When defining leadership excellence, who better to turn to, for passionate but pithy advice, than Tom Peters: “The definition of excellence in leadership is the person who is completely there for you.” Peters asks you to imagine having waited six months for that meeting with Mr/Ms Big. You finally get into the room for the five minutes you’ve been given, and… he/she looks at you but doesn’t see you.
So how do you begin to apply Peters’ definition? He quotes Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, who proposed a short “Ph.D” in Leadership as follows:
“Make a list of all the things done to you that you abhorred. Don’t do them to others. Ever.
Make another list of things done to you that you loved. Do them to others. Always.
A leader who is “completely there for you” will be saying very different things to one who isn’t. UK management thinker and writer, John Adair, has some good suggestions on the importance of choosing the right words. Managers wanting to be leaders would do well to consider:
The 6 most important words… “I admit I made a mistake.”
The 5 most important words………. “I am proud of you.”
The 4 most important words… “What is your opinion?”
The 3 most important words… “If you please.”
The 2 most important words… “Thank you.”
The 1 most important word… “We.”
The least important word…….”I.”
Simple words to say? Well perhaps, but they’re easier said than done! How often do you hear them used by leaders? As a leader how often do you use them? As Stephen Covey puts it, “you can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into.”
Think about these words and, like Peters says, you’ll be 99% there. Who knows… put them into practice, cultivate the right habits, and you just might get all the way to being an excellent leader. Defining leadership excellence may be simple, but becoming an excellent leader is another matter. As Aristotle pointed out:
“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”
As astute as the modern gurus are, we shouldn’t ignore history’s shining examples of leadership excellence.
Warren Bennis, a leading thinker on leadership, tells an old story about the difference between the two 19th-century British political leaders, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. It was said that, when you had dinner with Gladstone, you left feeling he was the wittiest, most brilliant, most charming person on earth. But when you had dinner with Disraeli, you left feeling that you were the wittiest, most brilliant, most charming person on earth.
No prizes for guessing which of these Peters and Bennis would use to define leadership excellence.