Elements of Effective Leadership

By Lucia Soh

If there are two issues that remain at the top of the executive agenda, they are leadership and leadership development. Irrespective of company, industry, and country, and regardless of cyclical fluctuations between economic expansion and contraction, organizations require effective leaders to move forward. Unfortunately, the near universal agreement about the importance of leadership development is not matched by a universal understanding of what to focus on and how to develop leaders. The focus of this paper will be on what current leaders consider to be important areas of leadership competency and what individuals can do to demonstrate effectiveness in their workplace. Another area of focus will be on what is missing from the organizational viewpoint and what individuals and organizations can do to incorporate the additional competencies to be ready for the future.

..Today's corporate perspective on what to focus on

In a study conducted by the Corporate Leadership Council, 2001 Leadership Survey, asked 15,000 leaders their opinions about the elements of effective leadership and what drives effective leadership for the 21st century manager. Out of the 15,000 surveyed, 8,051 people responded and four important categories emerged. They are 1) People Management 2) Personal Characteristics 3) Process Management 4) Strategic Management.

People Management: The skills and attributed associated with leading through others, such as clearly communicating expectations, inspiring others and holding people accountable.

Personal Characteristics: A diverse set of characteristics and attributes associated with individuals, personal leadership such as confidence, intelligence and perseverance.

Process Management: The skills and attributes required to successfully manage an organization on a day to day basis, such as creatively solving problems, measuring results and properly managing budgets timelinessines.

Strategic Management: The skills and attributes necessary to successfully devise and execute strategy and vision, such as identifying and articulating a long term vision, understand the external conditions and assessing risks and return of decisions.

The respondents rated People Management as the most important category at nearly 30% and included skills such as recognizing and rewarding achievement, inspiring others, putting the right people in the right roles at the right time, persuading and encouraging others to move in a desired direction, correctly evaluating the potential in others and having strong commitment to diversity. Strategic Management came in second in importance at 21%, Personal Characteristics at 17% and Process Management at 16%. The survey noted that as a subset of People Management, 61 percent of the leaders agreed honesty and integrity were the most important single attribute of effective leadership. So, how does the corporate perception of effective leadership skills compare to what we know of great leaders from the past and where we need to go for the future?

..What's missing from the organizational viewpoint?

Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, observed similar attributes in his research on how leaders succeeded in working with others during the 20th century. He coined it as the 5 Levels of Leadership. Most leaders used levels 1 to 4 but the leaders that led organizations successfully through turbulent times exhibited an additional level. At Level 1, a highly capable individual used good personal work habits, made personal productive contribution and leveraged their own talent, knowledge and skills in the workplace. At Level 2, the individual worked effectively with others in a group setting. The individual moved to Level 3 when he starts organizing people and resources to meet objectives of the organization. This is also known as basic managerial competence. Level 4 leaders are distinguished by their ability to influence and move people to a clear and compelling vision. They can also stimulate others to higher performance standards. This is the traditional definition of effective leadership. As the Corporate Leadership Council study showed, most organizations develop leaders up to level 4 and have a belief that they are the key elements to success. However, through the empirical research, Collins discovered an additional dimension. He saw only 11 individuals exhibiting this dimension out of the 1,435 Fortune 500 companies his team looked at. These leaders went beyond the basic 4 levels and moved into level 5.

Level 5 leaders possess the skills of levels 1 to 4 but also have an "extra dimension": a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will. They are somewhat self-effacing individuals who deflect adulation, yet who have an almost stoic resolve to do absolutely whatever it takes to make the company great, channeling their ego needs away from themselves and into the larger goal of building a great company. It' not that Level 5 leaders have no ego or self-interest. Indeed, they are incredibly ambitious - but their ambition is first and foremost for the institution and its greatness, not for themselves.1

Level 5 leaders wanted to see the company even more successful in the future and were comfortable with the idea that they may not get credit for their efforts to move the organization to a higher state.

