Leadership – 9th in a Series

Ed Burghard9 Things You Need To Know About Great Leaders

In my experience, most people want to be seen as a good leader, and are willing to work on strengthening their leadership skills. The problem is that most people do not have a practical sense for what great leadership behavior looks like. In fact, many people are subjected to working with (or for) poor leaders making it extremely difficult to study great leadership firsthand.

In my career with Procter & Gamble, I have been blessed to work with some outstanding leaders and to have many of them play a mentorship role for me. For example, John Smale, John Pepper, A.G. Lafley, Gil Cloyd, Bruce Byrnes and Bob McDonald. I learned something about great leadership from each of them.

But, perhaps the individual I learned the most about leadership from was John Pepper. John is a leader who walks the talk day in and day out. When John talks with you, he has a unique skill for making you feel like you have his undivided attention and that what you say is very important to him.

Quick True Story About John Pepper

My P&G office was north of Cincinnati. One day, I had a meeting with John Pepper and a number of other senior P&G managers to discuss a business initiative I was recommending. I left my office in plenty of time to get to the meeting before it started. However, there was an accident on the highway and I got caught in stopped traffic. I called John’s assistant to let her know what was happening. I arrived to John’s office 20-minutes late and completely flustered for having rushed as quickly as possible once the traffic started flowing. Several of the managers seated at the conference table (including my direct line managers) were clearly agitated that I kept our CEO waiting and had caused the meeting to start late. John quickly assessed the situation. He stood up, walked over to shake my hand, and thanked me for working through the traffic jam to get to the meeting. He asked if there were any injuries (there were not), literally poured me a cup of coffee, and then made polite conversation while I got my nerves under control and the presentation ready to deliver.

I know it may seem like a little thing to many people, but to me (a junior manager in a global company) it was a very big thing and it made a positive impression that has lasted over 15-years. John showed compassion, integrity, and respect; three traits of great leaders.

That is why I am so pleased, in this post, to share 9 things I learned from John Pepper about great leadership.

Pepper Quote

Notes About Leadership From a Talk Given by John Pepper

  1. They are passionate about leaving a personal mark. It is important to them to make a personal difference in whatever they do. They own their area of responsibility, and seek to do more than is asked of them. They look for new and better ways to do the work that will improve results and better develop their team.
  2. They have uncompromising integrity. They say what they mean and mean what they say. They share their point-of-view even if it is unpopular. They try to let facts dictate their conclusions and they recommend the “right thing to do” even if it is the harder thing to do. To the degree possible, they are apolitical. They listen carefully to input, but do not let contrary opinions lead them to adopt a course of action inconsistent with their best judgment.
  3. They are objectively dissatisfied with the status quo. They are not critical for the sake of being critical. They identify gaps between the way things are currently being done and the way they could be done to get better results. Then they focus on correcting the flaws and improving performance. They are system thinkers and know that process improvements yield dividends immediately and over time. They strive to make things better than when they got there.
  4. They deeply respect themselves and others. They are attentive listeners and believe the input of others will help them make better decisions. They are objective in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their team members. They are quick to address leadership issues and focus on getting the right people in the right roles for success. They know that people development is key to sustainable performance. Their appreciation for people translates into a concentration on training and personnel development.
  5. They focus their attention and energy on doing the job they are in now. They spend relatively little time thinking about their next assignment and throw themselves completely into their current assignment. They have a high degree of confidence that their own performance will speak for itself and translate into a successful career. They ignore things outside of their sphere of influence.
  6. They establish stretching objectives and performance standards for themselves and their teams. They are realistic in assessing what is possible and the resources required for success. They are neither unduly optimistic nor pessimistic.
  7. They make principle-based decisions. They resist over complicating or over intellectualizing things. They concentrate their attention on the substance, not the form of issues. They try to identify practical values to guide choices. Their approach can be characterized as one of common sense and results oriented.
  8. They are decisive. They treat time as a limited commodity. They understand how to assess risk and are comfortable accepting it. They take the time to get the information needed to make a good decision, but are wary of taking time to get enough data to make the perfect decision.
  9. They approach problem solving as a process. They neutralize personalities when problem solving and rely on facts. They understand that conflict needs to be addressed and resolved early in order to ensure successful execution of any action plan. They can tell you not only what their decision is, but also why it is right for the problem at hand.

