Leadership : Leadership - Take it Personally

John Baldoni is a leadership communications consultant who works with companies and non‑profits organizations. He is the author of several books on leadership including Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders (McGraw-Hill, 2003).

He can be reached at jbaldoni@lc21.com and his website can be found at www.johnbaldoni.com.

Talking about leadership can be like sexual braggadocio in a boy’s locker room. Much is boasted, but little is accomplished. And so it is with the topic of leadership. We all need it, want it, and respect it, but often do little to achieve it.

Management theorists posit many views of leadership. Among them are the transformational leaders who transform entire organizations based upon a single vision; other are situational leaders exerting direction and guidance only when the situation calls for it. There is a place for all types of leadership.

But many overlook the need for personal leadership, which I define as acute self-confidence backed by conviction and understanding. Another term might be "personal mastery"—knowing where you stand, where you want to go, and be willing to sacrifice to get there. Whatever you call it, leadership that stems from one’s core beliefs and values, is essential to leading others.

Here are some examples:

- Leadership is a young woman just beginning her career who spots a problem within her team, and takes it upon herself to correct it.
- Leadership is when the manager of one team approaches his counterpart in another team and initiates a conversation about how the teams might cooperate more fully.
- Leadership is a manager who makes an effort to get to know his people by holding occasional meetings with no agenda. He facilitates dialogue in order to solicit what’s on the minds of his direct reports.
- Leadership is a manager who takes the time to "teach" his people, new and old, the norms of his organization and his expectations of and for his people.
- In each of these examples, the manager-leader demonstrates personal mastery; she does not wait to be told. She sizes up a situation and does what is necessary to help her people do the job, and or contribute more effectively.

There is no "man on a white horse" in any of these examples. Just leaders grounded in common sense who know how to get the job done.

Effective management today is less and less about "managing," i.e., administering. Effective management is about leadership, exerting personal initiative that stems from personal vision, a sense that "I know what needs to be done, and I will do it."

Personal leadership is first and foremost "personal." It stems from core beliefs. And here are a few traits that I have observed from leaders I know as well as from those I have read about.


Personal leadership is centered. One cannot lead even one person if he does not know his own mind. Being centered implies having a sense of grounding. This grounding may come from education; it may come from faith in God; or it may come from family. Centeredness and knowing oneself gives a leader the confidence she needs to lead others.

Personal leadership is outward. Leaders who know themselves can lead others. If you yourself are secure in your beliefs, others will naturally follow. Leadership by its nature flows to "followership" but that can only occur if the follower has confidence in the person in the lead.

Personal leadership is tempered by the courage of conviction. As with centeredness, courage is essential. All of us at one time or another must take a stand on uncomfortable issues. Where you stand can determine the course of a project, the future of a new application, or the direction of a new marketing initiative. It takes a strong person to impose his will and stick with it. Courage of conviction, however, is not to be confused with bull-headedness. A good leader knows the difference, or at least is wise enough to listen to trusted persons who tell him so.

Personal leadership is liberating. The manager who can look outward, yet is secure within himself, frees himself from the bother of second-guessing. Often the most important service a leader can do is to delegate responsibility. Once the division of labor has been made, the leader should then stand back and let his people do their job. Personal leadership liberates the person and the team to fulfill their own potential.

Leadership by definition grows and expands with the individual. Leadership is a matter of exerting personal responsibility over self, or others, that enables the self or others to become better than they are now.

You can find this kind of responsibility in the world of sport. When Larry Bird played for the Boston Celtics, Chick Hearn, the legendary announcer of the Los Angeles Lakers, once commented that in the fourth quarter, Bird would not let his teammates lose. Larry elevated his playmaking and shotmaking as well as that of his teammates to such a level that at times the Celtics seemed invincible. Today Bird, having retired from the hard court as a player, now serves as head coach of the Indiana Pacers. He is hard at work teaching another generation of professional players all about on-court leadership and what it means to sacrifice for the good of the team.

The example of Larry Bird reminds us that deep down leadership is personal. Make it so, and you, your people, and your organization will benefit.

© 1999 John Baldoni

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