What is Leadership?

By Dave Ulrich, Norm Smallwood

Leadership occurs when organizations build a cadre of future leaders who have the capacity to shape an organization’s culture and create patterns of success.

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Read more about Dave Ulrich on LinkedIn.



Read more about Norm Smallwood on LinkedIn.

We’ve been on a journey for last fifteen years to resolve leadership concept clutter by approaching leadership from a unique perspective, one that’s built on a foundation of business value. We’ve identified four key principles and questions that answer the question “What is leadership?” from an outside/in, value-driven approach.

1. Clarify why leadership matters: What are the outcomes of good leadership?

Effective leaders should start with results. Leadership is about who we are, what we do, and what we know, but it is equally about what we deliver. Some leadership results are outside the organization (customer share, investor confidence, community reputation) and some results are inside the organization (employee productivity and organization capability), but knowing the expectations of customer, investor, organization, and employee stakeholders is critical to delivering the right results in all areas of the business.

2. Nail the basics: What must every leader know, do, and be?

Effective leaders have nailed the basic rules that all leaders need to master. Absent this mastery of five basics, leaders will be burdened by their weaknesses. Leaders need to shape the future, get things done, manage others, invest in others, and demonstrate personal proficiency. This framework (The Leadership Code) synthesizes the myriad of leadership traits, competencies, attributes, behaviors, values, and expectations into these five basic factors.

3. Create Leadership Brand: How do we develop leadership (not just leaders) from the outside/in?

Effective leaders focus on building strong leadership more than strong leaders by creating a Leadership Brand. We coined the term and wrote the book Leadership Brand to convey the idea that leadership results are assessed by the extent to which leaders deliver value to customers by connecting employee actions to what customers want. Over time, leadership comes from building the Leadership Brand infrastructure that develops the next generation of leaders.

4. Ensure leadership sustainability: How do leaders make long term change really happen?

Effective leaders ensure leadership sustainability. Leaders who want to improve need to not only recognize and delineate the results they want to achieve and the knowledge and skills they require to achieve those results, but they must also have the willpower and discipline to sustain those changes. When leaders change their pattern of behavior to make the requirements of their position, they are sustainable.

So what is leadership? It’s the result of all four of these principles working together. By adhering to these principles, we take a business-based approach to leadership that is in sync with what the very best companies do and transcends the narrow focus on attributes found almost everywhere else. Even better, the approach is concrete and delivers tangible value.

Learn more about each of these principles by downloading the full article.

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