Lead the Way

Looking Ahead

Though some executives and management experts think the current era offers a perfect chance to reassess leadership, many believe that nasty old traits still remain. "Despite all the problems and scandals, American leaders are still too reactive, not proactive enough," says Chowdhury. "When I counsel executives, too many say that they will deal with a problem or an ethical issue if it comes up, rather than putting control systems into place now."

Other experts argue that the myth of the charismatic leader continues to plague corporate America and the country in general. "Business is cyclical, and once the economy turns up again, we will probably see a celebration of overly aggressive leaders again," says Lipman-Blumen. Still others believe that, despite the downturn, too many leaders of small and large businesses do not tolerate failure or seek out mentors who could help them deal with failure. "Having a mentor is absolutely critical, because you need someone there, outside the main structure of your company, to listen to your problems and provide realistic advice," says Koplovitz.

But perhaps the biggest problem, many say, is that the wave of scandals has made Americans so cynical that promising executives do not receive the support they need to blossom into terrific leaders. "Americans now are more realistic about what leaders can do, which is good," says Chowdhury, "but if you lose your hope in leadership, then you will never have the popular support that really great leaders must draw on."

Got What It Takes?
If you want to follow the footsteps of great leaders, you have to:
  • Be able to communicate with a wide audience. Successful modern leaders can communicate their message and style to a diverse range of employees. "In the old days, businesses developed a 'company man' who was like a carbon copy of other employees," says Jean Lipman-Blumen, professor of organizational behavior at the Peter F. Drucker Graduate School of Management in Claremont, California. "But today, the work force is incredibly varied, and a leader has to deal with hundreds of types of 'company' men and women."
  • Be willing to make unpopular decisions. Communicating with your employees does not mean you always have to please them. A successful leader sometimes has to make unpopular decisions. Jim Collins notes that Lincoln's decision to use force to keep the country together, and to enact martial law in many areas, was very unpopular with many segments of the public.
  • Be determined to make sure your messages get through. A successful leader does not just define a vision for his or her company and then communicate it in a few statements. "Whatever definition you are giving to your company, whatever direction you want to lead it in, you have to make sure your employees internalize what you say," says Michael Useem, director of the Wharton Center for Leadership and Change. "Make your words stick."
  • Create and implement quality systems and methods that will survive. "Many people can be great leaders of a company, but then they spend no time worrying about succession or leaving any systems in place for when they retire or leave," says Subir Chowdhury, author of The Power of Six Sigma (Dearborn Trade), a leadership guide. "Then what will happen after you are gone?"

« Previous 1 2 3 Page 4

Like this article? Get this issue right now on iPad, Nook or Kindle Fire.

This article was originally published in the March 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Lead the Way.

Loading the player ...

Tim Ferriss on Mastering Any Skill

Ads by Google

Share Your Thoughts

Connect with Entrepreneur

Most Shared Stories