Published - March 2006

By Dave Jakielo

Leadership: One of The Most Important Attributes of Success

Upon meeting a manager, one of my favorite questions to ask is, "What is the greatest challenge facing you on a daily basis?" By far the most popular response I receive is, "trying to keep my employees motivated."

Many managers think that today's employees just aren't motivated the way they were a few decades ago. In reality, the problem may originate with the manager. While it may be true that you can't truly motivate someone, an untrained manager who lacks the necessary leadership skills certainly can de-motivate an employee.

There are many fallacies relating to the art of management. Yes, management and leadership talents are an art, not a science; however, the more we learn various techniques and skills, the more effective and successful we can be as leaders.

The following are some important concepts to keep in mind:

  • Leaders are not born, they are made.
  • Leadership can't be taught-but it can be learned.
  • You manage projects, but you have to lead people.
  • Communication with employees should always be a conversation, not a confrontation.
  • You can't tell employees what to do, you must sell them on what to do.

Hundreds of excellent books have been written on leadership, so why not make it a habit to read at least one a month? As leaders we don't gain knowledge by osmosis, we need to read or listen to successful leaders who are willing to share their best practices and proven concepts with us. Exposing yourself to the wisdom of other leaders is a fast-track method of improving your own skills.

I recently read an article about successful leaders who work in Fortune 500 companies. They had several traits in common:

  • High Energy. It's true that if you want something done, give it to a busy person. Effective leaders must have the stamina to preserve and stick with projects until they are completed
  • Interpersonal Skills. It's hard to lead if you can't communicate your vision to others and get them to buy in. The easiest way to demonstrate excellent interpersonal skills is to have a sincere interest in others. Always respect others' points of view and solicit their input in any decision. Remember, people don't care how much you know unless they know how much you care.
  • Delegation. Today's hectic world generates too much activity for top leaders to do all by themselves. A leader must be able to get things done through others. A good rule of thumb is to delegate everything you can, but make sure you follow up before the person you delegated to has a chance to fail.
  • Feedback. How do you expect others to succeed if you don't guide them on the right path? Feedback, both positive and negative, is imperative in helping others grow. Praise is the best type of feedback, and keep in mind when praising someone that you must be specific, sincere, and timely. Make sure you also know that person's preferences-does he or she like to receive praise in public or privately?
  • Set Goals. Keep in mind that setting goals is a great idea, but developing your goals is only part of the process. You must also develop and implement a strategic plan that will allow you to reach those goals. A goal without an accompanying action plan is ineffective. It's like putting a cake in the oven and failing to turn on power.

While it may be true that our society seems to be losing some of the fundamental virtues, such as accountability and responsibility, it is still our duty as leaders to reflect those values and to try to instill them in others. I hope that in my lifetime, leadership and teamwork classes will be part of the core curriculum in every grade, middle, and high school throughout our country. Many students are ill-prepared for the issues they will face in the real world. However, until that day comes, you are not excused from becoming a lifelong student of leadership.

It is totally inappropriate for anyone in a leadership role to collect a paycheck and not invest in themselves to become an excellent leader. Seniority alone shouldn't be a qualification of ascension to a leadership position. Leaders earn their positions because they have learned and continue to learn the intricacies of what makes a leader successful.

Sign up for my FREE weekly success tips at, and if you have any questions or comments about this column you can contact me at Seminars & Consulting, 86 Hall Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15205 or at 412-921-0976 or via e-mail at

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