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Beginning a series on its attributes; up first, ‘loyalty’

“Some of the greatest battles will be fought within the silent chambers of your own soul.” -- Ezra Taft Benson

As a business leader, how often have you paused to wonder, “Am I a very good leader?” “Is it possible that I’m really just a ‘legend in my own mind’ and that when I turn around and look closely, not many people are following?”

Leadership is the centerpiece of our business success. We start out with what God gave us, and stumble, fall, grow, learn and build from that foundation, emboldened by our success, nurtured by our failures.

Your business will not survive … let alone thrive … if you don’t become the best leader you can, quenching your own thirst for knowledge while nurturing successful leadership behavior around you. What does it take to be a good leader? How much is inherited, and is that all we’re going to get? Where can we go to fill in what’s missing? What if we apply the best practices that others have learned and shared?

Yes, it’s possible that we’re not quite the leaders we think we are. So, how do we measure our capability and success as leaders? If our company is making money, does that cover it? If our company is growing, have we arrived? Do we just need to look around to see if anyone is following us?

There are countless definitions, metaphors and analogies to describe Leadership, and I’ve probably used all of them on one occasion or another. Leadership is communication. Leadership is influence. Leadership is about achieving accountability. It’s all this … and more.

In some form or another, leadership is about inspiring a group of people to achieve a common goal. It’s measured by performance at every level … growth, profits, longevity, turnover, succession … and its demands can be unforgiving.

In many ways, leadership is a bottomless bucket of attributes, skills, qualities and characteristics that are required to move our organizations toward success. Our libraries and bookstores are chocked full with books and articles on the subject. They’ve been written by and from every perspective … from classic sources like Machiavelli’s The Prince, to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, from the perspectives of Genghis Khan and Napoleon, McArthur and Patton. There are books with a religious perspective, sharing the leadership lessons gleaned from the teachings of Mohammed, Jesus and Buddha.

There are countless books from and about business leaders of every stripe … from Alfred Sloan who built General Motors, to GE’s legendary CEO, Jack Welch … to technology leaders like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Academicians and consultants as well as a wide range of observers and students also fill bookshelves with their thoughts and observations.

As I launch an extended discussion about leadership over the next several months, we’re not going to re-create or summarize that rich body of work. You should devote time to some of those works, however, as they will provide valuable perspectives and ideas that will inform your leadership style and focus.

Instead, we’re going to explore on some of the most important building blocks of leadership. I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few years, and as I’ve talked to CEOs, taken notes and captured my own experiences, I realize that many of these key attributes start with one of the letters in the word L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P., which we’ll use as a platform for our extended conversation.

Next time, we’ll begin with L = Loyalty, a powerful but often misunderstood touchstone of a successful leader. I’ll be writing an article every week over the next several months to stimulate this dialog, all of which will be published here and on Exkalibur.com.

In the meantime, let’s engage in a vibrant conversation about leadership. Take part and leave comments at NorthBayBusinessJournal.com or at Exkalibur.com. Maybe there are attributes you think I overlooked, or maybe you disagree with my choices. Either way, feel free to share your thoughts along the way.

What do you think are the most important characteristics of leadership? Which ones do you cherish as critical to your success?

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Lary Kirchenbauer is the President of Exkalibur Advisors, providing practical business strategies for middle market businesses. Exkalibur works closely with senior executives and their businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy, and is hosting a Cash Flow Workshop, “It’s Midnight. Do you Know Where Your Cash Is?” on May 25th. You can subscribe to his newsletter at the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com. You’ll also find a library of valuable resources, including a new video and podcast library as well as articles and insights related to middle market businesses.