7 Keys to Effective Leadership

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Here are seven keys or important competencies leaders must have.

(Adapted from The Leader’s Edge by Burt Nanus; Contemporary Books, 1989.)


1 Farsightedness

A strong leader’s mind operates in the future tense, always searching for opportunities and threats, always asking, “What if?” and “Why not?” and “So what?” He pays attention to the past and present to determine their implications for the future.  It means keeping the eye firmly fixed on the far horizon while taking steps toward it.

This competency gives the leader the perspective needed to form a vision, which is indispensable in:

(1) setting the direction,

(2) providing a guiding force for the present,

(3) thinking about the long-range consequences of present actions and choices,

(4) providing early notice of issues and opportunities that are worth exploring, and

(5) suggesting new options or reasons for changing direction.

How is this done?

(1) Become skilled in collecting informative date and facts.

(2) Interpret change by tracing cause-and-effect relationships as they play out over a period of time.

(3) Develop a mental model of cause-and-effect relationships built up over years of experience, training, reading and reflection.

(4) Develop the ability to evaluate current trends and possible developments for their long-term significance.

(5) Develop the creative, imaginative and intuitive processes that are essential for direction-setting.

2 Mastery of interdependence

The goal of this mastery is teamwork

(1) To promote a sense of community.

(2) To see people delivered from an excessive preoccupation with themselves.

(3) To guide the community into an intense desire to be of service to others.

You want the community to have the sense they are successful when others succeed and are oriented toward aiding others to perform effectively.

How to reach the goal:

(1) Leadership must inspire others to share ideas and flesh out commitment,

(2) The leader must communicate well and frequently, and

(3) He must also seek collaborative solutions to problems that will permit the group to grow, change and constantly improve. This is done through:

(a) Strong interpersonal relationships.

(b) Regular quality interaction.

(c) Building coalitions.

(d) Fostering participation in decision-making.

(e) Securing ownership of results.

(f) By personal example of shared concern, trust, and respect.

Observation:  Nothing is so energizing as a godly leader who is able to forge talented individuals into a team for which each is willing to do his very best for God and the greater good of others.

3 Anticipatory Learning

Every leader should be committed to being a lifelong learner. He should take every opportunity to gain new insights and understanding of how to increase growth and effectiveness.

The leader should have a strong commitment to promoting organizational learning as well. As the leader is only as strong as the people serving with him, and there must be a definite strategy for the growth of subordinate leaders as well.

Every leader should understand his own strengths and weaknesses, seek to improve where possible, and maximize learning from failures and successes.

He should also learn from efforts made to anticipate the future (contingency planning). To do so he makes personal observations, talks with colleagues, and studies critical commentary. He watches trends and indicators that suggest emerging problems and opportunities. He learns from his constituents in times of brainstorming and the sharing of ideas. He learns to determine what is important and sets the right priorities. He watches for early warning of future developments. He considers all his options to assist him in making the right decisions. 

4 High standards of integrity

Only he deserves to be a leader who every day justifies it!
— Dag Hammarskjold

There can be no trust unless the leader is trustworthy – dependable, reliable, honest and honorable.

Those who have undertaken leadership roles must see themselves as having undertaken a sacred trust.  Their vision and actions must at all times be ethical and, occasionally, ennobling. People will not follow a fraud, but they will forgive mistakes of those they believe to be honest, fair, and trustworthy.

5 Organizational design

Leaders forge and help to determine the context – what will the organization need to accomplish for the realization of an intended future?  Can the priorities needed best be realized through formal structures and rules or through a team approach?

They establish policy guidelines that include performance and standards.

They determine the setting and boundaries.

They design the structure and support system, which includes roles and relationships, preparing organizational flow charts, networks, and chains of authority. They also outline the communication strategy and flow.

They implement the plan. This includes putting together the right team or staff, providing for needed resources, following through on performance, evaluations, and altering goals and directions as needed.

6 Takes initiative

The leader is motivated, and takes the initiative. They don’t wait to be told, managed, or led.

The leader exercises decisiveness, determination and follow-through. He is concerned with:

(1) Opening new doors for the group or organization.

(2) Setting high standards for service; knowing at what level of satisfaction each member is.

(3) Differentiating the group or organization for the sake of revealing relevant uniqueness.

(4) Being sensitive to environmental signals, both within and without.

(5) Being curious and inquisitive, seeking constant knowledge, information and feedback.

(6) A serious concern for research.

(7) Knowing where to exert pressure in order to make things happen.

(8) The ability to separate the critical from the interesting. Prioritizes well.

(9) Taking on opportunities to move the group forward at the right time.

(10) Knows what and how much to delegate.

(11) Devoting a good deal of time to the developmental side of the organization.

(12) Rapidly and creatively adapting ideas that will make new things happen.

(13) The ability to entertain the unconventional (can think outside the box, or not afraid of it)

7 Mastery of change

The leader sees problems as dynamic situations that offer opportunities for progressive transformation or containment.

He properly guides the speed and direction of growth to be in balance with resources.

He develops the ability to solicit flexible responses.

He identifies people groups and their needs and promotes relevant services.

The leader knows that the future belongs to those in motion (nothing stagnant about him).