Volume 94 Issue 4 | p. 35 | ACS Comments
Issue Date: January 25, 2016

Leadership: Reflections For A New Year

By Kathleen M. Schulz
Department: ACS News
Keywords: ACS, comment
Credit: Courtesy of Kathleen Schulz
Photo of Kathleen Schulz.
Credit: Courtesy of Kathleen Schulz

When you read this, it will be a new year. As German poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “And now we welcome the new year. Full of things that have never been.” A year filled with possibilities for ACS—and ACS leaders! What kind of leaders will we be in 2016?

ACS spends more than a half-million dollars annually on leadership development. We invest because great leaders are essential to the society’s success in today’s complex, rapidly changing world. ACS’s bevy of volunteer leaders—their commitment, energy, time contributed, and results achieved—are the envy of other societies. Strong leaders, developed through the society’s investment, are also ACS’s gift to employers.

What are “strong leaders”? We could answer by reviewing and summarizing the research and literature. This time, let’s take a different approach and use our own experience. We’ve all known or observed leaders from terrible to great. Turns out, we pretty much know great leadership when we see it. Here are four characteristics of great leaders I’ve observed.

Great leaders are passionate. The most powerful “secret sauce” of great leaders may be passion. Great leaders really care about the organization, the work, and the people. They are passionately dedicated to the mission and vision of the organization. They are energetic, enthusiastic, and purposeful; everything they do is fueled by focused passion. This, of course, inspires and attracts others.

“Extraordinary Leaders,” the ACS Leadership Development System advanced course, illustrates this through the Zenger Folkman CPO Model.

This model shows that leaders are most effective, are most satisfied, and have the greatest impact at the “sweet spot”—the intersection of competence, passion, and organizational needs. Passion is the magical element. We can always develop competence, and organizational need is either there or it’s not, if we’re honest with ourselves. The lesson for leaders: We need to be sure we choose work we’re genuinely interested in and passionate about. Especially volunteer work! Without passion, we just “go through the motions.” Other people notice our lack of energy and enthusiasm. It’s hard to attract others to help, and we’re less successful than we’d like.

Great leaders reflect. Great leaders make time to reflect. They purposefully carve out time from busyness to reflect on the bigger picture and what’s working and not working for them personally and for the team. Dag Hammarskjöld, former United Nations secretary-general, said, “Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.” Great leaders reflect to ensure that the team’s activities remain focused on longer-term goals.

Good leaders make sure their teams are adequately resourced and working. Great leaders make sure their teams stay on track, doing the right work. As expressed by Stephen Covey: “The leader is the one who climbs the tallest tree, surveys the entire situation, and yells, ‘Wrong jungle!’ ” Great leaders ensure their teams are in the “right jungle.” They also create opportunities for their team to continuously improve by reflecting on progress, capturing key learnings, and making adjustments.

Great leaders are optimistic. Great leaders are positive and “possibilities people”—great at identifying opportunities and overcoming barriers. They are clear that their highest responsibility is the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision. Great leaders create a climate in which their team can do great work. They support the team by tailoring “support” to individual needs. They believe the best of people—while promoting accountability. Great leaders find win-wins that do not compromise the team or organization’s effectiveness, while treating individuals with respect.

Great leaders are great communicators. Great leaders are great with words. They use words to communicate a vision and to guide, motivate, and inspire. Great leaders also communicate with far more than words. Organizational development experts tell us that one’s presence in a human system changes that system. Great leaders know this and use their actions as a powerful form of communication. First, they are present—not absent, nor present but divorced from the action. They use their presence to communicate, through both what they do and how they do it. They reinforce and give meaning, making words come alive through example, by “walking the talk.”

Outstanding leaders are a precious resource. They make a huge difference. I encourage you to reflect on what kind of leader you want to be for ACS in 2016. Let’s regularly take some time out: get quiet, perhaps take a walk in nature, and focus on how we’re embodying the characteristics of great leaders. We owe it to ourselves and to ACS.


Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.

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