The foundations of great leadership

We talked in the previous section about the bedrock of great leadership - your values, beliefs and behaviours. Once you have this solid ground in place you can start laying down the foundations of your leadership expertise. And remember - no reputable builder would ever start to lay the foundations of a building without making sure that there was solid ground underneath.


There are four distinct foundation stones that you are going to need to put in place on this solid ground. Once you have them, you can add the building blocks of managerial skill that you are going to need in your day to day activities.

Minds thinking

Copyright: lightwise,

The four foundation stones of leadership

1. Expectations
2. Effectiveness
3. Execution
4. Engagement

Let's briefly have a look at each one in turn. You will find a separate page for each on this site.

1. Expectations

Do you really understand what is expected of you as leader? It might seem obvious, but many people have failed principally because they did not. You need to think carefully about who 'consumes' what you do in your leadership role, and make sure you understand the expectations that they have of you. 

If you do not, you are in danger of working under assumptions that could prove to be incorrect. See the section on Expectations for more.

2. Effectiveness

In the context of this discussion, effectiveness means 'working on the right things'. It is whatever is most important in the context of your job. Effective leaders understand this and ruthlessly get after what matters - the things that are going to make the biggest difference to results. Ineffective leaders may be good at getting things done, but if they are working on the wrong things they are unlikely to do well.


For the CEO, this might mean determining the right strategy and making sure everyone is focused on delivering it. Get the strategy wrong and you may struggle or even fail. Have no strategy and it is only a matter of time before you are out of business.


For a team leader in a call centre, it might mean ensuring that everyone understands what a good discussion with a customer looks like and is focussed first and foremost on the customer's experience when they call, chat or message. It might not sound like a grand strategy, but it probably matters more than anything else our team leader can do. It becomes his or her strategy! 

Good leaders understand what's important and focus their effort and resources on that - despite the many distractions that organisations invariably create (and they really do!).

See the section on Effectiveness for more.



3. Execution

If effectiveness is all about working on the right things, execution is all about efficiency in the way that things get done. That means making sure that processes are disciplined, documented, understood, trained and followed. People should be actively encouraged to think about better ways of doing things, but proposed changes need to be tested and verified before being adopted in a systematic and professional way. Think about the Nissan plant in Sunderland - Europe's most productive car factory. The folks there are fastidious about developing the best methods of getting things done and involve everyone in the process of finding a better way.


The efficient leader vigorously pursues the fastest and most economic way of getting things done consistent with the quality and standards required. If people aren't following agreed processes, ask yourself if they have been trained properly. If no, then train them. If yes, then counsel them. But don't let sloppiness and a lack of disciplined effort derail your plan.


Good leaders get things done in a disciplined, timely and efficient way, training and encouraging others to do the same.

See the section on Execution for more.

Nissan plant Sunderland

4. Engagement

The last of the four foundation stones of great leadership is all about the engagement and motivation of the people working in your team or organisation. And why is this important? Simply put, the extent to which people have their hearts in the job makes a huge difference to their contribution. And those contributions, added up, have a massive impact on organisational performance. So it follows that a key responsibility of leaders is to create the conditions under which people are motivated at work and have their hearts in the job. 

The frightening fact though is that large and well managed studies by highly respected organisations keep coming up with one of the most scary statistics for any leader - that at the very most only around one third of workers in our part of the world have their hearts in the job, with the remaining two thirds at best indifferent and at worst actively negative in their attitudes and behaviours to their employer. The loss of performance, quality, productivity and output is astonishing, but still it goes on. 

We are all aware of, or have worked for someone that manages to frustrate, upset and alienate people at work (we could use stronger language, but won't). Unsurprisingly, such pariahs fail to get anything but the minimum of effort from their people, and at worse poison the workplace environment. Such people need to be rooted out as quickly as possible.


But there is perhaps an even greater threat to securing the discretionary effort of the workforce - and that is the leader or manager who is just incompetent with people, even if on the face of it they appear to be 'ok' at managing. We know that at least 70% of the workforce don't have their hearts in the job, but they are not all led or supervised by people who are clearly poisonous. We are therefore left with the inevitable conclusion that even moderate sounding and apparently reasonably competent managers are often unable to secure the discretionary effort of their people. And it's not because they are 'bad', it's simply that they are not applying the basic competencies that result in an enthusiastic, engaged and motivated workforce. Don't let that be you - neither your organisation nor your reputation can sustain it.


Unfortunately there are folks who will never be anything other than cynical and negative at work, no matter how good their boss is. Best they are helped to go elsewhere. But imagine what would happen to results if we could get engagement levels up from a paltry 30% (already an optimistic figure) to 70%? That would create far more wealth to which the workforce would be entitled their share.

See the section on Employee Engagement for more.

Birds flying with the leader out front

Copyright: mangsaab

What do these four foundation stones of leadership mean for me?

Having acquainted yourself with the four foundation stones of leadership, you need to think carefully how each one applies to you in your role - or the one to which you aspire. Look at the relevant sections on this site for help. However, the person who is expert at everything simply does not exist! Because of that you may well need help with one or more of the four foundation stones. The good leader understands his or her strengths and weaknesses and has no problem asking for help.