by Rick Draker
Pressure to perform, to generate revenue, to create success, and to keep the organization healthy and moving forward in today’s struggling economy is the plight of most leaders, and occasionally, managers. Providing necessary and appropriate leadership; setting the right example; doing more with less; motivating staff; ensuring availability of necessary resources to do the job; developing and maintaining trust with employees and clients; managing ever-constant change; keeping on track with goals and objectives; and much more, are integral to the leader’s job.
So, what does it take, what skills are necessary for a leader to survive and be successful in today’s business or government environment, or tomorrow’s?
What is interesting in the answer to that question is this: looking back over the past 2,500 years, the skills developed and utilized by figures that made their mark on the world are remarkably similar! From Cyrus the Great (600 BC-529 BC) to Attila (406 AD-453 AD) to Genghis Khan (1162 AD-1227 AD) to President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) to President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972) to General Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr. (1934-2012 AD) to former Secretary of State Colin Powell (1937- ) leadership skills have not changed a lot. Differences are discernible only in the words used to describe the skill, the principle, or in its application.
So, what are these skills, these arts of leadership of which we have to be reminded from time to time; a reminder we seem to be much in need of in this time and place in our history. The leadership skills set out in the table that follows are not an exhaustive listing, and we do not claim to have captured all skills attributed to or practiced by the seven individuals who are the basis for this table. What we have done is provide a fair listing of their principal skills, and an indication of which of our seven world leaders have utilized these skills or have had these skills attributed to them.
No attempt is made to demonstrate the success achieved by each individual through an application of these skills. Their achievements, successes, and even failures are well documented and speak for themselves. Any assessment by this writer would be a pale effort and add little value to this article.
So, which of our seven world leaders possessed these skills or have had these skills attributed to them?
The answer is: all of them! There are differences in how or under what circumstances these skills were practiced, but, still, there is a commonality.
Here we are with twenty-five hundred years of examples, and still an interminable need, or want, to re-invent, to restate these and other leadership skills in different words or in different circumstances. The volumes published on leadership and management in the past 50 years attest to this: Drucker (1954), Kouzes and Posner (1987), Peters (1988), Kotter (1990), Bennis (2003), and, Burns (2010), and many more.
Perhaps the complexity of the business/political world we now inhabit is the driver of the myriad instructional volumes on leadership. This world is ever-changing, more competitive, and ever-more Gordian with its labyrinthine challenges. This complex environment demands perhaps not only a re-statement of centuries-old proven leadership skills, but a further development and explanation of these skills, and how best to apply them.
This article started with the question: “…what does it take, what skills are necessary for a leader to survive and be successful in today’s business environment, or tomorrow’s?” If history is any teacher, possessing the skills exhibited by notable world leaders is part of the answer. But, more is demanded by the relentless and rapid changes of our world.
Paramount is the need for greater levels of individual and team competencies and skills; the need for strategic collaborations (Jericho Principle); the acknowledgment of the need to succeed in a marketplace that is no longer just regional; and, the realization that “muddling” through is not a valid approach in most cases. Not least, is the need for an individual with those leadership skills forged in the crucible of time who can reconcile, coordinate, and direct the spear points of those skills to a successful and profitable conclusion.