From The Sport & Peace Innovation Blog: What Is a Leader?

At PPI, we pride ourselves on our commitment to organizational learning. One of the tools we use to do this is an internal online network and resource library, curated by our Technical Assistance program, which includes a weekly blog on a topic we think could be relevant to our entire team. Today, we’re giving you a glance behind the curtain at one recent blog post from Brian Cognato, the Technical Assistance Program Director.

As part of our training program in Yemen this February, the project trainers, Andrew Gordon and Julie Younes, and I went back through as many old PPI materials as we could find looking for resources to borrow. One result of that process is our new Content Library, which is an attempt to organize and share all of those resources organization-wide.

Another result is that we stumbled onto quite a lot that could be fun to revisit here as a group. One such document was called “What Is a Leader?” We couldn’t find which PPI site used it first, or who introduced it to the organization, but we were able to find its original source – oddly enough, it was an article from 2004 in Remodeling Magazine, a trade magazine for American house developers and remodelers. Seriously. It’s a ten-point list of attributes for effective leadership. Take a look:

  • Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is learned just like other skills, but only if you invest the time and effort. Managing and leading are not the same thing. Being a good manager is not, on its own, a guarantee that someone will become a good leader.
  • Leaders must walk the talk. Leaders not only make the rules, they must follow those rules. This is harder than you think. Take sales, for example. Most business leaders are good salespeople, and good salespeople often break the rules. But you earn your team’s heightened respect when you make a deliberate effort to creatively accomplish your goals without violating or corrupting policies you put into place.
  • Leaders cultivate trust. Good leaders know that trust is not a right. It must be earned through honesty and consistency; by being proactive, not reactive, in looking out for everyone’s interest; and by keeping promises.
  • Leaders continually invest in their people. It takes time to see a proper return on the expense of recruiting, interviewing, and training personnel. A poor leader looks for short-term results and often stops spending on human resources if financial returns are slow to appear. A great leader continually invests, monitors, motivates, and trains, knowing that the returns will be there eventually.

  • Leaders set realistic expectations. An organization is healthier when its goals — for sales, production, client satisfaction, and so on — are attainable. Employees experience less stress and make better decisions in this type of environment.
  • Leaders set objective standards. They understand the value of performance goals that can be quantified, like sales, margin, and budgets. They know what their company’s numbers are and what they should be.
  • Leaders monitor progress. They establish systems to measure actual performance against stated goals, then check progress regularly. Regular monitoring enables leaders to make minor tweaks that keep the company’s plan on course.
  • Leaders have vision. Leaders know where their organization is headed, and they constantly communicate that vision to their team. If the vision is strong enough, a good leader can delegate its implementation without having to micromanage the details.
  • Leaders find good teachers. Like top athletes, leaders find coaches and mentors to help them and everyone on their team reach ever higher levels of performance. Good leaders look both within and outside their organizations for people to fill those roles.
  • Leaders take responsibility for poor performance. They understand that most underperforming employees are the product of a poor hiring decision or poor training. Most managers retain underperforming employees too long because they set unrealistic expectations and lack objective ways to evaluate performance. Good leaders understand that retaining an employee under these circumstances works against the employee’s interest as well as the company’s.

Looking at that list, a couple of things struck me. First, it’s amazing how many of them have to deal with knowing your own limitations – invest in your people, set objective standards, monitor progress, find good teachers, take responsibility for good performance – these are all things that imply that your own success is only under your control to an extent, and you will ultimately rely on others to perform.

Second, I was struck by how, even though they are clearly written from a business perspective, so many of them apply to leadership in what we do as well. If we’re program managesr, we need to take responsibility for our programs’ performance and recognize that the buck stops with us, so to speak. If we’re a coach, we need to constantly monitor our team’s development and the development of every player on that team. Leadership, it seems, might not be all that different in the design/remodeling and sport-for-development industries.

What do you think? Are there any characteristics here you disagree with? Is there anything that is personally important to you as a leader that isn’t here? Any resources to share?

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