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Creating a Culture of Leadership
by Richard Magid

The legendary football coach Vince Lombardi called the notion of a ‘born leader' a myth. To Lombardi, success was a matter of passion, commitment, and sacrifice -- not genetics. So does this mean that anyone can become a leader?

While it is theoretically possible that many people have the capacity to lead, becoming a leader is a little more complicated than simply wanting it. Above all, you want your organization to be one in which leadership can thrive. In order to create a culture of leadership, several important factors have to be considered.

What's Your Organizational Climate? Perhaps a better way to put this question is, ‘how does it feel in there'? The answer is not about how you feel, but rather how your employees feel. Why do they come to work? Are they engaged and passionate about what they are doing?

When you look at top companies -- those that have outperformed benchmarks like the Dow five years running -- one thing they always have in common is a positive organizational climate based on these six dimensions:

• Flexibility -- Are there a lot of strict, unnecessary rules? Are new ideas welcomed and received with interest?

• Responsibility -- Are employees micro-managed or empowered to do their jobs?

• Standards -- Is it a fair environment? Is everyone held to the same performance benchmarks?

• Rewards -- Are people adequately compensated for a job well done. Remember: this is never just about money.

• Clarity -- Are employees clear on what success looks like; can they name their goals and the goals of the organization, and what they need to do to reach them?

• Team Commitment -- If all of the above are in order, you've probably got this one down pat. The thing to look at here is, who's bringing the team down? If your ultimate goal is peak performance -- and whose isn't? -- then establishing the optimal climate for your organization is essential. But whose job is it to establish the perfect climate? Simple: who's the boss?

It's the leader of an organization who sets the ideal organizational climate -- the temperature in which everyone has the potential, tools and support to excel. One distinction must be made: the difference between climate and culture. Contrary to popular belief, culture tends to be a more evolutionary process, so there isn't a whole lot that you as a leader can do to change it -- at least in the short term. But there's plenty you can do to cultivate a climate of excellence.

Take the auto body supply business, for example. As president of Auto Body Jobbers Warehouse in Paterson, NJ, Bill Nathan works in an industry that's still heavily male dominated. "I can pretty much guarantee that we'll be talking about Monday Night Football, not Dancing with the Stars," he says. "Though there's not much we can do to change the nature of the industry, we can certainly have an impact on the climate of our own company to get the results we need."

What's Your Leadership Style? A major contributor to organizational climate -- and overall success -- is your leadership style. Which of these best describes yours?

• Directive -- You demand immediate compliance. Most people rely on this style of leadership because, frankly, it's easy. The directive style may be appropriate in crisis management but, generally speaking, most people don't like to be told what to do.

• Affiliative -- You're more concerned with the individual than the result. For example, if an employee's performance has declined, the affiliative leader asks, "Are you OK?" rather than "How can we get you back on track?"

• Participatory -- You like to involve the team and build consensus on all decisions.

• Visionary -- You're able to describe the path you want your employees to take and why; this imparts a sense of clarity, direction, and awareness of long-term goals.

• Pace-Setting -- ‘I come in a 6 AM and expect that you will, too.' Don't expect miracles; many find this style demoralizing.

• Coaching -- Instructional; identifying options together; task-oriented. The coach uses mentoring and teaching to raise employees' performance levels.

Some of these styles may seem negative; others, such as the participatory or coaching styles, have clear benefits. The truth is, no single style is ideal in every situation. That's why superior leaders tend to use a toolbox approach; they've learned how to assess individual situations and use the right style to get the desired result; it's called creative leadership.

If you can't quite decide which style describes your style, then why not go straight to the source? Use an assessment tool to ask your employees about your leadership style, and compare this to your own self-assessment. You might be surprised by the answers.

What's Your ‘EQ'? In order to be a successful leader, both intellectual and industry intelligence are a given. But there's another key indicator that great leaders share: they tend to score high in emotional intelligence, too.

In a nutshell, emotional intelligence (also known as Emotional Quotient or EQ) can be defined as how self-aware you are and how you interact with others. EQ is generally divided into four ‘clusters':

• Self-awareness: What are your passions? Negative triggers? Before we can lead others, we have to know ourselves and what motivates or derails us.

• Self-management: How do you manage your personal triggers? As important as this is in your personal life, it's even more crucial in a business setting.

• Social awareness: What are your employees' derailers or triggers? Can you appreciate or empathize with their unique feelings and perspectives?

• Relationship management: How are you managing your knowledge of the three areas above?

EQ assessment tools that measure various competencies can help you measure the gap between the theoretical and the practical. It's important to be completely honest with yourself when evaluating your EQ, because the results will have a direct bearing on how effective a leader you are.

What Motivates You? The first thing to acknowledge about ourselves and those around us is that we all have drives -- for success, affiliation, achievement, and power -- that are undeniable and on the whole, very positive. They help us advance, both socially and economically. Known as social motives, these drivers include:

• Affiliation -- The need for strong personal relationships; to be liked or be part of a group.

• Achievement -- The need for continuous improvement and recognition.

• Power -- There are two dimensions to this one: socialized power and personalized power. Socialized power is using your knowledge and expertise for the good of others, while personalized is a bit less selfless: using your expertise to better yourself or increase your personal influence over others.

Take golf, for example. Someone motivated by affiliation might be on the course to socialize and simply have fun, while the achievement-oriented player is driven to improve his or her score. Finally, the power-driven leader is compelled to dominate everyone in the foursome . . . and maybe even bet on the outcome.

So, how do social motives affect leadership? Take the need for affiliation, for example. Taken too far -- a need to be liked by everyone -- being overly affiliative can quickly get in the way of effective leadership.

Ideally, leaders should be about socialized power, followed by achievement. But keep in mind that appearances can be deceiving: not all ‘power' people are as obvious as the Donald Trumps of the world.

Creative leadership: The key to success It's pretty obvious that every leader needs to be aware of their own motives in order to evolve and improve, but he or she also needs to determine what motivates their employees. Once this is established, a superior leader will use this information to create an environment in which peak performance is the norm.

Today, motivated, dynamic leaders have no shortage of tools they can use to assess their employees (and themselves) and create a climate in which leadership can flourish. Somewhere, Coach Lombardi is smiling.

Richard Magid may be contacted at
Serial entrepreneur Richard Magid is a certified facilitator, business coach and president of Boonton, NJ-based SoundBoard Consulting Group, LLC. SoundBoard works with the leaders and managers of small to mid-size companies to support them in their desire to achieve superior financial results, more effective leadership, greater team and staff productivity, healthier work environments, continued professional growth, and a culture that supports, motivates and retains key individuals. Contact Richard Magid at 973-334-6222 or send an email to



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