John Spence on Life and Leadership, Pt. 2
Thanks to everyone who left their personal top 3 leadership qualities on yesterday’s post. You generated a record number of comments for Leadership Freak. Click here for part 1.
Next Wednesday, Aug. 11, I’m posting my review of John’s book, “Awesomely Simple.” If you leave a comment next Wednesday you could win one of 3 signed copies he’s giving away.
And now part 2 of “John Spence on Life and Leadership.”
I’d like to continue by focusing on leadership qualities for a minute. What top three qualities should every leader have?
This is a very challenging question, as I believe there are many qualities and skills needed to be an effective leader, but if you force me down to just three my list would be:
Character: first and foremost every leader must act with integrity, honesty and impeccable character in all aspects of their life. This is a non-negotiable minimum standard.
A great team player: To be successful today and into the future as a leader, you must be an expert at building and sustaining high-performance teams. Let’s face it; the speed of innovation, changes in the marketplace, economic pressures, and the torrent of information that bombards each of us daily… makes it clear to me that it is impossible to succeed alone. Effective leaders must be masters of collaboration.
Superb communicator: I am not talking about being able to make moving and motivating speeches, what I believe the qualities of an excellent communicator are include: highly attuned and focused listening, empathy and desire to deeply understand others, and the ability to ask just the right question… at just the right time.
Before I let you go I’ve got to say I love your book “Awesomely Simple.” What motivated you to write it?
I have spent the last 20 years of my life dedicated to learning everything I could about how to run a successful business. As part of that process I have read a minimum of 100 business books a year and listened to upwards of 30 or more audio books… every year since 1989.
I’ve also had the great fortune to work shoulder to shoulder with some of the best and worst leaders in nearly 300 companies around the world. That does not make me a guru, but it has afforded me the very unique perspective of what makes a business successful and what runs one into the ground.
And once I stood back and took the time to carefully study everything I had learned, I realized there was a very clear “pattern” of key strategies that all of the best companies seem to focus on as a foundation for building sustainable success. I wrote Awesomely Simple to share that pattern in a clear, concise and easy-to-understand way… AND give people the tools and methods necessary for implementing these ideas in their business right away.
I was simply tired of seeing people and businesses struggle and wanted to help as much as I could.
Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts with me and the LF community.
Now that John has laid out his top three leadership qualities, what do you think? Did he nail them? If your top three differ with his, can you explain why you chose yours?
John will be online to interact with you. Enjoy the conversation.
How could anyone argue or dispute with John’s attributes to making an exemplary leader. leadership is not a granted title like manager. Hence, we have not much choice then to speak of the behavioral context and it’s impact unto the quality outcomes like integrity, character, teamwork, etc.
As for me, I would concur with John version, except that I would park Courage (more of moral) and compassion under the “communicator” and “character” label. Once, I was so blinded with my tasks orientation that I lost concentration being a good communicator. I thank my staff for bringing me out of my shell!
It is interesting that John had single out Teamwork. I would have thought that teamwork was a “given” part of ALL leadership. I mean, without people, you have nothing to lead. And, would it not make common sense that each and everyone in the team are there to win ‘collectively”. Or am I wrong to assume so?.
The thing I don’t is, “how come we still have business models operating preaching teamwork on one hand and going on to “reward” individualism, on another. How many business out there work to reward TEAMS, similar to what Egon Zehnder International does?. This is one oxymoronic practice I just can’t fathom.
Any thoughts, John?
Yuvarajah — Wonderful comments – thank you! What I am about to say might come as a shock to you – but in more than 20 years of doing leadership and team building training for clients all over the globe – MOST leaders are NOT good team members!! Actually, very few are even excellent team leaders. Unfortunately I think we toss the word “team” around far too often when what we really mean is “working group.” I would guess that only about 10% of the “teams” I have worked with were real “high-performance teams.” I am not being arrogant in any way – it is just that the requirements for building and sustaining an exceptionally successful team are more daunting then most people realize. With that said, It has been my experience that the leader who can not only lead, but also be a highly effective MEMBER of the team – as a peer and partner – doing equal amounts of work – handing off the reigns of team leadership when appropriate… is very rare. Most of the leaders I have encountered were not able to shift from “Leader” mode – to super effective “Collaborator” mode very well – as they just could not take of the “I am in charge here” hat. There is far too much to discuss on this topic to cover it here – but it might be the subject of another fun conversation here on LeadershipFreak in the future.
