expert points of view on what it takes to lead in today’s global economy.

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Posted by: hollister
March 28, 2012
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Good article, but it is based mostly on what some leaders have done and NOT on what employees need.

Unleashing every bit of creativity, innovation and productivity of every employee is the goal of managing employees. Great companies tap most of this goldmine of human capability, but most companies are far from being great. And the surprising fact is that becoming great is within every manager’s reach if only they understood how. So let’s learn how.

Employees have five basic needs. Researchers Edward Deci and Richard Ryan proved that to be motivated anyone needs competence, autonomy and relatedness. The two additional needs are related to the first three: the need to be heard and the need to be respected.

Unsurprisingly, the extent to which management meets those five needs DICTATES how well employees perform. Met to a 20% level, the most common case, releases a bit less than 20% of employee capabilities while met to a 60% level releases a bit less than 60%. In other words, a full spectrum exists and it is management’s choice as to where in the spectrum they are.

But how does a manager meet those 5 needs? Very simple! Just do your job to very high standards!

The workforce is responsible for doing the work and knowing what to do, when to do it and how to do it. Management is responsible for providing the tangible support to employees they need to excel in their work: training, tools, parts, material, discipline, direction (only when employees don’t know such as in emergencies), information, technical advice, and the like. Providing this support at the very highest standards of all values will meet the needs of almost all employees.

Management is also responsible for providing intangible support: confidence, competence, autonomy, sense of ownership, peace of mind, trust, morale, commitment, and the like. These intangibles are actually closely linked to the tangible support elements, but they are still management’s responsibility to provide.

To the extent management provides high quality support, that is the extent to which the workforce performs. The highest quality support is nirvana to any workforce and they will repay in spades in terms of their efforts to excel and will apply 100% of their natural creativity, innovation and productivity to their work.

There are specific actions that are destructive of the goal and actions that help to achieve the goal. For example, issuing orders is the most destructive action any executive or manager can take since employees interpret orders as being the height of disrespect thus causing them to become demotivated and demoralized. Conversely, bosses who listen regularly to employee complaints, suggestions, and questions AND respond in a timely manner to the satisfaction of the employee and any others affected convinces employees that the boss greatly respects them and cares about them. This causes employees to treat their work, their customers, each other, and their bosses with great respect and causes employees to become highly motivated, committed and fully engaged.

How to find out what needs fixing of your tangible support? Listen to your people. How to find out what needs fixing of your intangible support? Same answer!

To learn more about this simple process, take a look at my website and its videos and articles -

Best regards, Ben Simonton
Leadership is a science and so is engagement

Posted by: Ben Simonton
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July 4, 2014
10:18 pm

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April 19, 2012
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