Earning the Right of Leadership

Most true leaders understand and practice this most basic principle of leadership.

Those who expect or believe, because of their title or status, they have a right to be considered the leader are living in 17th century England or acting out a fictitious role in Downtown Abby.

Being called the leader vs. being considered the leader are very different.

What does it take to be considered the leader?

Simply: Living it.

It’s no surprise that those who ACT the part are considered the part.

Who knew that Sylvester Stallone had never boxed before doing the Rocky series yet did he ever play the part.

Following are a list of infrequently discussed actions that will help you live the life of a leader.


There is something called being “overexposed”. Now now!

Being available 24/7 makes you appear very accessible but does nothing to create the mystical quality of leaders.

Seldom do leaders have open calendars. Similarly, they tend to be the last not first to meetings – the grand entrance.

How you manage the frequency of your appearance plays a pivotal role in building your leadership image.

Complacency Creep

One thing you will never hear a great leader do – complain about how much work they have to do.

Complacency is just not part of their vernacular.

They do not have the time to gloat with satisfaction over what they just accomplished. They are far too busy thinking forward to the next challenge to waste time on what just passed. Seldom will you find them reminiscing about “the good old days” or past achievements.

Think forward – predicting what’s next, that’s not only the all consuming focus of leaders but what others around them expect of a leader.

By definition, to lead means to be out front.

Again, ACT the role and you will be considered to be it.

No Problem

It is understood that those being led have the problems and those who lead, solve them.

Demonstrating a “no problem” attitude is not only expected of leaders, it is revered, especially in a client/supplier relationship such as is found in an Advertising Agency.

Here, we are talking about being seemingly unfazed by problems.

When others are overwhelmed by the situation, the leader seems only minimally irritated by the interruption.

When being faced by seemingly insurmountable odds, the leader seems to be enjoying him/herself

A problem to a leader is considered something from the past – even though it may exist in present time – it started earlier.

Once again, the leader is already seeing and considering the future solutions.

Today’s news is tomorrow’s wrapping paper.

In keeping with a leader’s natural instinct and ability to think forward, anything invented today is almost immediately upstaged by thinking of new ideas for tomorrow.

Freshness of thinking is a commodity most prevalent with great leaders.

A few years back I remember reading an article in Advertising Age with the President of Crispin Porter + Bogusky, Alex Bogusky,Crispin being seen at the time as one of the most innovative and upcoming agencies of the decade.

He was being asked his thoughts about clients not accepting the agency’s creative ideas. His answer to paraphrase: “We’ll just bring them another 20 tomorrow”. Leadership!

I realize this will rub many creatives the wrong way – but the point is not about selling the work – it’s about the attitude leaders have about ideas.

To them, there is no limit to new, fresh or innovative ideas.

No Excuses

Remember the famous Popeye proclamation;  “I Yam what I Yam”. Nothing better captures the mental position of the leader.

They do not apologize for who or what they are.

They do not excuse their actions but instead revel in them. For this they are often considered arrogant, yet they are still followed.

Remember we are not talking about their likeability. There are leaders who are loved and leaders who are not.

Yet in both cases we find this same behavior. Some just perform it differently.

Clarity of Purpose

One thing all leaders have in common. There is no getting around a leader’s expectations from those they are leading.

Namby Pamby directives, politically correct language and vagueness of direction are not strong suits of successful leaders.

Do not get this confused with insensitive and derogatory communications like saying to someone who is overweight, “Get your fat ass in gear”.

Instead, we are talking about being clear and decisive.

There is nothing worse than someone being confused by what is expected of them yet, due in large part to a moving trend towards leading by consensus, clarity has suffered a dire consequence.

Now the team is sitting around trying to reach consensus with the team hounded by wondering what their role or responsibilities are and who will make the final call.

Imagine this behavior in any team sport.

The goalie thinks the three backs are the ones responsible for stopping strikers from penetrating. True, but what do you think this would eventually do to his ability to stop a goal once through the line?

While he’s blaming the backs for failing in their job the opposition’s striker is reveling in the goalie’s distraction (blame), scoring at will.

Taking the bullet.

An unfortunate euphemism, but one that is very appropriate to clearly characterizing great leaders.

We first learn about this characteristic of leadership from the annals of history, specifically in the conflicts of war.

