Consensus versus Commitment

During a recent workshop I facilitated for a large team we started a discussion on the idea of consensus versus commitment. During the discussion the leader of the team pushed back on the differentiation of the two concepts. While the two words on the surface might seem similar, they are materially different in their definition.

Again, a visit to my favorite dictionary site ( we learn the definitions are:

  • Consensus: a general agreement about something: an idea or opinion that is shared by all the people in a group
  • Commitment: a promise to do or give something: a promise to be loyal to someone or something: the attitude of someone who works very hard to do or support something

I do believe that consensus on its own can be a dangerous concept for organizations. In my experience all too often, consensus is not real, most especially in a business setting. Consensus that is not real or is false, feels like an attempt to make everyone happy through a decision that includes everyone’s input, offends no one and often has no weight because it has been compromised to death. False consensus is not having the conflict needed to hear everyone’s opinions and promoting a safe environment to do so. Instead, and all too often teammates just nod and go on.

When consensus comes about naturally it is wonderful because it can move people automatically to commitment, but generally, consensus is a way of ensuring mediocrity. Gaining commitment is going steps beyond consensus. Gaining commitment is about teammates buying in to a decision, idea, process, etc., precisely when they don’t naturally or want to agree. To make that happen a leader needs to promote conflict, an airing of opinions so  decisions can be made having factored in all of the various ideas, opinions, and feedback from their team.


When a team commits to decisions, processes, etc., they are doing so because they know how to embrace two separate but related concepts: buy-in and clarity.  Patrick Lencioni, author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable, shares that buy-in is the achievement of honest emotional support and clarity is the removal of assumptions and ambiguity from a situation.

I really appreciate the image above because I think it illustrates the point well.  A fire captain might get consensus from his/her firefighters around the idea of how they need to fight a fire, but gains commitment to the decisions once they are made despite whose idea it was.  Even though there is the element of urgency involved in this analogy, is that not something that is frequently lacking in organizations?

Regardless if you are non-profit, church, business, or a governmental body gaining commitment can mean the difference between life and death of the organization.   Commitment to a decision drives action internally, while consensus promotes a broad external drive, and unless, as a leader, you micromanage and dictate every step, commitment ensures empowerment, accountability, and buy-in to achieve goals beyond your wildest dreams.

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The Feeling of Authenticity

The feeling of authenticity is unlike any other.  Whether it is you demonstrating authenticity or someone is being completely authentic with you, the feeling is pure and exhilarating.  If we visit my favorite dictionary site again we learn that Authenticity is “real or genuine, not copied or false, true and accurate.”  I cherish the interactions and situations that allow me to be real, genuine, and true to myself. However, the idea of authenticity is as old as the Greek philosophy ‘to thine own self be true’.

“We have to dare to be ourselves, however frightening or strange that self may prove to be.” -Mary Sarton

It takes courage to be authentic. It takes courage to get to know yourself. In order to discover authenticity in yourself, it’s important to start with self-awareness, which must stand over and against the influence of pressure (social, work, family, etc.), and stand as a beacon for consistency.

Dr. Stephen Joseph suggests that we have two levels of authenticity.  Our first level he argues is our “outer authenticity – how well what we say and do matches what is really going on inside us”.  I call this your persona, or more simply the mask you wear.  Our second level is our “inner authenticity – how well we actually know ourselves and are aware of our inner states”.  I often refer to this as our character, your most authentic self.

I get it.  I’m not naive to the fact that sometimes we need to put on an act to simply get by, the old adage “fake till you make it”.  However, too many times organizations ask their leaders to be something other then their authentic self; Or realize too late that the leader’s authentic self is inappropriate for the role of leader because the leader thought the organization wanted something different.

“It was as if someone flashed a mirror at me at my absolute worst.
What I saw was horrifying, but it was also a great lesson.”  -Doug Baker Jr., Chairman and CEO, Ecolab

Being authentic matters a great deal to your organization, your employees, and the customers who are served by them. Faking it till you make it as a leader is bad business. For organizations to function effectively, the need for authentic leaders who encourage employees to perform at their best, step up, and experience the feeling of authentic leadership is greater than ever.