Yuvarajah & John,
Glad you all riffed on what seems to be a potential paradox of individual versus team. Would it work to see them as overlapping skill sets? The outstanding leader is the one that can do both well and may be a rare commodity indeed.
To focus on a variation of teams, in nature, we have the flying geese. We all know this one. The lead goose has the hardest job, faces the most resistance, yet keeps on. Those in his ‘team’ support him as best they can by honking encouragement and keeping the formation tight. Once the leader needs a break (all leaders do) someone else steps up and takes the lead. This is a team.
There is a sports analogy for the team/individual amalgam.
Ultimate disc may be the quintessential athletic endeavor, that successfully synthesizes the highest potentials of individualism while still operating within a team construct of non-stop, ongoing transitions. When both are executed beyond expected ‘norms’, the team and the individual both succeed.
The individual can push him/herself to the maximum of physical, mental and emotional ability, however, if the team is not functioning well, not communicating well, it is for naught. Eye contact, body movement, gestures, all non-verbals have to be read in an instant. Even if the team is functioning at a solid rate, it may win sometimes, yet without that extra individual effort at the right moment, they do not win championships.
(And of course this is the only team competitive sport that, even at the elite, international level, is self-regulated. No refs. This is because there is an overriding value to ‘the spirit of the game’ (respect) a tradition of ultimate sportsmanship that intrinsically places the responsibility for fair play on the players rather than an extrinsic force.
So what does ultimate disc have in common with leadership and this thread…character (respect, fair play), team construct and communication all keys that have been mentioned.
If I condense my answers from yesterday into briefer words, they are: 1) humility, 2) confidence, and 3) a spiritual foundation. Yours are 1) character, 2) team player, and 3) communicator. I think your three (and many, many of the “sets of three” put forth yesterday) are good ones. You and I both said “spiritual foundation” and “character,” which I think are very closely integrated. My only challenge with the fact that we both put that in our top three is that I do believe some people have effectively led (at least short term) without an ounce of spiritual foundation and with questionable character. Meaning, they may not be someone who will impact the person they are leading for the long term, but it is conceivable that for a period of time they will teach the person being led valuable lessons that will make them a better person and help them contribute more to the organization. Henry Ford comes to mind and one or two US presidents. I will have to get this book; look for a comment from me (and some crossed fingers!) next Wednesday.
I appreciate you stopping in today to add substance to the conversation.
Someone w/o character “may not impact the person for the long-term.” I suspect you meant that to mean they may not have “positive” impact for the long term. The leaders of Enron continue to negatively impact their followers. If you know what I mean.
I also wonder about those leaders how may not have had sterling character but still have major positive influence. Is John Kennedy in that category? I’m not up on all the political stuff but he seems to have had a positive impact and he doesn’t have a reputation for marital fidelity. Maybe I am out of line on this one…
I will say, character by itself is not enough to lead. The guys on the maintenance crew may have sparkling character but they may not know how to lead. (NO offence intended)
Paula is a featured blogger for Leadership Freak. Read her bio at:
That’s an important distinction you pointed out, Dan. And you are correct. I have personally had leaders who were not people I wanted to emulate as far as their personal integrity, but who did provide a focused, task-related approach that got a specific task done and often accompanied by a positive (if short term) esprit de corps.
I am so thrilled to be a Leadership Freak featured blogger; I am looking forward to extending the dialogue(s).
Trying to identify the top 3 qualities of leadership is almost like trying to identify the best leadership style. Nevertheless, I think John has chosen well.
I like the 3 C’s Bill Hybels uses to recruit potential leaders – Character, Competence & Chemistry. These are three broad categories that capture a number of important leadership qualities, including the three that John has identified.
