A Leadership Sketch

The leadership principles presented in a Leadership Taxonomy are complex and somewhat abstract. We felt it might be useful to “paint a picture” of what good leadership of a group often looks like. This is not absolute: leadership can vary and may differ from our “picture.” In painting this picture, we also are thinking mainly in terms of a product or service development team or set of teams, at any scale. We hope this “picture” is useful, and please remember that it is not intended to be definitive.

  1. Leaders are goal-oriented visionaries. They see far. They go first. They paint a picture of a better world and show us how to get there.
  2. Leaders have their finger on the pulse. They understand the problems we are experiencing. They understand it logically and emotionally. They understand our pain, our fears, and desires.
  3. Leaders are deeply involved in the work. They ask people what is going on and they help them find the way. They set goals and constraints but not detailed solutions. They value deep and open discussion.
  4. Leaders understand what we need and they explain how we can get it. They have a solution and a plan that makes sense, that seems achievable. A plan that is broad and high level, that can change as the need arises.
  5. Leaders make good decisions that solve problems. When they make poor decisions and don’t solve problems they lose support.
  6. Leaders share the benefits of success with their people, fulfilling the promises they have made to them.  Leaders are accountable to their people.
  7. Leaders align us and unite us. They bring us together for a common purpose to achieve a worthwhile goal.
  8. Leaders inspire us with stories of villains and heroes, a dark present and a bright future, of obstacles to overcome and a plan to overcome them.
  9. Leaders ask for power, authority, and resources to achieve the goal and we give it to them because we want them to help us get to a better future.
  10. Leaders often start as thought leaders with no authority or resources. They gain followers and then those followers give them authority and resources.
  11. Leaders negotiate with powerful groups on behalf of their team. The team trusts the leader to represent their interests and to make the right decisions for them. Stakeholders trust the leader to be true to their word.
  12. Leaders know that they don’t know all the answers. They explore the situation. They ask for advice. They listen to people. They conduct experiments and scout ahead.
  13. Leaders know they can’t do everything themselves. They ask other people to help. They recruit people, inspire them, listen to them, and delegate to them.
  14. Leaders inspire those who report to them to be leaders. They explain the situation and the mission and they ask their people to develop a plan to achieve it.
  15. Leaders teach other people how to be leaders. They ask people to describe the problem, the solution, and the outcome and to ask for the power and resources they need to achieve it. They grow the leaders that will replace them in the future.
  16. Leaders give their people the authority and resources they need to achieve the goal they have agreed to achieve.
  17. Leaders trust people to make decisions quickly based on local factors. They know the world is uncertain and constantly changing and the people on the ground are in the best position to make the right decision to achieve the goal.
  18. Leaders help people to organize themselves to solve problems. They coach, mentor, train, and support people. They understand and improve group dynamics. They make others better people.
  19. Leaders can be appointed or they can arise naturally. Sometimes those who are appointed to leadership positions are unable or unwilling to lead. Sometimes those who are not in an official position are the real leaders.
  20. Leaders have followers. If they don’t have followers they are not a leader.
  21. The best leaders are good organizers. They understand structure, stability, tradeoffs, processes, tools, and budgets. They make good decisions that people want to follow.
  22. Leadership is learned from role models. They may be parents, community leaders, or managers.
  23. Leaders demonstrate the behavior they are asking for from others. Leaders lose our trust when their words and actions diverge.
  24. Some people know how to be leaders when they enter the workforce others learn it from mentors, from books, and through trial and error.
  25. Leaders define the leadership model of their organization through their words and deeds.
  26. Leaders lose our support and their authority when their plans fail and they make the situation worse. This is a good thing. Leaders should be replaced when they have outlived their purpose to the group or the organization.