Avolio & Gardner (2005) suggest that authentic leadership promotes an environment in the workplace that is consistent and complimentary to that of emotional intelligence, insofar as authentic leaders are deeply aware of who they are, and in tune with their emotions, they inspire authentic feelings of hope, optimism, resiliency, and positive psychological capital in their followers. This environment undoubtedly leads to increased job performance and greater amounts of engagement, job satisfaction, loyalty, and retention of an organization’s employees.

The feeling of authenticity happens when leaders are not driven toward self-serving interests and instead motivated by a goal not about them but about the greater good. Leaders who understand the feeling of authenticity have the self-knowledge to understand their personal gifts and passions and commit to helping manifest and empower others’ gifts and passions to accomplish a shared goal to benefit others.

So how does a leader become more authentic and promote the feeling of authenticity?  Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic, offers five dimensions of authentic leaders in his book Authentic Leadership, authentic leaders:

  1. Understand their purpose: This is the reason they move into leadership roles. Authentic leaders have a purpose to make a positive difference in the world by showing others the way and helping them reach their potential.
  2. Practice solid values: These define one’s character and help to build trust with others.
  3. Lead with heart: Demonstrate caring and compassion for others.
  4. Establish connected relationships: This is a basic leadership competency. Great leaders admit they cannot do it alone.
  5. Demonstrate self-discipline: Always adhere to values, which help build trust (the foundation for any relationship).

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” –Mohandas Gandhi

To be an authentic leader, you need to have the courage to get out of your own way, to be self-aware, and accept yourself for who you are. The feeling of authenticity is about being  real and genuine to yourself and to others. By closing the gap of your inner and outer authentic self you help grow trust in what you say and what you do, even when the going gets tough (which it always does) have the courage to stay true to your values.



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Impact of Culture on Global Businesses

Like a personality is to an individual, is culture to organizations. Culture impacts every aspect of an organization from its top executives to its newest employee to its latest office environment in India. Organizational Behavior author and Management Professor John Schermerhorn asserts organizational culture is the collective values, beliefs and norms that develop over time and guide the behaviors of those who are part of the organization. Another way to make concrete an abstract concept is to think of culture as the glue that binds and shapes how employees execute the organization’s vision and mission and how customers and communities perceive the organizations value. With the explosion of the global business environment the impact of culture is even greater than before. Therefore organizations that are conducting business in global locations must work to become a local company and integrate the local culture into their business practices. When they succeed they can reap huge rewards, but when they fail they may leave a mark that may be unrepairable to the members of that culture and their own business.

In order for organizations to reap rewards and potentially increase their value, leaders of the organization must focus on becoming a localized organization. When leaders adapt their business practices to match the culture and exert effort to avoid any potential misinterpretations of cultural customs, they are demonstrating a level of respect to the culture and building a foundation of trust. When organizations make the decision to go global, the impact on organizational development (OD) is just as imperative as sales or logistics. In a training capacity, OD should take into consideration language barriers and cultural differences in the context of how content is delivered. Change management also becomes a major element for OD, they must taking into consideration how the culture deals with and delivers change. According to Dr. Dan Denison, Chairman & Founding Partner, Denison Consulting, organizations that value culture and respect members’ participation may generate a return on their investment almost twice as high as those organizations that fail to consider culture.

Organizations that recognize and value culture, especially in a global business environment tend to have exponentially better performance in their respective markets. Organizational culture directly affects performance management in large part due to the climate the culture creates. Dr. Benjamin Schneider, professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, shares that climate focuses around two critical areas 1) how the organization behaves on a daily basis and 2) what the goals are of the organization, these then reveal and make visible how employees understand policies, practices, and rewards. Blake Ashforth of Wayne State University, reinforces that culture, a collective idea of values, beliefs and norms, determines the climate’s policies, practices, and rewards that are considered relevant by its members. An example of this would be if an organizational culture supports a climate of providing a reward, such as a bonus, for a high level of performance. However, in the global business environment, organizations must ‘customize to the culture’ their performance management and rewards, for instance employees in many European countries prefer to receive time off from work, where in Asia employees may prefer additional monies.