I also enjoyed very much all of the posts yesterday. I agree with Paula that a lot of the “threes” were very much inter-related. Integrity goes hand in hand with Character; Reliability could easily reflect on value with regards to Teamwork and Humility very much is necessary to be an effective communicator. Just to elaborate on communication; I believe it is not enough to just communicate in the simple sense of the term more importantly is do we Connect! Thanks for all of your insight and I look forward to reading your book. Regards, Al
It seems that both Leadership Freak and Awesomely Simple are the 21st century version of tribal knowledge being passed along. Thank you both!
Doc – you are too kind!!! It is an honor to be working on this with all of you.
This sounds like a great book. And thanks for the interview Dan. I totally agree with the 3 characteristics John outlines. I can imagine how difficult it would bento serve with a leader who was void of them.
Scott — I am VERY happy to say the my publisher – Jossey-Bass – has already asked me to start on a new book on this topic. I will be working on it through the end of this year and welcome ANY input, ideas, suggestions and information that you or others here on LeadershipFreak might like to offer. I plan to spend the next 4 months collection more data and stories and will start writing in the winter. I am excited to write about what I believe it will take to be an effective and successful leader of today and the future (and by the way – I think a big part of the new “leadership requirements” list is different from what it was just 5 years ago!!!). I hope to hear back from several of you on this – and believe me – everything we have all added to this post will be part of my thinking – so thank you all very much for your help!!
I like the context in the interview. It is very interesting to know
top three leadership qualities from different people. It is debatable issue and each person ought to have different quality. It is usually based on personal experience, career journery, cultural environment, background and ones upbringing. I believe the other top three qualities of a leader are trasparency, honesty and responsibility. Leader has to be transparent in nature, character and personality. He has to be honest with people, organisation and society in all his dealings and transactions. He should know his responsibility and disharge it honestly and in transparent manner. When a leader is responsible towards his duty and obligation, he automatically becomes ethical and trustworthy. Being honest and transparent enhances his credibility with all stakeholders and society.
The other three qualities of a leader should be – selflessness, sensitivity and servie.
Ajay – very well said — and I believe by this point in the post we are all seeing two key things:
1.There are a lot more than just three essential “qualities” required to be a truly effective and successful leader.
2.No matter how many qualities – they are all inter-related. One connects to the next… and the next… and the next. Great leaders – who have a sustained positive impact on their followers – realize that they must be a living example of what they would hope their followers would be – in all aspects of their life. That is perhaps why one of the most important “essential qualities” of true leadership is: self-awareness. The willingness, courage and ability to look in the mirror first and embrace the notion that in order to be a great leader of others — you must first be a great leader of yourself!
Dan, you raise an interesting question for which hundreds of thousands of books and articles have been written since World War II. John draws from over 300 companies he has worked with over the years, so it is hard to argue one way or the other with respect to his three choices.
When I think about John’s choices, I try to apply these attributes to CEOs who have been in the media recently rather than debate the attributes (e.g., Tony Hayward, Bernie Madoff, Stanley O’Neal, Robert Nardelli, Jimmy Cayne, Martin Sullivan, Robert Rizzo and on and on). John gives a good measuring stick to assess leaders we work with, for and against.
Character, A Great Team Player, and Superb Communicator – In my view this adds up to a person who is very high in “Interactive Power” motivation with a bit of “Achievement” motivation sprinkled in.
John, I look forward to reading your book. Thanks for the interaction.
Thanks for sharing a wealth of knowledge in such a simple way! I agree with John’s comments as well. Character means so much to me in a leader. However, no leader is perfect. I agree with Dan’s previous comments regarding former Pres. John Kennedy. Former Pres. Bill Clinton was a great leader for our nation despite his infidelity too! Clinton continues to serve people in a positive manner and even has a school in Little Rock for others to follow as leaders in public service. Both of these Presidents “connected” with their audiences well. I feel much can be learned from the mistakes of others. John, I like the comment about “seeking to deeply understand”. I appreciate that quality in a leader……shows maturity and respect for different perspectives. I’m definately interested in reading this book! I’ve enjoyed reading all comments thus far. Looking forward to your write-up on the book Dan!
