What Leaders Want

an article by Barb McEwen

A while back, Fast Company published an article about General Electric's then CEO Jeff Immelt who had a checklist of Things Leaders Do. At that time he reinforced theses principles when he taught up-and-coming leaders. You might be interested to hear what they are and to read my comments in italics below.

1Personal Responsibility
You lead today by building teams and placing others first. It is not about you.

Comment: As a leader, one of your primary responsibilities is to develop your direct reports -- this is where succession planning begins. It is up to you to know each of your team members well, understand their ambitions, know where their talents can be enhanced and see that they are encouraged to embrace personal growth. Leadership is about your ability to get the best from your people, not only for the organization but because you care about your team. Otherwise, you shouldn't be there.

2Simplify Constantly
Every leader needs to clearly explain the top three things the organization is working on. If you can't, then you're not leading well.

Comment: Today so many organizations are operating in a frenzied environment. It is up to their leaders to condense and focus on what is most important - not only for immediate results but also for the longevity and success of the company. It is impossible to support the concept that ‘everything is important'. If it is, then something is drastically wrong and someone has a misconception of what leadership is all about.

3 Understand Breadth, Depth and Context
The most important thing I've learned since becoming CEO is context. It's how your company fits in with the world and how you respond to it.

Comment: This ties nicely into number two. How is what your organization is focusing on, helping it not only to succeed but also to grow? It is essential for you as a leader to know exactly how your role and the role of your team fits into this context.

4The Importance of Alignment and Time Management
At the end of every week, you have to spend your time around the things that are really important: setting priorities, measuring outcomes and rewarding them.

Comment: Good leaders start their day knowing their peak performance times and scheduling those things that are most important into those time slots. It is imperative that you learn to manage your energy highs and low in addition to managing your time. Smart leaders allocate uninterrupted time each day for priority tasks and understand the benefits of handling routine matters into low energy times. Delegation, delegation becomes a theme song.

5 Leaders Learn Constantly and Teach
A leader's primary role is to teach. People who work with you don't have to agree with you, but they have to feel you are willing to share what you've learned.

Comment: At your level of the organization everyone is smart and smart leaders are not only proponents of life-long learning, they teach and mentor others. They are willing to share their experiences, give advice and help other succeed. Good leaders understand the importance of not only respecting each of the players but valuing their contribution.

6 Stay True to Your Own Style
Leadership is an intense journey into yourself. You can use your own style to get anything done. It's about being self-aware. Every morning, I look in the mirrow and say, ‘I could have done three things better yesterday.

Comment: Self-improvement in leaders, not only looks at how tasks could have been done better, but also is willing to examine personal motives to identify ways to personally improve. Could you listen more attentively, be more patient with those less experienced, be more understanding of the challenges others face, or simply be more present?

7Manage by Setting Boundaries with Freedom in the Middle
The boundaries are commitment, passion, trust, and teamwork. Within those guidelines, there's plenty of freedom. But no one can cross those four boundaries.

Comment: Setting personal boundaries are essential. However, it is wise to recognize that since you have set your boundaries that others also have the right establish theirs. If we want others to support our boundaries we must be open to respecting theirs.

8Stay Disciplined, Detailed and Focused
Good leaders are never afraid to intervene personally on things that are important. Michael Dell can tell you how many computers were shipped from Singapore yesterday.

Comment: As a leader you need to have confidence in your team. Part of building their competency is to let them learn through experience. To continuously micro-manage will cause resentment, an abdication of their responsibility and loss of commitment to you, the team and the organization. However, you are ultimately accountable. Your obligation is to know when and how to intervene. Examples might include when something unusual happens, a safety issue occurs, or customer satisfaction is at stake. Remember, these are teaching moments. At times such as these reinforce how things need to be handled. Developing your team lightens your load but also builds team spirit and reinforces your expectation that they can handle whatever comes along.

9Leave a Few Things Unsaid
I may know an answer, but I'll often let the team find its own way. Sometimes, being an active listener is much more effective than ending a meeting with me enumerating 17 actions.

Comment: This is profound since too many leaders believe it is up to them to do a high proportion of the talking. In reality it is about getting others to contribute - take ownership of results. In coaching we call this the "Tell v/s Ask Syndrome". Good leaders learn to ask open-ended questions that enable others to participate. Getting buy-in from your team encourages them to do their best and then your job is to be supportive of their initiatives.

10Like People
Today, it's employment at will. Nobody's here who doesn't want to be here. So, it's critical to understand people, to always be fair, and to want the best in them. And when it doesn't work, they need to know it's not personal.

Comment: We know today's market place has changed considerably since then. We also know there are people out there working in places they'd rather not be but hopefully that is not in your organization! People do their best when they work for people they like. Everyone - it doesn't matter at what level they are in the company - they want to be appreciated and given challenging work. If dissatisfaction exists it is a leader's responsibility to be part of the solution.


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Barb McEwen is a Master Executive Coach and Organizational Strategist who works with corporations and individuals worldwide. As founder of 20/20 Executive Coaching and 20/20 Executive Women she has spent the past twelve years working with high potential individuals to help them hone their leadership and management skills. Contact Barb at