For business leaders to continue to be successful in a global environment there are many strategies they can use to develop and manage their organizations. On such strategy this must include the recognition of not just one corporate culture, but their host country culture and that there are many subcultures. Author Guy Saffold suggests that when recognizing the many subcultures, business leaders recognize the varying cultural features spread throughout the organization and their cross-sections of interactions. Saffold adds, it is critical for leaders to understand that culture creates the climate of the organization and climate also acts in a way to modify culture. Claremont Graduate University Professor of Management, Vijay Sathe, shares that with a better understanding of an organization’s culture, management can appropriately enter, deviate from, and change the culture needed to continue their success in the global business environment. While organizational culture remains an abstract concept to many, it’s important for business leaders and employees alike to embrace the culture or find one that is best suited to meet and challenge their professional and personal goals.

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Leaders In Waiting

Last week I had the privilege of chaperoning my daughters 6th grade retreat at Camp Minikani a YMCA camp located North West of Milwaukee.  It was the first time I really had the opportunity to observe my daughter with her peer group, outside of sports teams, something I’ve always been curious about.  What I observed was inspiring and qualities I always knew my daughter possessed but again had not experienced with her.

My daughter Claire is among a small group (at least in her grade level) of young leaders in waiting.  While I observed many of her peers’ leadership behaviors, over the course of the two-day retreat, I of course was most interested in how Claire demonstrated the qualities of a great leader.

Even before we arrived, she studied the packing list and was packed and ready to go three days before hand, demonstrating that daily efforts really connect to larger goals.  Once she arrived and determined her group and cabin, she led them through a review of the events over the next few days.

2014-05-08 10.25.47While her peers looked to her for encouragement, direction, and feedback, she never saw herself as their leader, instead she integrated with them and humbly accepted the same from her peers.  Claire knew her peers strengths and weaknesses and helped to leverage them in turn growing their confidence in their own abilities.  This was evidenced during the high-wire walk.  A fellow peer (boy) was terrified to climb the pole and walk across the cable.  Knowing this she demonstrated to him how to do it and then sat down next to him, empathetic, talked to him encouraging him to overcome his fear.  And, he did.  Claire, as do great leaders, saw her peers are people too and while several other of her peers cajoled or laughed she encouraged.

2014-05-08 09.55.01 (2)Next, during the team building activities with her group I observed Claire’s willingness to be accountable and responsible whenever they did something wrong.  Instead of blaming individual team members for stepping on the wrong log or falling in the lava pit (which was clearly evident), she would ask how can we improve as a group.  Taking responsibility for the groups failures demonstrated the leadership ability to put her self interests aside and help the group succeed together rather than separately as individuals.

2014-05-07 16.15.33 (2)Claire continued demonstrating her leadership qualities, even during their free time.  During a game called Ga-Ga Ball, a game she just learned to play from a fellow classmate, took it upon herself to teach other classmates how to play the game.  Great leaders teach others, motivating and inspiring them to be empowered.  Claire could have been immature like many of the girls and boys at this age, but instead confidently stood in the middle of her peers and taught the entire group to play the game.

There are so many other examples of how she demonstrated the qualities of a great leader such as the courage to stand alone, listening, problem solving, patience, this post could go on forever.  However, the wonderful thing about all of this and what I observed was that Claire has never gone through formal leadership development training or classes.  This is in alignment with my belief that we are all leaders in waiting and that we all have leadership qualities inherent to us, we just need the right people to help maximize that potential in our lives.

I don’t take full credit for Claire’s story.  While I am sure she has picked up some things from me, she has a wonderful mother who has been a great leader, teachers who have demonstrated great leadership qualities, sports coaches who have given her tough feedback, and her own faith in God.

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Mistakes, Errors, and Humility

If you’ve made a mistake in your life, raise your hand…great.  If you’ve learned something from your mistakes, leave your hand up…great!  If you’ve used what you’ve learned from your mistakes to prevent it from happening again, keep your hand up…great!  If you’ve used what you’ve learned from your mistakes and applied it to a whole different situation, great, that’s learning agility.  The Society for Industrial & Organizational Psychology uses the following to define learning agility:

Learning agility refers to a person’s desire and ability to learn from experience, and to then apply their learning to other situations
Generally speaking, people who have a greater ability for learning agility take more control over their own learning by finding opportunities to grow, requesting feedback about their work, and consistently engage in self-reflection and evaluation regarding their work and careers.
So where is this leading you might ask?  Let’s look at mistakes and errors as a starting point.  Mistakes imply a misconception or inadvertence and usually expresses less criticism than an error.  An error suggests a standard or guide exists and not making effective use of this, instead straying from the right course resulting in failure.  Regarding the error, the standard or guide may be written, verbally agreed to, or perhaps an unwritten, unspoken cultural norm that exists.  The key to mistakes and errors is that we learn from them and leverage that experience for other situations.  This requires that we have the courage to take risks, be creative and innovative and know that we might fail.
Which leads me to humility.
Humility by definition is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people : the quality or state of being humble.  If one believes that they are better than other people, they also are inclined to believe that they do not make mistakes or errors.  We all know someone who has never backed down for fear of being perceived as weak or dismissing others ideas just because the it’s not aligned with their ideas for fear of being wrong or dismissing valid performance feedback for fear of actual self-reflection.  To overcome fear Bill Treasurer, author of Courage Goes to Work, proposes a bold antidote: courage.  Courage is not fearlessness, in fact it is being fearful and being able to overcome that fear.  When someone says “that was a humbling experience” they are saying “before that situation I felt I was better than the other people involved and now I don’t.”  They overcame their fears of self-reflection.  When practiced often this can lead to higher learning agility.  So, those people that we know, who fear making mistakes and errors, who lack humility, must learn to have courage first to overcome whatever it is they fear.
Whether we make a mistake, commit an error, or even fail at something, it’s imperative that we recognize we have a choice to learn from the situation.  To actually learn and apply it to a new situation, we must overcome our fears by demonstrating humility and courage.
Nothing happens until something moves.
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Motivation & Culture on Strategy Execution

Imagine an organization that offered more opportunities for delegation, empowerment and motivation as more authority is given to front-line associates by increasing a manager’s span of control.  Imagine an organization that improved communication from within as messages pass efficiently through fewer levels of hierarchy.  Imagine an organization that could remove departmental rivalry and silos if managers truly understood their roles.  Moreover, imagine an organization where both the importance of financial incentives and the selection of performance indicators clearly aligned managers’ reasons to motivate employees to make decisions that boost growth.  Organizations have a myriad of strategy-supportive motivational practices and reward systems to increase employee commitment in achieving strategy execution and make these imaginations a reality. Many researches and topics in text books share that financial incentives commonly top the list of management tools leveraged to increase passionate employee commitment to executing strategy and operational excellence.  However, financial incentives alone are not the most effective.  Managers should leverage a combination of tools to increase employee commitment to strategy execution.

Management Tools for Motivation

Motivation can be complex.  In some cases employee motivations are clear and predictable. In other cases, employee motivations are stirred by deeper forces.  We know motivation is the process that triggers human behavior and moves it in the direction of attaining particular goals.  Both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations are powerful resources for leaders. It is natural for employees to seek recognition and reward, just as it is natural for employees to search for meaning and connection with others.  Some of the most important management tools for increasing motivation, financial incentives aside, include providing attractive fringe benefits and perks, providing for internal promotion opportunities, valuing and respecting employee ideas through acknowledgement and implementation, creating a healthy environment of trust through sharing information, simply providing regular, balanced positive and developmental feedback, and along with a myriad of other tools.  Clearly organizations must find a healthy balance of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards. The good news is that a healthy balance is also a necessary element of a company that has a competitive advantage.

According to Scott Keller and Colin Price (2011) of McKinsey & Company organizations that have strong organizational health have an above average EBITDA margin, are two times more likely to have an above average book value, and are 1.5 times more likely to have an above average net income to sales.  A great example of this can be found a Yahoo!.  As CEO Marissa Meyer took the helm she instituted several changes, one of which transformed the culture at Yahoo! and put the slowly fading internet company back on the competitive advantage street.  Marissa decided to begin offering free meals to their entire campus.  She recognized that many people got work done around meals and that those who brought their lunches were not engaging the conversations around the work and changed the reward systems to increase their organizational health.

