OP-ED: Creativity, vision key to efficient business leadership

What makes some CEOs like Herb Kelleher, Richard Branson, and Jack Welch great leaders? Why do others fail to reach this summit?

What makes some CEOs like Herb Kelleher, Richard Branson, and Jack Welch great leaders? Why do others fail to reach this summit?

This question is particularly important to the PR community, where a strong corporate leader is indispensable to the company's ultimate success. He or she is the one who represents the company in front of the media, to employees, and to shareholders. So what is leadership? Leadership is about vision, creativity, and imagination. A leader has to see the future, commit to his goals, and blaze his own path or he runs the risk of missing the future. But vision without creativity and imagination is hollow. Reality begins with imagination, or as Albert Einstein said: "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Why? Because it enables us to look forward, escape the predictable, see beyond the moment, and transcend our circumstances. Leadership is about motivation. Colin Powell has said that leadership is about motivating people, turning people on, getting 110 % out of a personal relationship. It is about getting the best out of people. Theories of management are irrelevant unless you hire the best people and get them involved in a project. And trust them. Leadership is about effective communications. Too many companies build barriers to upward communications and, as a result, people stop trying. To be an effective leader, it is crucial that you listen, that you get input from myriad people and utilize what they have to offer. Don't be afraid to learn from your subordinates; they often bring a lot to the table. Leadership is about clarity of message. Author Michael Korda said: "Great leaders are almost always great simplifiers who can cut through argument, debate, and doubt to offer a solution everybody can understand." As with great writing, leadership is about delivering a clear and concise message to the media, employees, shareholders, and customers. A convoluted message will do nothing more than get you in trouble. Leadership is about balance. Having fun and putting things in perspective are essential to success. Both Kelleher of Southwest Airlines and Anita Roddick of The Body Shop prefer to work with people who have balance in their lives, who are fun to hang out with, who like to laugh (even at themselves) and have priorities outside the workplace that they attack with a passion. Leadership is about sensing an opportunity and taking a risk. The Chinese word for crisis is composed of two symbols meaning danger and opportunity. At the heart of every crisis lies an enormous opportunity. Seize it. Indecision is debilitating. It feeds upon itself. It is habit-forming and contagious, and it transmits itself to others. Business depends on action. It can't go forward by hesitation. A strong CEO must fortify him or herself with facts and accept responsibility for his decisions. Greater risk is involved in postponement than making a wrong decision. Finally deliver more than you promise, and don't fear a challenge. Leadership is about embracing cultural diversity. The workforce is changing for the better. Racial and ethnic diversity is an important and laudable goal. It enhances learning and the ability to participate as citizens in an increasing diverse society. Leadership is about credibility. Fortune magazine reported that the CEO accounts for up to 70% of a company's reputation. An integral part of credibility is making the tough decisions and standing by them. A CEO must understand that the "buck stops here," knowing that, ultimately, the responsibility lies with him, and he has to be able to make the calls that will impact the corporation and, ultimately, its shareholders. He has to not only make the decisions but also make them openly and honestly because as Warren Buffett says, "If you lose money for the firm, I will be very understanding. If you lose reputation for the firm, I will be ruthless." In the final analysis, effective and honest leadership absolutely enhances the credibility of a company. And when you get to the end of the day, a company's credibility is paramount. It is something that is not negotiable, and it is the keystone to success. Finally leadership is about perseverance. In the words of legendary basketball coach Jimmy Valvano: "Don't give up. ... Don't ever give up."
  • Michael Lissauer is SVP of marketing and business strategy at Business Wire.

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