Life is full of challanges and one has to face it , you can not leave without facing the challange otherwise your are gone .Its individual perception about the life how he takes it.the moment you face the challange the leadership in you comes out and you start leading your life .
Integrity , honesty and and character are the inbuilt quality of leader.
he has a vision a well defined ambition and target , he try for it and create an example for generations to come , Iwould like to mention Mahatama Gandhi , Nelson Mandela who have driven the life of millions of people across the world . leaders are of two types first who drive themselves , second who drive themselves as well drive the entire society and world to a social cause and socal benifit.
Leaders always lead the life from the front and set an example.
You nailed it — those are my top 3 “Character”, “Team Builder”, “Superb Communicator” — with emphasis on the word “superb”.
IF we could add one more (OK with you Dan? LOL) — I would say:
Visionary with keen awareness of when to take risks and when to hold.
All the best,
Kate — thank you so much for adding your thoughts to the conversation — I agree that Vision is critical – which was so well demonstrated in the “Leadership Challenge” by Kouzes and Posner — who found that the four most important things a follower looks for in a leader they would “willingly follow” were:
1. Honesty ( the top at 89%)
2. Forward-looking (Visionary)
In other words… people want a leader who will tell them the truth – has a clear vision of where they are trying to take their followers — has the skills to get them there successfully – and is excited about going on the journey with them! Well, I think that sums it up pretty well!
About the only quality that I can suggest I have as a leader, but it has served me well – curiosity. This trait takes me into places and conversations and ideas that make people want to follow – it’s kind of inspire by example I guess.
John — wonderful to have you join the conversation — I admire your work a great deal — and I love you point — curiosity is a superb quality for a leader to embody!
Excellent conversation and great points in the post as well as in the comments.
In my view, leadership starts with influence and hence, top 3 qualities of a leader according to me are: 1) Envisioning possibilities 2) Ability to truly connect with people 3) Ability to teach, coach, guide and mentor.
When leaders think possibilities, they create a vision for themselves and with ability to connect, they align people to their vision. When they do that, character, humility, integrity, transparency and ability to build trust become very crucial qualities that define a leader.
Loved John’s point on curiosity!
I feel that different people will follow different characteristics in a leader. I also feel that there must be an overall ‘set’ of characteristics, but each leader will have a different order in their prime characteristics. That’s human nature, I guess?
I am fascinated (or as John pointed out – Curious) as to which character set is the more compelling, is it those leaders with a strong moral character set, or a strong competence in their field, or something else?
All good leaders have all of these characteristics, but never the same mix or strength in each area, it seems.
I migrate towards leaders with strong positive personal ethics and competence, as opposed to those with “Character”. Bonnie & Clyde had character – but very little ethics.
My observations (and this is my personal view only) say that people follow moral-leaders because they are inspired by the person, whereas, people follow competence-leaders because they are inspired by the vision. And I’m sure the same applies for other types of leader. I’m also sure I’m hinting at another trait here too: eloquent communication.
I think it comes down to the connection of trust, what makes you trust someone, or what aspect of a leader compels you to trust, and subsequently follow, them – I think this is different for different people.
I’d like to hear your views on this.
I very much enjoyed these articles, Dan/John. I love to gather the insight of respectable leaders. Thanks for a fascinating insight.
Integrity, discipline, and humility are the top three qualities that make a great, enduring leader, in my opinion. After motivation, enthusiasm, knowledge, and domination wear off integrity, discipline, and humility will persevere.
A person of integrity does what they say and says what they mean. Humility rises when they make a mistake, own up to it, and accept responsibility. Discipline is necessary for the first two. Discipline is the foundation of determination, persistence, and optimism.
Leaders that lack integrity, discipline, and humility breed followers that are dishonest, disorganized, and egotistical. Not the picture of a great team. But one who leads with integrity, discipline, and humility, builds a winning, lasting team of the same character.