The Strong Culture and Strategy

Edgar Schein’s seminal work on corporate culture  goes on to define corporate culture at three levels, first, a collection of artifacts (physical locations, policies, practices, company stories), second, an agreed upon set of espoused values (cultural markers in the form of a mission and values statement), and third, set of often implicit organizational assumptions. The three levels Schein describes makes up the core of how the organization operates and is seen internally and externally.  When an organization has a strong culture clearly aligned with strategy-supportive values, behavioral norms and practices, it significantly increases its competitive advantage by contributing to the influence and effectiveness of their efforts toward strategy execution. A strong culture can also impede strategy execution if not maintained and boundaryless.   This occurs because the culture is deeply rooted in its practices.  Organizations may see a new idea or a new process or a change in how things are done as a threat.  This may cause a strong organizational culture to purge people and process, which may impede strategy execution and make the culture appear change averse and not agile.

While no questions remain that a strong culture can enhance strategy execution, a strong culture that is misdirected must be improved through strong and competent leadership.  A vital component, competent leadership, is required throughout the organization and is essential to redirect culture change efforts towards a strong and balanced culture aligned with good strategy execution.  This invigorates employees, intrinsically deepening their commitment and enhancing their productivity and increases the likeliness of success.

Balance Between Rewards and Punishment

Finding a balance between rewards and punishment is not an easy task for organizations to undertake.  Research suggests organizations must consider features of both because both are necessary.  A key to successful balance will be to implement accountability mechanisms to reward employees meeting and exceeding expectations and punish those who fall outside of expectations.  The method of aligning rewards to the achievement of strategic goals and financial targets is one of the most powerful tools to gain the commitment of employees.   And, while the aforementioned method is one of the most powerful tools, if the method creates a hyper competitive environment it may cause undue stress and actually be counterproductive to strategy execution.  Generating a level of healthy competition will drive greater success in executing the strategy.  Another key to successful balance is to provide more positive than negative consequences.  When there are more positive than negative consequences employees are more motivated and less anxious, more loyal and less flighty, more creative and less protective, and more willing to execute on the strategy of set forth by the organization.

Albert Einstein once said that we cannot keep doing the something over and over again expecting different results, that this was insanity.  Rewarding behavior for one set of outcomes expecting other outcomes might be considered organizational insanity which degrades an organization from successfully executing its strategy.   While values statements are a good place to start to build strong organizational culture, they become simple platitudes unless organizations live them through behaviors.  Organizations that focus on rewarding employees who demonstrate the right behaviors and purge those who do not, will strengthen their ability to execute strategy.  This strategy will require competent managers and leaders to leverage the multitude of motivational tools at their disposal alongside financial incentives to find the right balance between rewards and punishment and align performance goals to drive accountability throughout each layer of the organization.  Employees who are properly rewarded will have little to no motivational constraints, providing the organization with discretionary effort for strategy execution and drive a competitive advantage. 

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Building Loyalty

The deterioration of loyalty in the workplace has been the subject of much debate and concern. Economic recessions make employers appear ruthless when they layoff their workers. It would appear that disloyalty seems to be the norm as employees search persistently for more lucrative or more fulfilling work. Gone are the days of forty-year careers followed by hefty retirements. Regular job transitions are the new reality.

Organizational cultures lacking loyalty are doomed. With too little loyalty, motivation plummets and cynicism lurks and will divide employees from the organizations in which they serve. In a climate of disloyalty, backstabbing, second-guessing, and finger-pointing contaminate relationships and destroy productivity and effectiveness.

What can a leader do to earn the loyalty or his or her people?

For a moment, let’s examine why we’re loyal in the first place. Generally, we’re loyal to companies for three main reasons, 1) the relationships we have in the organization, 2) the values we share in common with the organization, and 3) the sense of fulfillment we derive from our role within the organization. Each of these reasons provides motivation for us to commit ourselves to a job.

This is not new information, but it’s worth it to repeat, people don’t walk away from a job or organization; they walk away from a manager. The best way to build loyalty is by making an effort to know people at a personal level. Find common interests and build bridges into their world. Understand what makes them tick. Reward their successes. Appreciate each person in a way that recognizes and validates his or her unique personality.

People are drawn to the values espoused by an organization, and they will stick by their side because they share those values. It’s critical for an organization to be clear about its values from the hiring process onward. It’s not enough for an organization to profess its values; it must consistently walk in step with them. Organizations should allow their values to be scrutinized, and give employees permission to hold the organization and leadership accountable to them. Leaders must be able to explain any behavior which appears not to align with values, swiftly confront behavior that runs contradictory to values, and seek forgiveness when the organization and its leaders fail to uphold values.

