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Define excellence in leadership? The six most important words for a leader

When defining excellence in leadership, who better to turn to for passionate yet concise advice than Tom Peters? “The definition of excellence in leadership is the person who is completely at your disposal.” Peters asks you to imagine having waited six months for that meeting with Mr. / Mrs. Big. You finally walk into the room for the five minutes you’ve been given and … he looks at you but does not see you.

So how do you begin to apply Peters’s definition? He quotes Dee Hock, the founder of Visa, who proposed a short “Doctorate” in Leadership as follows:

“Make a list of all the things they did to you that you hated. Don’t do them to others. Never.

Make another list of the things that you did and loved. Do them to others. Always.

A leader who is “completely available to you” will be saying very different things to one who is not. UK management thinker and writer John Adair has some good suggestions on the importance of choosing the right words. Managers who wish to be leaders would do well to consider:

The 6 most important words … “I admit I made a mistake.”

The 5 most important words ………. “I am proud of you”.

The 4 most important words … “What is your opinion?”

The 3 most important words … “Please”.

The 2 most important words … “Thank you”.

The 1 most important word … “We”.

The least important word ……. “I”.

Simple words to say? Well maybe, but easier said than done! How often do you hear leaders use them? As a leader, how often do you use them? As Stephen Covey says, “You can’t get out of something where you have behaved in your own way.”

Think of these words and as Peters says, you will be there 99%. Who knows … put them into practice, cultivate the right habits, and perhaps you will become an excellent leader. Defining excellence in leadership may be simple, but becoming an excellent leader is another matter. As Aristotle pointed out:

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”

As cunning as modern gurus are, we shouldn’t ignore the shining examples of leadership excellence in history.

Warren Bennis, a leading thinker on leadership, tells an old story about the difference between the two British political leaders of the 19th century, William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. It was said that when you dined with Gladstone, you left feeling that she was the most witty, brilliant and charming person in the world. But when you had dinner with Disraeli, you left feeling that you were the most witty, brilliant and charming person in the world.

There are no prizes for guessing which of these Peters and Bennis would use to define leadership excellence.

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