Discussion

How many leaders have you worked with or for that exhibit the 9 characteristics listed above? Which characteristic do you believe is the hardest to master (or find)? Do you have any examples of great leaders and, thinking of them, are there any additional characteristics you would suggest adding to the list from John’s talk?

Leadership series.

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2nd in a series

3rd in a series

4th in a series

5th in a series

6th in a series

7th in a series

8th in a series

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7 Comments so far

  1. […]   […]

  2. rocky spalazzi

    April 12, 2013

    Terrific article Ed: it’s a must read. Perhaps you can check out the amazing accomplishments of these four great leaders. http://www.brightlightusa.com/Great-Living-Cincinnatians-2013-Case-Study.html

  3. Johanna Namir

    April 13, 2013

    Great list. I would add that a good leader must advocate for their employees and own their team’s failures. Giving credit and recognition is the only true way to build a high performance environment and a culture that encourages team work and creativity.

  4. Amber Eyerly

    April 14, 2013

    This was a great list. I decided to start my own company because I was so dissatisfied with what I experienced in my workplace. This list gave me an opportunity to look at where I already excel and where I need to grow. Thanks for sharing!

  5. […] 9th in a series […]

  6. Tom Fraser

    April 17, 2013

    This is a great question and I would like to share a viewpoint on this. Also, I am not going to refer to characteristics such as “leading from the front, great visionary and strategist, innovator, natural leader etc”, which for me and amongst many others, are all fundamental “givens” and “minimum requirements” for any great and succesful leader.

    Rather, I would like to focus on what I believe is the highest calling and commission of any leader. I say this in the context that whatever any leader is doing or is focussed on, be it to take a situation from one state to another, and/or to build sustainable platforms for on going value creation, growth and evolution for the betterment of all stakeholders involved, all leaders have the same highest calling and commission – in all environments including enterprise, politics, sport and more.

    So let us ask ourselves the question:”What is the highest calling and commission of any leader?”

    I personally believe that the greatest and most succesful leaders of all, are focussed on ultimately, replacing themselves. This is the highest calling and commission of any leader. These are simple words but the implications hidden in these words are huge.

    How many times, including in my corporatre life over a number of years, have we seen great men and woman doing wonderful things with highly successful growth and value adding trajectories and achievements, where once they have hit their peaks, things thereafter start to fall apart, for example in business and politics.

    Very often, when leaders have succesfully taken a situation or organisation or a nation or a brand or whatever to a new intended state of existance, the creative and innovative abilities and capacity for that leader to continue on that trajectory generall tend to become exhausted and tired. This is also a very natural phenomenon and is applicable to us all as mortal human beings. This is also the natural time for the leader to go.

    It is at this time that truly great leaders show themselves throught getting out, because the natural and correct moment to get out has arrived. It is at this moment that the greatest and most succesful leaders of all let go and hand over to a new generation to continue with the trajectory, but with a fresh and maybe a very different appraoch, and with new fresh levels of innovative thought etc.

    Sadly, this does happen often enough and I can give examples of large (listed) company’s, where the leader, as brilliant, successfull and great he/she was during his/her natural cycle, has not exercised the highest calling and commission of himself/herself as the leader, to replace him/herself at that right and natural moment.

    What tends to happen, because things have gone so well, is that the leader decides or persuades the board that he/she should “stay on for a while longer”. And this unfortunately, is when things start falling apart…

    Unbelievably it is at this point, that the leader who has so successfully achieved, starts to steadily and systematically destroy what he/she has so successfully built up through staying on beyond his/her natural “shelf-life” or cyle. Also and very sadly, that same leader often does not see and remains unaware that he/she is driving value destruction.

    How ironical to say the least!

    In conclusion, for me, great and successful leaders know when it is time to go, and they then go. But there is more to it… great leaders know in advance when their time to go is coming AND, they prepare for their departure to enable and ensure sustainablity.

    In advance, they identify succession talent and nuture the talent to readyness to take over. And then when the time to go arrives, the great leader abides to his/her greatest calling and commisison – by actually replacing him/herself.

    The highest calling and commission of any leader is ultimately, to replace him/herself.

    I look forward to receiving comments…

  7. Cecilia Harry

    April 18, 2013

    What a great topic. This is a great discussion that never gets old.

    As a leader and one who follows other, I respect the approach of a leader who is not concerned about getting credit for the good. A good leader looks out for those he or she is leading and gives them every opportunity to grow and shine.

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