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The one characteristic that sets leaders apart

We’ve all read the business books that explain “formal” and “informal” leaders within organizations and that leaders exist within all levels of an organization. One characteristic I think that distinguishes a leader from the pack is that they view  their area of influence through an “ownership lens”.

A leader  takes “ownership” of an issue (idea, solution set, etc.) and will see it through to completion – whether good or bad. If you’ve been in business for any number of years you’ll know that it is a rare solution set that is all good or all bad. Very few solutions fit into a neat and tidy box because there are always trade offs. Sometimes a “good” solution set has some “bad” mixed in and vice-versa. There is no perfect. However, whatever the final solution, the leader who exhibits ownership never flinches from their responsibility to own the outcome.

Before you go all “Rambo” and start thinking you’re alone in the corporate wilderness – let me be clear – ownership doesn’t mean going it alone. In fact, it means quite the opposite. So relax, you don’t have to be Rambo after all. (Which is a relief because I don’t do well sleeping in tents. My husband got me to go camping, once. But that’s for another story.)

Leadership requires that you:

  • Work within your team and your sphere of influence for the good of the organization, not necessarily for yourself
  • Build consensus across the organization
  • Own the facts so you can explain the details without editorializing or sensationalism
  • See the issue to its conclusion
  • Become the advocate for solving the issue (decision, solution set, et al.)

A long time ago I had a boss who didn’t always take credit for our team’s solutions. I once asked her why. She said, “Don’t kid yourself, I own the outcome but it’s not necessary for me to always be in the spotlight. It’s far more important that the team is. It’s about doing the right things right because they are right.” Altruistic? Perhaps. But working for her changed my view of leaders forever.

Being a leader and embracing ownership means you won’t always get to credit for the answer. It means you are willing to not be the center of attention. It means you are willing to work behind the scenes content in the knowledge that the “right things are done rightly”. It means you own the solution even if your name doesn’t appear on it. But like my old boss knew, your fingerprints will be all over that solution.

Lots of people are good at talking about problems. How good are you at quietly stepping up and fixing them? Own what’s yours and then some. Do the right things right because they are right.

Be intentional

Empowerment Is More Than a “Buzzy” Word

There can be a misunderstanding regarding the concept of empowerment.

* Some think it means people want to participate. However, people who want to participate are engaged, not empowered.

* Some think it means fully letting go of the decisions. However, that means delegating authority, not empowerment.

* Some think once you empower someone, you are not allowed to disagree. However, that means disengagement or apathy on the part of leadership.

* Some think empowerment means you get to pick the goals and targets. However, empowerment is about how you deliver the metrics, not what the metrics are.

Empowerment is teams being accountable for delivering results. When the team fully owns its failures and is actively finding ways not to fail in the future, then the team has fully embraced being empowered.

Many want to be empowered (read: “not have someone tell them what to do”); few want to except empowerment (read: “be held accountable for the results”).

Empowerment requires trust that the job will get done. Trust requires accountability when the job does not get done. Accountability requires continuous improvement to ensure today is better than yesterday. Continuous improvement delivers world class competitive operations.

Empowerment does not mean you are always right. Empowerment means you are constantly, with energy seeking to be better today than you were yesterday.

Be intentional

Seeking New Perspectives? Apply Within.


Nothing beats a fresh perspective. (Except this with a cup of coffee… perhaps?)

Fourth in the series — “seeking different perspectives”*

I like the show Elementary – a modern day version of the classic Sherlock Homes. He is all about using deduction to solve a mystery or problem. One of the things he does when stuck is to look at the clues from a different perspective. Sometimes standing on his head, sometimes laying down. When asked, he simply states he is seeking a new angle to the problem.

The third trait that the McKinsey study found that successful leaders did well was “seeking different perspectives”. Like Sherlock, good problem solvers always strive to see their problems from different angles, coming at the issue at hand in a new way. The age old saying “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results” rings true to successful leaders.