Patton insisting on leading from the front of his men and not behind them in the safety of rear bunkers.

History has shown us time and again that Marines will rally to their leadership when officers move to the front of their formations, usually at great risk to themselves, and drive their Marines into the breach. Seen by the very high percentage of NCO and SNCO and officer leadership wounded in the early stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Again, in all cases, where do you find the real leader? Out front, willing to take the plunge.


Holding others accountable for and to their responsibilities seems to have suffered an unusual demise in the  21st Century and along with it, we have seen a dramatic reduction by corporate America of leadership talent, so say HR departments all over the country.

The pride of a job well done is a phenomenal motivator, however, if those doing the job are not holding themselves accountable, the job itself potentially suffers irreparable damage.

Being called on the carpet for failures is as important as acknowledging a job well done.

I ran into this while my daughter was playing state softball in Arizona.

After a miserable defeat their coach tried the contemporary psychobabble approach; it’s okay, you tried your best; it’s only a game approach.

Later, seeing she was still miserable, I spoke to her about the game.

I was in awe. She readily admitted she and others had not played their best, they had made too many errors and that it was much more than just a game, it was the pride of Arizona they were playing for and they collectively agreed that they had let down the community.

So I told her exactly what she had done well and also specifically what she goofed at and how to fix it with a promise of additional coaching over the next week by yours truly.

That night at dinner she was once again her old effervescent self.

Similarly, a good leader holds their reports accountable for getting their jobs done and done well. When they fail, they are censured and given the opportunity to repair damage if done, but at a minimum, given the opportunity to regain or correct a skill gone awry.

Remember, those that goof up know, more than anyone else, they goofed.

A leader pretending it’s okay when they (the one who goofed) know it’s not, is a guaranteed way to have a team lose faith and trust in their leader.

No-one likes nor respects a liar.

Truth is always the best medicine especially when you expect it reciprocated from those whom you serve as their leader.

Others before self.

There are selfish leaders whom others follow with grudging admiration. There are selfless leaders whom others voluntarily follow with pleasure.

Concentrating on the latter, we see this leader demonstrates an uncanny disregard for their own self preservation remembering they would have no such monicker (leader) were it not for those they are leading.

You will find them walking the halls trying to understand issues being faced by their followers and devising ideas focused on making them go away.

Patton is known to have seen that 1000’s of his men were reporting trench foot caused in no small part by wet socks.

His order: Every man was to have a change of socks every three days, this from a General who you’d think had more to worry about than socks. (Ref: Patton – The Pursuit of Destiny by Agostino Von Hassell and Ed Breslin)

Taking the hit.

This is by far the most important characteristic of leaders adorned.

Simply put – when they screw up they admit it.

President Reagan, following the Iran-Contra scandal, saw his approval rating plummet from 67% to 46%. Instead of blaming the person most responsible, a junior National Security Council aide, Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, he immediately appointed a presidential commission composed of people of unquestioned integrity and charged them to find out what had gone wrong.

Most importantly, he then went on national television to take “full responsibility” for the commission’s findings and immediately set about implementing its proposals.

The some 150,000 people who attended his funeral (from all parties) is proof positive, for all his foibles and missteps, of how revered he was as a leader of the American people.

Next Steps:

1)  Understand clearly what you as a leader expect of your reports

2)  Make these expectations clearly known while holding them responsible for performing against them

3)  Lead from the front. Do not push people to perform that which you yourself would not

4)  Underexpose your presence. Make your contact limited – but make each encounter memorable

5)  Most importantly put the interests of your reports ahead of your own, remembering that with leadership comes the responsibility of being accountable for those you lead. Their performance is a reflection of your leadership.

Toni Louw
Louws – CEO & Founder

About the author:

Over the past 34 years, Toni Louw has trained, coached and consulted with over 480 Brand advertising, promotion, direct marketing, digital, interactive, social, media and public relations agencies worldwide. This has also included over 50 of the top 150 brands internationally.

Toni has recently re-constructed and updated, for 21st Century business application, 18 different business critical subjects that has made Louws one of the most ubiquitous leader of innovative performance based training, coaching and consulting services worldwide.

Click on link provided: Executive Leadership for more information on Executive Leadership Training and Coaching.

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