Like it or not, “What’s in it for me?” is the refrain at the forefront of the minds of those you lead. To win loyalty, cast a vision for the future so that each person sees how they will benefit by being part of the team. Be intentional about uncovering each person’s strengths, and, as much as possible, position them where their job duties match their desires. Train, mentor, and stretch every person under your leadership. People respond with loyalty to those who invest in them.

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Defining Leadership for Yourself

How would you define leadership for yourself?

Leadership is about influencing the behavior of individuals and groups, and motivating them towards a common goal. Therefore it is a communication process, one between a leader and follower. Leadership can be a positive force such as Abraham Lincoln or a negative force such as Adolf Hitler.

Leadership is a process, a state-of-mind, a choice one makes to demonstrate. Therefore, leadership is personal and unique to the individual. Leaders who demonstrate a positive force of leadership in their organizations do so by developing their followers potential and increase their quality of life, by building meaningful relationships based upon establishing trust, principles, credibility, respect, setting an example and equally important, giving clear structure and purpose to their followers work. Leaders take a genuine, authentic interest in their followers and work hard to provide meaning and purpose to their followers lives and work.

Leadership is about who you are at your core, your values, and your authentic self. If you know who you are, what you believe in, and what you want to do, then regardless of what you are or are not, you still have to make the choice to lead.

There was never a more prevalent time to demonstrate positive authentic leadership than when I served as a commissioned officer in the United States Army.  Many people that I have encountered since I left the service don’t understand the how leaders are developed in today’s military.  At the core we are taught the same sets of tools that all business leaders are taught, even how we use them and why we use is the same.  We just might have different names or acronyms for the tools.  In the military accomplishing the mission is everything, however, without a mentally and emotionally strong and engaged group of soldiers following you, the mission has a strong likeliness of failure.  The health and welfare of a soldier always came before mission and this requires leaders who are confident in who they are, know what they believe in, and respect for the people who surround them, or simply put a great emotional intelligence ability.  Leaders who were toxic and disregarded their soldiers for the sake of the mission, fail.  Without the will of your followers and the freedom of their choice to follow you, you simply are not a leader.

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Developing a Leadership Philosophy

When I was in military, one of the first things I was taught as a junior officer was to develop a “command philosophy” or leadership philosophy.  Oftentimes a leadership philosophy is exemplified in two key points: the first, let’s your subordinate know what is expected of him or her and, the second, let’s the subordinate know what can be expected of the leader.

In my case my opening statement read “It will serve as the direction and path this company will take as we continue to strive for excellence and prepare for war.  I will lead and motivate you based on 5 principles that I hold true and are the basis for my values and ideals; Leadership, Training, Accountability, Discipline, and Have Fun.” I could go on about each of those 5, but you’d have to Google the terms and acronyms for which the military is famous.

This idea of a leadership philosophy should be no different in organizations.  Leaders should be thinking about what they expect of their team and what their team can expect from them.  At its core a leadership philosophy is the way we see ourselves as leaders.

While your leadership philosophy guides your everyday actions, your behaviors, and your thoughts, it is constantly influenced by external and internal forces. We can change who we are as leaders by simply changing our philosophy of leadership, but it requires that you explore and reflect upon your personal values, assumptions, and beliefs about leadership.  And, the great news about a leadership philosophy is that it can change as you grow in your understanding of yourself within the context of leading.

How have you created or found your leadership philosophy?

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Leadership and Leaders

With hundreds of ways to frame leadership and a leader, we look to break down what we have experienced over the last 15 years.

Leadership is influencing people- by providing purpose, direction, and motivation- while working to achieve the goals and improve the organization.

Purpose: Purpose gives people a reason to do things
Direction: Communicating expectations, prioritizing tasks, and ensuring all understand the standard
Motivation: Motivation gives those they lead the will to do everything they can to achieve, organizational and individual goals

A leader is a person, who influences a group of people towards the achievement of a goal, through values, example, and reflection, so that others are motivated to follow.

We feel that it’s most important to emphasize that a leader is a person. We look to emphasize this because a person, or human, is in fact fallible and can make mistakes. What differentiates a leader is how they respond and react to mistakes.

What say you?

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