Effective leadership necessary to drive an organization to success is a hot topic in the business world today. What is effective leadership? Is leadership an intrinsic quality or learned behavior? What are the essential components of effective leadership? These questions and a variety of leadership theories have fueled a library of books on leadership and spurred the development of leadership certification programs around the world.
Though there may be some discrepancy on the definition and components of leadership, it is a widely accepted philosophy that the success of the organization hinges on the presence of effective leadership. Fortune 500 companies and even small businesses focus heavily on the quality of leadership and how it impacts success. They spend countless hours in search and interview and devote significant funding to securing maintaining effective leadership. But, what is effective leadership? Assemble any group of professionals, and no doubt they could come up with a variety of definitions and numerous components of effective leadership.
It is developing the ability to read people, convey respect and value, secure buy into the group goal, and to inspire people who have facilitated my success as a leader. Through my experience, I have isolated three components that must be consistently present in a leader’s skill set for him or her to demonstrate effective leadership. Note that though important and having the potential to provide significant insights, possessing a leadership credential is not included in these three components.
Three Necessary Components for Effective Leadership
- Convey value and respect
- Inspire through empowerment
- Lead by example and radiate integrity
Convey value and respect. A leader’s ability to secure buy-in and drive change is contingent upon his/her ability to convey value and respect. When a leader convinces his charges that they are valued on an individual level and that they have the leader’s professional and personal respect, the strength of the leader grows, as does his potential. Individuals who feel valued and respected are free to openly contribute and provide alternative insights without fear of condemnation or ridicule. Value and respect tend to make individuals feel empowered and collaborative. They see themselves as contributing team members.
As a high school principal, I had a teacher once who was anything but a contributor. He was an outstanding math teacher but certainly was not collaborative in any sense. After watching for a few months, it dawned on me that he appeared to be intimidated by his colleagues for whatever reason. He did not speak up at department meetings, did not participate in faculty meetings, and certainly did not volunteer or accept a school initiative assignment. He was punctual, met all deadlines, and conducted his class above and beyond expectations, but something vital was missing. I knew that Mr. Greene could be a real contributor since I could see the out-of-the-box thinking and gregarious personality evident in his teaching.
At the start of the next school year, I decided that I would change the out-of-the-classroom MO that characterized Mr. Greene. Sometimes the direct approach is the best when tackling a problem, but then, other times, an indirect approach is most effective. The faculty assignment for that year was to serve as a model teacher for one week, wherein teachers randomly came into the selected teacher’s classroom to observe. After the observation, teachers who visited were asked to write reflections of the observation. I selected teachers whom I knew to be masters of instruction and in particular, student-centered instruction. Mr. Greene was among the 12 teachers selected for the year.
As I expected, the reflections on Mr. Greene’s instruction were insightful and full of commendations. Apparently, he was a well-kept secret to his colleagues. At the close of the week when all of the reflections were viewed and discussed by the faculty, Mr. Greene became quite a celebrity. It was amazing to see not just the pride that bloomed from a non-contributor but also the igniting of a spark that within the next 18 months developed into a raging inferno.
Faculty members begin to stop Mr. Greene in the hall or lounge to discuss what they should or should not do in class. He was asked by some teachers to observe them and make suggestions. He even volunteered to co-lead an instructional strategy seminar at the system education conference. It was obvious that he was greatly impacted by feeling valued and respected by his colleagues. During the second term, I asked him if he’d take a part-time instructional coach position, and he gladly accepted. That was just the beginning. Later, he chaired or co-chaired the school improvement and school inspection committees and became a regular contributor in nearly every campus initiative.
Though I orchestrated the assignment out of necessity for growth for the entire faculty, Mr. Greene was secretly my project target. The success of my project was quite simply because he felt valued and respected. I saw the same result to lesser effects on others that year. I was overjoyed to see the transformation. Simply put, I isolated Mr. Greene’s strong suit and drew attention to it. Mr. Greene had been a diamond covered in dirt. We just washed off all the dirt and what a prize showed through. The impact on Mr. Greene and the organization was amazing.
