What Great Leaders Do Great

In the five decades of my career, I’ve had the great privilege of learning from some fantastic leaders who created world-class cultures and leadership development programs – especially early in my career at IBM and PepsiCo. I’ve observed great leaders like Tom Watson Jr. at IBM and Wayne Calloway at PepsiCo. I’ve applied those lessons over time as I’ve had the chance to lead teams, lead transformations, build cultures and help develop the next generation of leadership. I’ve even written a book on leadership called The Calloway Way: Results and Integrity, based on the life and career of Wayne Calloway.

Here’s what I’ve been able to boil it down to in the most simple way. Leadership comes in a myriad of shapes, sizes and personalities. However, there are a few big things that all great leaders do great, and they’re easy to observe. Great leaders are great at:

  • Setting the Agenda
  • Building a Great Team
  • Delivering with Consistency

It seems pretty straightforward and, at first glance, not particularly insightful. However, when you really examine people in leadership positions, many are good at parts, but not at integrating all three. It’s not hard to find examples of leaders that can set elegant and compelling agendas, but never deliver them. We can also find really poor agendas delivered extremely well because they’ve built a capable team.

So, let’s focus on what I would call a complete leader.

A complete leader:

  • Sets the Agenda. It’s connected to larger ideas and outcomes and is meaningful, purposeful and focused on the future (See How to Pick a Good Fight – HBR article, December 2009). It’s the WHY and the WHAT (see another book I wrote titled Blind Spot: A Leader’s Guide To IT-Enabled Business Transformation) of the journey. However, most leaders focus on the WHAT, often with the help of outside consultants, but gloss over the WHY. The WHY really matters, because it’s about articulating the purpose or a cause to which people can relate. It’s also durable and will enable an organization to sustain a long and difficult transformation journey.
  • Builds a Great Team. That’s the real work of a complete leader. Too often, the leader delegates this work to each of his/her managers where the definition of “great” will vary. The only way to build a great team is to be very hands-on and, specifically, spend large amounts of calendar time on selecting, developing and coaching your leadership team two to three levels deep. This was the cornerstone of my learnings at Watson’s IBM and Calloway’s PepsiCo. Calloway, in particular, spent about a third of his time on recruiting, coaching, evaluating, giving feedback, exiting and promoting the top 500 leaders.
  • Delivers with Consistency. This was always the final measure of a PepsiCo leader. Delivery was king at PepsiCo. WHAT you delivered (the Agenda) mattered, and HOW you delivered it mattered just as much. That meant showing up, being solution-oriented and knowing the details of your projects and people. You had to be in the fight with your team and delivering “results with integrity” quarter after quarter, year after year.

If you fall short on any of these three competencies, the things great leaders do great, you have an opportunity to improve. You should do it for yourself. You should do it for your team and the mission that you’re on. You can become a great leader by doing ALL these things great.

The Feld Group Institute can help you get where you want to be as a leader, and beyond, through our Technology Leadership Development (TLD) program. If you’re ready to take the next step towards becoming a truly great leader, review our TLD program, and let us know if you’d like to be a part of the next session.

Author: Charlie Feld, Founder, The Feld Group Institute
Connect with Charlie Feld on LinkedIn


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