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Audacious leadership

Bob Vanourek //July 3, 2013//

Audacious leadership

Bob Vanourek //July 3, 2013//

Are you sick of all the examples of bad leadership we read about almost daily? Tired of working in an organization with lame leadership?

Would you like to try something audacious – like employing the leadership practices dynamic organizations around the world are using to build excellent, ethical and enduring organizations?

This is vastly different from the leadership employed by the majority of executives and managers. The results can be astonishing: enthusiastic commitment from people, true collaboration and teamwork, focus on the important priorities and piles of work that get removed from your desk as you unleash other leaders and loyal followers.

We have been students and practitioners of leadership all our lives, from large corporations and successful turnarounds to startups and non-profits. We have made all the leadership mistakes in the book, learned from them, and bounced back better than before.

We also interviewed leaders in sixty-one organizations in eleven countries. We spoke to CEOs, board chairs, and senior leaders in juggernauts like Google, Toyota and Xerox; non-profits like Mayo Clinic, KIPP, Ashoka and Habitat for Humanity; as well as universities, startups and military and government organizations.

What we found was stunning: five leadership practices that light the way for a new brand of leadership.

Great leadership is not about the attributes and skills you can acquire to get people to do it your way. Great leadership is a group performance, even within the hierarchy of your organization.

This leadership achieves outstanding results ethically, without burning people out, engaging in unsustainable practices or employing financial machinations to make the numbers. It creates positive impacts not just on shareholders but also on employees, customers, vendors and communities.

This leadership hires and promotes people differently. It seeks “head and heart” in people, looking not just for competencies and skills, but even more importantly for character, emotional intelligence and cultural fit.

This leadership connects people’s deep desire to have meaning in their work, express and honor their shared values and work jointly toward an inspiring vision.

This leadership gets you beyond the comfort of your personal leadership style and challenges you to flex between the hard and soft edges of leadership – what we call “steel and velvet” – sometimes exercising your authority and position but more often listening, being patient and letting others lead. Steel and velvet means protecting certain mavericks and terminating the toxic, even if they are star performers.

This leadership unleashes stewards throughout the organization who not only perform their assigned functions well, but who also develop, nurture and protect a high-performance culture of character in the organization.

And this leadership carefully and collaboratively aligns the organization for peak performance. Most leaders know alignment is important but have no clue how to do it. It’s a multi-step process, easy to understand, but difficult to implement. It requires uncommon patience, fierce commitment, exceptional transparency and a disciplined cadence to continue aligning and re-aligning as things change.

These leadership practices apply to any-sized organization, large or small, for-profit or non-profit, startup or established, public or private. 

Want to be audacious and build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization? Then become a triple crown leader. You’ll never go back to your old leadership ways.