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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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?
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