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Am I a leader? (Best practices).


It comprises moments of truth when the leader asks others to entwine their fates for uncertain, unknowable destinies. I'm not speaking about the intellectual process of leading--those familiar goings-on we know so well, such as making decisions, planning (sometimes plotting) alternatives, or taking actions. No, that's the daytime work. Good leaders systematically use this kind of intelligence, give it structure, and request others to follow its dictates.

But no first-rate leader can ever elicit great performance by following established customs. The uncommon leader embraces the intangibles by learning to make them his or her stock in trade. I am speaking of four intangibles in particular--tone, time, trust, and transfer. These point toward our inner capacity to direct, create, and respond to life by using capabilities we all possess--insight, common sense, and wisdom. They are the very same qualities that enable individuals to change, teams to break fresh ground, and organizations to sustain performance through good times and bad.


Graceful leaders pay attention to tone--that pitch of language or body movement that expresses meaning so eloquently--by asking, "How am I feeling?" and "How are others feeling?" When their own mood is positive and lighthearted or when they see others express humor, wellbeing, or warmth, they know that a great deal can be accomplished easily and quickly.

Conversely, if they wake up on the wrong side of bed or if a meeting turns dispirited, they know not to push themselves. People simply don't do their best work when they are in a low mood--and while we all may take this statement for granted, leaders rarely act on it.

Changing the tone is simple for leaders who recognize that all moods result from thoughts being expressed as feelings. For such leaders, low moods are nothing more than anxious, worried, distracted, or fearful thoughts. They know that they can lift their own mood by looking toward the positive--humor, love, kindness, compassion, gratitude, service, or forgiveness--and knowing that these thoughts automatically lighten their feelings and elevate the spirits and thinking of those around them.

Skilled leaders look to feelings as the first order of any business. They are contagious. An engaged, lighthearted feeling may yield infectious enthusiasm and creative answers to problems.


Moments of inspired action seemingly come to accomplished leaders without conscious direction; they "merely see what needs to be done and then just do it."

They are able to gain clarity and perspective not necessarily by having more knowledge or experience but by using that special way of perception that comes from seeing the future as part of the present. In moments like these, their sense of "now" is not linear.

They know that timelessness is a state of consciousness. Their faith in this higher form of consciousness enables them to trust that their insight and intuition will be accessible to them when they most need it, to act as if the future were here right now, and to resist rushing into action until the purpose of that action is obvious.


Anyone who has ever been on a real team, where the members transcend their egos and work toward a common goal, knows that trust is at the heart of all great teams.

We have been so conditioned to look out for Number One that giving of one's time and talents to others is assumed to be a sucker's game. This is ironic because anyone who has ever been on a team that reaches its dreams will say that they were willing to give their best effort without regard for personal recognition or reward. Teams like that can accomplish so much, so easily, that the rewards are practically inevitable.

Skillful leaders build teams on trust, with a dash of respect. One of the most important ways they do this is by engendering feelings of connectedness by having faith in others and by acting in such a way that teammates can rely on the leaders' promises.

Feelings of goodwill connect people and establish the rapport necessary for listening and communicating. This helps others think more clearheadedly because they aren't wrapped up in their own egos, worrying about appearances.

Delivering on your promises simply means saying what you mean and doing what you say. It's not hard. The payoff is being able to maintain your sense of integrity with your teammates, and the consequence is that much more effort and attention are devoted to the task and much less to gossiping, spying, or worrying.

Leaders who insist that trust is something that must be earned or that a dose of healthy competition among team members is a good thing innocently sabotage accomplishment and interfere with tight group dynmics. Such leaders often generate feeling of rivalry or discouragement, which lead to behaviors that work against collective accomplishment.


Ultimately, the measure of a leader's success is the extent to which others grow in their own capacity to lead. Helping others express their talents as managers requires a shift in mental perception. We must re-orient our thinking from being primarily concerned about our own contributions, failures, or rewards to being focused on the personal growth of others.

Since accountability can never be delegated (the captain goes down with the ship), it takes a leap of faith to believe that others not only have the capacity to step up but also have the commitment to make whatever contribution is required.

Effective delegation releases more constructive energy than anything else a leader can do. This is so obvious that it needs no proof. But it does require a willingness to acknowledge that possibilities exist beyond our own knowledge or experience. When leaders think hopeful thoughts, they release the creativity and contributions of others, who step forward with actions and decisions that often surpass the leader's expectations.

An Answer

Emerson said that life's most profound questions are never answered directly, for truth can never be proven, it can only be revealed in action. Knowing that you are a leader is one of those--something discovered only by the process of living as if you actually are the leader you aspire to be.

By keeping the question, "Am I a leader?" in mind, perhaps you will discover these truths for yourself the next time you awake in the heart of darkness.

Bob Gunn is the co-founder of Gunn Partners, a consulting firm that helps companies improve the relevance and value of staff functions. He is responsible for client relationships for Gunn Partners' parent company, Exult, Inc., a premiere business process outsourcer. You can e-mail Bob at
COPYRIGHT 2002 Institute of Management Accountants
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Gunn, Bob
Publication:Strategic Finance
Date:Apr 1, 2002
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