Contributed Column

Personnel Points

by Dave Mount, Westaff


A few months ago, I was asked to give a presentation on leadership. You might ask what human resources has to do with leadership and I would answer: “Everything.” Developing and cultivating new leaders is a life’s blood activity in companies, and the human resources function is ground zero for development of new leaders.

At our company’s annual managers’ meeting last fall, where I gave a presentation, there were approximately a dozen managers present and fully nine had come up through the ranks.

When I give a presentation, I first give it a lot of thought. I make random notes in an iPhone app for several days before I open a Power Point document. This time, my notes were on the qualities that make a great leader.

I noted them as I thought of them, and then tested my hypothesis. For example, charisma came up as a quality. I tested it. John Kennedy was extremely charismatic and so was Winston Churchill. But in other great leaders — Dwight Eisenhower, Ulysses Grant, and Angela Merkel, for example — charisma might not be apparent.

I read a description of General Grant the other day by one of his contemporaries and he was described as “stumpy, slouchy, and unmilitary.” This about the man who won the Civil War. So much for charisma.

And so it went. I would come up with a quality, test it against great leaders, and either add it to my growing list of qualities or discard it.

The first and most important quality of a leader is vision. Vision is interesting. Some leaders have a great vision that people get on board with immediately and let it guide their actions. But some have a wrongheaded vision that eventually fails. I knew a leader once whose vision was to make himself rich. In short order, he had no followers.

Vision can be subdivided. My vision may be to make my company the very best company in its industry. A subordinate may subdivide that vision and decide to make his or her department the very best in the company. That is inclusive. But if my vision is to grow the company 25 percent and the subordinate’s vision is to grow the department by 10 percent, the two are incompatible. So while vision may be subdivided, it’s up to the leader to be certain that the whole equals the sum of its parts.

There are several other qualities I have observed in great leaders:

  • Integrity. This means complete honesty — beyond-reproach honesty. This also assumes a certain openness, but always remember that “I can’t discuss that right now” is an acceptable answer.
  • Trust. This follows integrity. A leader with integrity will engender trust, and if employees trust you, they will follow you.
  • Empathy.This means that you understand what employees go through because you have been there yourself.
  • Drive. Leaders drive themselves to succeed, and that drive is contagious.
  • Confidence.When a leader is given a job to do either alone or in a team effort, he or she must have the confidence to be able to do that job and do it well.
  • Passion. I have spoken and written about passion for years. Passion sets us apart from the non-leaders of the world. Love what you do and be passionate about it.

Finally, I used a new saying in my presentation: “Great leaders never have successes; they only have failures.”

This is really not very complicated. When there is a success, the great leader quickly gives credit to his or her team: They made it happen. With failures — and they will happen — the leader shoulders the blame. •

Dave Mount is the founder of Westaff in Burlington.

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