So what really makes “seeking different perspectives” a trait that separates good from great leaders”? I think it is the “seeking”. It did not say “try different perspectives”, “find different perspectives”, or even ” use different perspectives”. Nope, the word is “seek”.

The verb seek, according to the dictionary is to:
: search for (someone or something)
: try to find (someone or something)
: ask for (help, advice, etc.)
: try to get or achieve (something)

When you seek, you are actively engaging different people on you team. You are seeking input, maybe even if it is not a problem yet. Seeking perspective on current state, future concerns, or just seeking a different perspective on feedback.

While I do not recommend standing on your head, I do suggest finding different ways to change how you are processing the world around you. How can you drive improvement where you see none? Where can you eliminate waste, when from your perspective there is none? Seek.

“Seeking different perspectives” is partly engaging your team to see and drive improvements.

Be intentional


*Article|McKinsey Quarterly
Decoding leadership: What really matters
January 2015 | byClaudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan

Is “How” leading your “Where”?

Third of our five part series on Keys to Leadership Success – Operate with strong results orientation


Camelback Mountain. 1,264 feet straight up. Know your climb ahead.

One could say that the point of leading is to take someone or a group somewhere. If you have nowhere to go, there really is no leading involved.

The second key trait in our series is “operate with strong results orientation”. I translate this to mean know what destination you are leading to and focus on winning the war. In the world of manufacturing, finance, marketing, business at large – disruption, chaos, and minor set-backs happen in the micro. As leaders, we must keep the flag of the macro goal held high in the air for the team to see through the cloud of the moment. We must always be personally operating with the mind set of delivering results – sustainable results. Leading your team with clarity of the goal means understanding the trade-offs necessary to win the war, not just the battle.

Also, personally, you not only have to be clear in your mind what results you want and you must be clear on what is acceptable behaviors in obtaining those results. Do you value the how as much as the deliverable? As a leader, you are accountable for the cultural foundation that results are based on.


Not quite at 1,264 feet yet, but I say celebrate the small victories along the way. (And yes, that is the trail…)

If you drive winning the battle at all costs, you will lose the war. It is possible to achieve the business goal AND achieve it with the values the company espouses. It might be harder, but as a leader it is your actions that results are really based on — both for business goals and for foundational values (there are no short cuts allowed with the “how”, integrity is black & white).

Be intentional

*Article|McKinsey Quarterly
Decoding leadership: What really matters
January 2015 | byClaudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan

What’s Your Key to Unlocking Leadership?

Where's Your Key?

Where’s Your Key?

Across the country, millions of dollars are spent on teaching people about leadership. MBAs, corporate training, self-help seminars and conferences all seem to sell the magic elixir for being a great leader. However the foundational question is – what really works? What are the key, most important skills that make a leader successful. Instead of learning / mastering 100 things, or keeping up with “the flavor of the month” – what is the secret key that unlocks successful performance.

We all want to get better, to grow. But we have a limited amount of time and money to invest in our development. Can someone please just tell us what really works?

McKinsey Quarterly shared information on a recent scientific study that targeted just this question. What they reported was “leaders in organizations with high-quality leadership teams typically displayed 4 of the 20 possible types of behavior; these 4, indeed, explained 89 percent of the variance between strong and weak organizations in terms of leadership effectiveness”.*

Whether you are in an informal leadership role or a formal one, focusing on four known traits that can change you from weak to strong is a great place to start focusing as the new year starts.

The traits are…

  • Be supportive
  • Operate with strong results orientation
  • Seek different perspectives
  • Solve problems effectively

Over the next four weeks we will explore some thoughts on these proven action oriented traits. My challenge to you is… as you go through leadership situations this next week, think about how you applied these four action oriented traits.

Be intentional,


*Decoding leadership: What really matters, January 2015 | byClaudio Feser, Fernanda Mayol, and Ramesh Srinivasan