[Editor’s Note: This article summarizes the just completed 10-part Cornerstones of Effective Leadership series examining the building blocks of effective L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P.]

"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still. Progress occurs when courageous, skillful leaders seize the opportunity to change things for the better." ---Harry TrumanTiming is everything, some people say, and in our public and political discourse, every talking head and political observer laments the "lack of leadership" in our political process as we lurch from one unsolved problem to the next crisis. But, what does that mean? What important qualities are missing when we complain of a "lack of leadership"?

In our now concluded L.E.A.D.E.R.S.H.I.P. series, we covered 10 of the most important building blocks of effective leadership. It's part of our ongoing quest to grasp the essence of leadership, and we're not finished. I'm preparing a new, upcoming series to dig deeper to uncover more of these distinguishing qualities and will strive to continue to offer some practical ways to help you become a more effective leader.

You still might say, I don't get it. I read the words, I recognize the concepts … I truly see the value of many of these characteristics ... but in every day practice, what can I do to strengthen these muscles to become a more successful leader?

Great question. The good news is that most of these attributes are acquired habits, and work like muscle memory ... they get stronger when they’re exercised repeatedly over time. You CAN become more RELIABLE by simply recognizing that it's your responsibility to keep track of the commitments you make throughout the day, and make sure they're honored. You can start working on that right now. You can also work on your SERVICE strengths; your willingness to be open-minded; to listen to customers, vendors and employees; and constantly strive to serve them.

You can become more DISCIPLINED by focusing on the things that distinguish your success, by cutting out all the crappy stuff, as Steve Jobs says, and making sure that you're paying attention to the right things. You can have a positive ATTITUDE ... because your Attitude is one thing you can absolutely and fully control. Your attitude is yours to own and yours alone, so you can make a big difference by bringing a positive Attitude to everything you do.

You can be LOYAL to people. You can stand up for them under difficult circumstances and support them when they're not in the room. You can EDUCATE yourself ... and likewise educate your team by focusing on learning and training experiences that both encourage their individual growth and advance the goals and objectives of the organization. You can pursue EXCELLENCE with a vengeance, demanding it at every turn, never turning your back on it. You can make certain that your company has a definable PURPOSE that everybody understands … and that your vision, mission and strategy are well aligned to the explicit Purpose you have helped to define.

Yes, it's true ... some of these qualities are harder to sharpen. Most people would agree that you either have INTEGRITY or you don't. Yet, you have countless opportunities ... every day ... to strengthen it whenever you recognize that you’re not exercising the muscles of honesty, accountability and transparency. That’s something you CAN do, and others' view of your performance may be modified as they see these changes in you over time. HUMILITY is likewise is a difficult quality to create, but you can put your ego in the closet, think about how to Serve others … and a more natural humility may become a more central part of your character.

Below you'll find a very simple matrix that identifies these 10 Cornerstones of Effective Leadership. (There is also a downloadable template at Exkalibur.com that you can easily access.) If nothing else, keep this simple checklist where you can easily see it and regularly reflect on how you can strengthen these characteristics. Work on one of them every day to improve your leadership effectiveness. Keep each of them front and center ... and if you find that you may have slipped, grab one of these handy barbells and exercise those muscles, and thereby activate your renewed commitment to improve your leadership effectiveness.

Which of these are the most powerful tools in your arsenal? Which of them are the most difficult for you to activate? What's missing when you consider the phrase, "lack of leadership?"


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 recently hosted a Cash Flow Workshop, "It’s Midnight. Do you Know Where Your Cash Is?" 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.