Inspire through Empowerment. Effective leaders build confidence and inspire a desire to make a personal contribution to the common goal, ultimately impacting organizational success. After all, the ability to inspire others defines true leadership; however, inspiration is difficult, if not impossible, unless those who are led feel empowered, competent, and valued. Leaders who overlook the significance of empowerment will struggle. Sure, they may lead a qualified team, but leadership that develops leadership goes further, as it increases organization and individual productivity and potential.
Empowerment works to develop potential and facilitates the growth of a collaborative network of professionals, each contributing by their unique skill set as it blossoms. Empowerment provides an avenue for individuals to develop confidence, take chances, and feel valued. Successful leaders embrace the opportunity to build collective potential by building individual confidence. They build success within the organization by inspiring individuals to personal and professional growth. An individual who is competent and will take risks and make mistakes, but in doing so will increase the strength of his skill set.
Without empowerment, leaders simply convey direction. Leadership without empowerment is akin to simple management in which individuals work within the bounds of a prescriptive arrangement and complete assigned tasks. In this arrangement, individuals are responsible for output, not input. The ability to inspire through empowerment people propels individual and organizations to great heights. By empowering employees, leaders develop contributors, take advantage of a diversity of skill sets, and develop ways of thinking and problem solving—thus, strengthening the organization.
Empowerment is achieved through ACT.
- Accept that they may make mistakes
- Convey trust
- Target the known skill set of your employees
Allowing employees to make mistakes without fear of termination or terminal condemnation provides them with a freedom to fail. In theory, failure over time will diminish as skill sets and experience increase. If employees know that they have the leader’s trust to freely make decisions, undertake initiatives, problem solve, and direct activities within their purview, they will do so and will grow professionally. This builds confidence, builds the individual skill sets, and creates a working environment that can function in the periodic absence of the organizational leader. Keep in mind that targeting employees who have potential and a skill set that matches their assignment is vital in achieving the intended outcomes of empowerment.
Lead by example and radiate integrity. Exhibiting a high level of integrity garners respect from others. Leading without the respect of others is like going to battle without a plan. Employees constantly critique the integrity of their leader. You can bet they are watching to see consistency in dealing with employees and honesty in all actions—and casting a critical eye for favoritism or other deviation from organizational policy. They are watching to see if organizational policies apply to all, even the leader. They pick up on even small dents in the honor of the leader. Employees watch actions, interactions, and reactions of the leader.
Leaders have many responsibilities, but among the most important is establishing and maintaining a mutual trust and respect with those he or she leads. Employees who respect the leader will be far more likely to take direction and embrace the leader’s vision. Displaying only behaviors that are aligned with the highest level of integrity, and acting, interacting, and reacting in a professional and honorable manner will allow the leader to set the groundwork for effective leadership.
Loss of or lack of integrity destroys respect for the leader. Employees may show respect, but showing respect does little for building the organization. Leaders must strive to BE respected if they are to be effective leaders. Possessing a high level of integrity is the only way to ensure respect. If the leader operates in such a manner as to treat all employees fairly and by the organizational policies, an atmosphere of predictability is created. Employees find comfort in predictability.
The survival and potential productivity of an organization rests heavily on effective leadership. Possessing a clear understanding of the components of effective leadership can enable a leader to develop leaders within the organization and increase organizational productivity. The development of an effective leadership style takes time, experience, and dedication to incorporating these three vital leadership components into a leader’s skill set. Without even one of these vital components, a leader cannot achieve the coveted status of a truly effective leader.
Author Note: Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Dr. Katherine Bradley, Ph.D., 950 E. Main Street, Suite 607, Cartersville, GA 30120.
Dr. Katherine Bradley earned a Ph.D. in Educational Leadership from Mercer University in 2009. Dr. Bradley’s experience includes 30 years in the education arena, working in private, public, parochial, single-gender, coeducational, domestic, and international environments. She has served in school leadership positions for 10 years and is currently serving as an educational consultant and co-founder of Leadership Leaders LLC, a leadership consulting firm in Georgia.