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Four commitments a leader should make

Inside Business

Posted: May 9, 2008 12:26 a.m.
Updated: July 9, 2008 5:02 a.m.
In good times and more challenging times, leaders have to stand for something. Here are the four commitments a leader needs to make for themselves and the people they are responsible for:

To learn
The leader must be open, willing and ready to become better. This is done by becoming a better leader by
growing, being open to new ideas and concepts and being able to be coached by others.

Someone who has a closed mind, who believes that they know all there is to know, is not a leader that is
going to take any organization far.

Being in charge and being a growth-oriented person does not stop at the person at the top. The responsibility of leadership means that the person at the top should be requiring the same commitment of
growth from their direct reports. If those reporting to the top executive aren't interesting in growing, what kind of message are those people sending to the people in their departments or divisions?

To lead
The wisest leaders understand that they would never ask their subordinates to do something that they would not be willing to do themselves.

In the movie, "Saving Private Ryan," Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, earned and kept the respect of
his men because he landed with them on Omaha Beach.

Later, when challenged by his squad about the rationale for a mission to save the last remaining son
of Mrs. Ryan, Miller used the goodwill he had earned to keep the mission on track.

But the commitment to lead must be more than that. The leader must be willing to lead from the front. While "Saving Private Ryan" is fictional, contrast Captain Miller's approach to General MacArthur's approach in Korea. MacArthur never spent the night on the Korean Peninsula, returning to his own bed in Tokyo or
sleeping on board a ship during the invasion at Inchon. The soldiers that fought under his command
knew this and as a result, many did not respect him.

To envision
People who work in organization want to know "where are we headed" and "what is our goal." It is the
responsibility of the leader to determine the goal and to regularly communicate it.

The leader who fails to create a vision is doing a disservice to the self and to those that work in the
organization. If there is no goal, what is the future? Why toil to uncertainty, except a paycheck? People
want to work towards something and for something that is bigger than themselves and the leader must provide it.

To communicate
The leader cannot hide behind the desk in the office in isolation. Those that lead must not only be
visible, but must communicate to those that they lead.

Chief among the responsibilities to is to ask what people think. The leader is often the most removed
from clients, suppliers and employees and so seeking opinions is critical to learning.

Tied to that is listening with intentionality to what is being said. Many leaders hear but they don't
listen. Leaders must actively listen, seeking first to understand, then be understood.

There is a quote that serves leaders well: "People should know what you stand for. They should also know
what you won't stand for."

That is what making a commitment is about. What do you stand for? And how well have you communicated what you stand for?

Kenneth W. Keller is president of Renaissance Executive Forums, bringing business owners together in
facilitated peer advisory boards. His column represents his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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