Final word with Al Lynden

Great leadership: what does it take?


I’ve recently had the great honour of winning the Industry Achievement award at the North American Office Products Awards. One of the criteria for winning this award is great leadership I was told.

So when asked to define what makes a good leader I came up with a whole host of answers: being able to execute a solid business plan with benchmarks to assure systems run nearly autonomously; motivating associates; collaboration (the 2017 business buzzword). Then it struck me that words alone don’t make a good leader, nor does a well-executed business plan equate to being the type of person people want to follow. It’s more than that.

Leadership journey

Trust is the root of all sustainable relationships, from business to pleasure – that’s where it starts. Feedback and confidence from followers empower a leader. Building trust, influencing actions of others for the good of the whole is what great leaders do, but becoming a great leader, I believe, is a work in progress. 

Leaders are keen listeners with bright minds that like solving puzzles or riddles. People who see opportunities or a void that needs to be filled, and feel compelled to find answers to solve the problem, to fill the gap. These types find challenges energising rather than stressful. Problem-solving elevates their feeling of wellness as opposed to undermining it.

But it takes more than an appetite for learning and solving problems. A leader sees success in teamwork and knows the limits of self. This person strives to build teams that are willing to support well-defined goals based on mutual respect and open communication, and has the power – the duty even – to implement change.

Good leaders provide the environment and the framework for people to succeed. They lead by example, share joint responsibility to win, give people tools to empower their growth and contributions, and recognise
 and celebrate the success of
 the team or individuals.

Natural leaders enjoy people and the sharing of knowledge, build consensus, see the glass half full, and remain focused on the prize while distractions flare up and diversions take place. Leaders dismiss whining and instil winning. Confidence leads people; experience teaches confidence.

A leader must, in a way, be a storyteller who engages others for the betterment of all. This, in my opinion, is the most important part: honesty and ethics. Without the underlying concern for making things better for the whole, there is no benefit, no reward, no improvement, no leading.

Vision and beliefs

Great leaders have a clear vision and strong beliefs; they paint a picture we want to be a part of. This core message, this belief (the plan) and path (the opportunity) must pass a sound test to make the circle whole. For people to move from trust to actually follow they need to buy in and that happens only when the notes ring clear and true. In other words, people need the sum of all the parts to build trust and follow.

One example of exemplary business leadership today is the success story of Costco Wholesale. Starting with one warehouse in 1983 in Seattle, Costco’s co-founders, Jeff Brotman and Jim Senegal’s vision was to build a profitable company, charging less to customers, yielding margins 50% lower than the competition, while providing higher wages and benefits in a fun and healthy work environment for employees. 

Costco had a clear message, took care of its team, built trust and hired from within for promotions. Despite competing in one of the toughest businesses on the planet, despite criticism from Wall Street and investor advisors, Costco never strayed from its belief that a company can be both profitable and a generous employer. Today Costco is 776 stores strong with 2016 revenues approaching $119 billion.

I believe great leaders feel compelled to benefit the well-being of the community and enjoy the process of leading as much as the end results.

Al Lynden is the former owner and President of Chuckals.