In addition, Jean Lipman-Blumen's Achieving Styles Model categorized 9 areas leaders depend on to get things done. Like the Level 1 and 2 leaders, one needs to master their own tasks by using a direct approach. This can be done through the competitive style and also through using power and taking charge of situations. For some leaders, the motivation to get things done was strongly driven by their sense of intrinsic rewards. Level 5 leaders are most likely to have a strong intrinsic style as mentioned by Jim Collins and their non-essential need to have public recognition. As individuals advanced to Level 3 of team leadership, there are clear preferences on how each person behaves in working with others. Lipman-Blumen discusses how leaders may use the contributory, collaboration and/or vicarious styles to accomplish this. When this set of skills is being used, the leaders are identifying with their team and team goals as being the most important. Level 3 and 4 leaders use the relational path on a regular basis since they must depend on others to get the work done. In order to maximize commitment with others in an interdependent world, leaders will also need to consider the usage of the instrumental styles. It includes the entrusting, social and personal styles and focuses not only on the individual, but bringing together talents of people together through influence and relationships. Dominant and recessive uses of all the styles are based on ones personal background and experience with success and failure in past situations. Both Collins and Lipmen-Blumen believe all the skills can be learned or relearned and will help a person achieve greater success when used at the appropriate times.

..What individuals should consider and become a level 5 leader in a Connective Era

It is important that individuals find ways of developing their own competencies in order to be ready for leadership roles as defined by today's leaders. It is also equally important to look within yourself and identify ways to become a Level 5 leader. This will give an individual the competitive edge to becoming a successful leader for the future.

Know where you are and where you need to go:
In order to make changes, an individual must know the current behavior and what the desired behaviors are. Some organizations make available to leaders 360 degree feedback surveys to show areas of strengths and weaknesses. These types of instruments, when administered and discussed properly can be beneficial. However, in most organizations, the instruments are delivered without a strategy for action planning and support to make changes. The organization is often not clear on what desired behavior should be. Also, if an individual is not prepared to receive the feedback as neutral information, they can become defensive and justify their current action without making new behavior changes. Other ways one can get information about current behavior is through a colleague or mentor. Find an individual who is trustworthy and can provide worthwhile insights on your current behavior patterns and the impact on others. Regardless of how one is receiving the information, it is important to prepare for the different range of responses and how others perceive you as the leader. Do your own research to discover other attributes that may be missing. Consider using multiple assessments with different elements to determine your current level. Once the current behaviors are clear, the new behaviors goals will need to be set.

Examine your attitude:
Once you figure out the gap to the new leadership behavior, you should examine the willingness or desire to change. If the desire is not present, no sustainable change will occur. The emotional aspect will make a difference on whether or not you can become a Connective or a Level 5 leader. If the desire is present, you will look for opportunities to try the new skills. If not, you will find excuses not to participate. A positive change can only come from the inside.

Get help and feedback on a regular basis:
Another gap in making changes is the lack of support and reinforcement of new behaviors. If the leader moves to the next stage and decides to try new skills, a strong system must be in place to sustain the change. The support system could be made up of mentors, colleagues, bosses or even the direct report. The role of these individuals is to give feedback. Level 5 leaders show humility and honesty about what they don't know and increase their relationship with others.

..What should organizations pay attention to?

Organizations should pay attention to the following if it wants to increase the number of people who can lead effectively.

Set up Level 5 leadership culture and promote people when they demonstrate the behavior: Put leaders into positions when they demonstrate ambition for the cause, the organization and the work, not for self. Look for leaders that make decisions for the organization to succeed for the long term. Consistently ask leaders to use the mirror approach of looking at self when errors are made and the window approach of looking out when results are positive.

Provide opportunities for experimenting:
Individuals need to feel save to try new things. If people are not given the chance to try new ways of doing things, they will continue doing it the old ways while expecting new results. Reward individuals for trying, not for the results. Reward for trying new processes, not the results. Reward for working differently, not the results.

Provide structures of support:
Establish a systematic way for individuals to seek out feedback and reinforcement from others. Build a community where leaders can learn from each other. The connective era is about making connections to work differently and learn about each other. This type of network can help people reach out globally if established and supported by the organization.


1"The Misguided Mix-Up of Celebrity and Leadership" by Jim Collins
Conference Board Annual Report, Annual Feature Essay, September/October 2001

"2001 Leadership Survey", Corporate Leadership Council

Collins, Jim (2001), Good to Great -Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don't, New York: Harper Collins

Lipman-Blumen, J., (1996). Connective Leadership: Managing in a Changing Word. New York: Oxford University Press

  • Introduction
  • Table of Contents
  • Methodology
  • Elements of Effective Leadership
  • Strategies for Individuals
  • Muslim Women Leadership Status in the Connective Era>
  • Connective Leadership in the Global Environment
  • Conclusion