Building a foundation for great leadership

By William Seidman In “The End of Leadership,” Peter Vander Auwera bemoans the state of leadership today and calls for “a more humanistic approach, inspired by meaning and purpose.” This gets at something quite profound about leadership: The conventional wisdoms of leadership just don’t work. In our more than 15 years of helping organizations develop cultures of greatness, we found that almost everyone knows the conventional wisdoms but hardly anyone practices them. The few that do practice conventional leadership do not have much impact. About five years ago, we began to focus in on what the truly successful leaders were doing that seemed so different than the majority. We found that they were all incredibly humble about their abilities, particularly when faced with tremendous uncertainty, many hidden agendas, resource shortages, disruptive competition, globalization and a host of other factors. We found that they followed what we now call the Four Positives:

  • Positive Deviance: They relied on the most respected people in their organizations a lot.
  • Positive Images, particularly positive purpose: They focused on creating a collective, compelling purpose that was expressed in terms of the greatness they could achieve.
  • Positive Practice: They insisted that everyone, themselves included, practice being great at achieving the purpose, and gave people the time and support to become great.
  • Positive Reflection: They spent time thinking about who they were and what they hoped to accomplish. They expected everyone else to invest in self-reflection as well, which creates authenticity and trust.
The Four Positives, which are directly supported by the newest research on positive deviance and neuroscience, are the foundation of great leaders. No lame, glib mission statements here!  ]]>

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