There have been many books written on leadership (including mine), but there is one book that seems to have everything covered. Whilst it is not a simple “two step” approach, by virtue of listing twelve “absolutes” it is nothing if not complete! Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry International and with his experience as such (delivering leadership “solutions” to many clients) he published “The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership” (2012, McGraw Hill). For anyone who wants a “definitive” overview of what a corporate leader should do, there are few guides that are better.
Here’s the twelve absolutes followed by further considerations (“et alors”):
Twelve Absolutes of Leadership
The first “absolute” (of all “absolutes”) is “lead” itself, after which there are six “elements” – purpose, strategy, people, measure, empower and reward. Then there are five “links” (“activities in which a leader must be constantly engaged”) – anticipate, navigate, communicate, listen and learn.
Leadership is about “self-discipline, distinguishing between the urgent and the important so that you can rise above the immediate.” It is not just about reacting – if problems are encountered they should be converted into opportunities shifting from “I to we…”
“Purpose creates change, inspires possibility, and raises the altitude of the organisation.” With long-term vision, “purpose is the constant through all the upsets and setbacks…” Inspired by purpose “others will become more and achieve more as they give more…”
“Strategy, rooted in values and purpose, gives encouragement through times of ambiguity and uncertainty. Strategy without purpose and values is a short-term plan that is directed toward shallow goals.”
“Leaders are facilitators on the sidelines, but they are never removed from the front line. The leader can’t be the star player, scoring all the points. Rather, the leader must be committed to helping others to do their best.”
“Never confuse measurements with data.” The real added value is knowing what the results mean. Besides the insight, action is also needed to be an effective leader. “Measuring, monitoring and metrics matter”, but in the right way…
“Be behind your people in success and in front of them in defeat.” “Empowerment means enabling and equipping others to make decisions. It means delegating authority so that hundreds of people can make thousands of decisions that are directionally in line with your vision.”
“Employees work harder for leaders who demonstrate respect for their work.” “A leader can build his reputation with employees by using purposeful praise – spending a significant amount of time praising workers’ specific efforts and actions, and noticing what they are accomplishing.”
“As a leader, you must always have your focus on the horizon.” Looking to the outside (economy, market, industry, competitors) you need to anticipate you plan of action and countermoves. Defining the present, you ground the reality and look forward (using both your intellect and intuition).
“As a leader, although you do not have a complete view of the future, you must define it through navigation and action – in other words, through decision making. Navigation happens in the moment with adjustments in speed, altitude, and direction as needed.”
“Communication is not merely telling people what you think and what you know. It is a process in which you seek first to understand what others think.” Messages need to be inspiring and “without ownership, your words – whether written or spoken – will have little impact.”
“It is gravitational for communication to cascade down, but it is far harder for it to bubble up. As a leader you must create freedom of speech through an information-sharing culture.” The “tone at the top” has to be one of listening for this to happen.
“To be an effective leader, you must have and demonstrate learning agility – the ability to learn from experience and to apply that learning to new or first-time situations.” “Distinguish your leadership not only by what you know, but also by your open and curious mind… Learning never ends!”
Here we are talking about “corporate” leadership and however “asset-based”, “long-term” or “certain” the business, actually the whole “play” is in a dynamic which can be very suddenly impacted by changes in customer and competitor behaviors, the economy, the market, the industry, technology etc, etc. In other words, the “play” is in a permanent dynamic and change is inevitable. My vote for the most important “absolute” of leadership is therefore “learning”; moreover, Korn Ferry themselves say that this is the greatest predictor of success for any potential leader! Keep learning!