• July 2010

How To Harness Your Power As A Leader

By Steven B. Wiley
President and Founder
The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg

How do you harness your power as the leader of a business? That’s the topic that BusinessWeek.com and the Hay Group looked to determine during a study, which ultimately helped to rank the 20 best U.S. companies in terms of leadership.

Topping the list are General Electric, Southwest Airlines, IKEA and Zappos and the qualities they had in common was that each firm’s leadership team was able to move the focus from execution to strategy and made strong leadership a priority — despite the economic downturn and chaotic business environment of the past years.

While these organizations certainly have different leadership challenges unique to their individual industries and cultures, the “best” do seem to share certain key characteristics.

Finding Your Power

Consider these findings from the study:

  • 64% of respondents from “best companies” say leadership is expected in their organization—even if the individual is not in a formal position of authority. Meanwhile, in other companies, only 35% of respondents report that this is expected.
  • When asked about their most critical focus, 81.9% of “best companies” said “positioning for the future,” compared to 65.1% of others.
  • The study also revealed that three types of learning organizations are prominent among the 20 best. These include “modern, learning-oriented, fun workplaces,” such as Zappos.com and Southwest; “complex companies with cultures that are more traditional,” like GE and P&G; and companies that are “collaborative for innovation” focusing on self-organizing teams and problem solving, such as ABB.

Translating the Research

How can good leaders best utilize this information?

Consider a recent posting from Harvard Business Review blogger Norm Smallwood, owner of The RBL Group.

Each year, he partners with Hewitt Associates to conduct a study on the Top Companies for Leaders.

It highlights those companies that have gone beyond the basics of grooming strong leaders and have come up with new ways to test their employees in the global marketplace.

“Quality of leadership within a company helps meet the expectations of investors, customers and employees and sets the stage for growth, so developing the next generation of leaders is perhaps the most important undertaking of a forward-thinking company,” Smallwood said.

The Six Characteristics that Separate the Most Successful Organizations from the Pack

Following are the factors that differentiate the best leaders:

  • Centralized efforts – Leading organizations centralize their management of talent, making it “corporate property” rather than making it a function of a business unit or geography.
  • Top executive involvement – Developing leadership is a priority from those at the top.
  • Focusing on a few key processes – The best of the best focus on hiring top talent rather than “fixing” mediocre performers, concentrate on providing robust feedback and offer a wide variety of opportunities to help “grow” new leaders.
  • Making leadership developing a strategic focus – These companies actively focus on developing talent; Smallwood describes their focus as “centralized” and “intentional”.
  • Building leaders and leadership – Not only do these best companies focus on developing individual leaders, they also integrate “a robust leadership capability that supports a culture of integration and the opportunity to develop from within.”
  • Creating value for inside and outside stakeholders – These top companies help create strong leaders—not just to make them better, but so that they can better serve both other employees and customers.

Maybe this month you should try to incorporate some of these best practices into your organization. Let us know your results by shooting us an email..


About Steven B. Wiley

Steve Wiley is an entrepreneur, author, and highly acclaimed speaker who has influenced and entertained tens of thousands of top executives from around the world. Without exception, he receives the highest ratings possible from his audiences.

His business experience includes the founding of three companies: two international franchise organizations and a national chain of fleet management centers. He has successfully negotiated multi-million dollar funding agreements for his own companies with some of the top venture capital organizations in the world. His strong leadership ability has earned him recognition in top publications including Venture magazine, USA Today, and Entrepreneur magazine.

Steve’s speaking experience includes three years as National Spokesperson for the Quaker Oats/Pritikin Longevity Centers, for whom he has been featured in television commercials and advertisements in the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and New York Times. Over the past ten years he has conducted thousands of seminars on negotiation, sales leadership, and wellness for numerous public and private sector organizations.

Currently, he is the President of The Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg and the founder of the Institute’s Communicating with Executive Presence program as well as their Transformational Journey from Gettysburg leadership development experience. For more information, visit www.lincolnleadershipinstitute.com.

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