Four Keys to Effective Leadership

Nothing serves an organization better…than leadership that knows what it wants, communicates those intentions, positions itself correctly, and empowers its workforce.
—Warren Bennis, Author

I came across this quote early in my study of leadership. In one form or another it has guided my work as a leader of in-house organizations over the past three decades. Those organizations have included technical writing for the first personal computers, aviation training development for pilots, program materials for youth and adults in Scouting, and promotional campaigns for membership recruitment.

While the team members across those organizations have ranged from technical writers to pilots to editors and graphic designers, they have all had one thing in common. They all needed a leader to paint the target for them to hit—and to do so clearly and consistently over months or even years.

Goal Setting. Set goals that work for your organization—those that drive the behaviors necessary for your team to achieve success. You’re in the best position to derive these goals through conversation with clients and upper management. In my case, meeting clients’ needs, hitting deadlines, and beating budgets almost always rose to the top of the list.

Communication. Clearly communicate your goals, as well as “the why” behind them. This is a never-ending task. Seek out examples of success and failure. Communicate those examples along with the results that your organization is achieving.

Positioning. Honesty. Transparency. Do what you say you’ll do. These are vital to the positioning of a credible, effective leader. In addition, celebrate success and do so often. In the early stages, find even the smallest shred of success and point it out. It’s a big deal to even begin to make progress against your goals. This also confirms that the boss thinks it’s important and is willing to invest the time and effort.

Empowerment. Empowerment is not about letting the team charge forward on their own; it’s about guiding them through the articulation of goals and measures that tell them how they are doing. It is also through celebrating successes and quietly correcting failures that everyone starts to not only get the message but realize that you are in earnest about achieving the stated objectives.

Leadership is a full-contact endeavor. Your team members need to know at all times what their goals are, how they are being measured against them, and what your level of commitment is to achieving them.

About the Author: Jim Wilson is a retired in-house publishing and communications executive who is in the process of “rewiring” around writing and consulting projects. You can learn more about Jim by reading his blog on career topics at

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