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What Makes a Leader

What Makes a Leader

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Published by John Friedman
Based on a presentation - explaining how true leadership includes leading by actions, expertise and influence.
Based on a presentation - explaining how true leadership includes leading by actions, expertise and influence.

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Categories:Types, Speeches
Published by: John Friedman on Mar 12, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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07/25/2010

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What Makes a Leader?
 A lot has been written about what it means to be a leader. Certainly the area of sustainability and all the sub-categories under that umbrella offer a myriad of opportunities for organizations, companiesand individuals to carve out a niche as a leader in a specialty or sub-specialty. By  John Friedman
At the same time, however, I continue to be amazed at groups and organizations that refer to themselves as'a' leader or 'the' leader without being questioned by their stakeholders or the community. I once worked for a very intelligent person who decried those who declared leadership based on size alone; "just becausewe're the biggest, that does not make us the best." In fact, he went on to point out that the larger a companyor organization, the more important it was to be a leader lest it "lose more money" or "destroy more of theenvironment" based on its size alone.Wise words from a savvy leader who understood that while size matters, excellence matters more.Excellence is a constantly moving target. And there are different ways by which a person, an organization or a business can seek to be one that sets and then continually seeks to improve upon, the standard of behavior. True excellence can be achieved through leadership, or closely following the leaders in a givenarea or field. Remember Avis Car Rental's theme "we try harder"? it was based on being smaller than their largest competitor and therefore sought to position the company as more service oriented (a leadershipposition).
Leadership by Action
The first way that organizations should consider is leadership by actions. This can be hard for larger organizations that may have entrenched methods of doing things, because to lead by actions requires thatone's actions continually evolve, but that the underlying basis for those actions - the values that define theorganization - remain rock solid and consistent. Companies that lead by actions are not afraid to experimentwith new ideas and are willing (if not eager) to challenge their existing perceptions on a regular basis.Leaders in sustainability are not looking for ways to hang on to existing practices; they are investing in newprograms and models that reduce the use of energy and natural resources. They are experimenting withtechnologies that not only reduce carbon output, some may be looking at ways to remove carbon from theatmosphere and capture it. And at the forefront are those organizations that are basing their business modelon turning one industry's waste into the raw ingredients needed for completely different industries. Examplesof this include companies that are extracting the petroleum out of discarded plastic bottles and using it tocreate the polyester fibers that they turn into sportswear, to producing synthetic gypsum (roughly 20% of 
 
U.S. raw gypsum use) from the by-product of manufacturing and energy-generating processes, primarilyfrom desulfurization of coal power plant exhaust gases.
Leadership by Expertise
Another way in which companies can demonstrate leadership is through their expertise. The new focus on a'sustainable' economy is paving the way for companies that offer products or services that help other companies reduce their environmental impacts. A great example is in the area of information technologywhich not only can be used to help improve efficiencies in manufacturing, it can be used to look at entiresystems and provide vital information. Computer models alerted the world to the 'hole' in the ozone layer,satellites reveal changes in the polar ice caps, etc. In day to day application, measurement devices thatmonitor traffic flow could be used to automatically adjust traffic lights to facilitate safety and efficiency of transportation. Buildings that install monitors of electric power use help manage the peaks and valleys inconsumption, reducing energy costs and helping utilities determine where electricity is needed and when.Devices measure the depth and speed of rivers can be used to feed real-time data that can protect lives andproperty from natural disasters such as floods.Moving beyond the environmental pillar, on the social side, experts in issues like global development, fair trade, workers' rights, and labor relations will also continue to be in demand because companies areincreasingly going to be asked (required) to measure and report on their footprints in these areas as well.
Leadership by Influence
The last area where leadership can be demonstrated is one that has not fully been explored by many.Leaders know that they need to look beyond their own actions and expertise, and use their values not onlyon those portions of the supply chain under their direct control, but to look beyond to those things over whichthey can have an influence. This includes holding suppliers - and even customers - to adhere to values.Increasingly companies are requiring suppliers to do more than guarantee a level of quality for the productsthat they supply, some are requiring that suppliers maintain a chain of custody to ensure that the productsthat they are using confirm to environmental and social values. Large power-purchasers have beenexploring the extent of the influence that they can have on their suppliers' behavior by implementingrequirements beyond prices. Examples include Wal-Mart's efforts to reduce packaging and marketingmaterials and to sell sustainable seafood. In order to be a supplier to Wal-Mart, the giant retailer must beconvinced - often using third party validation - that the seafood products that they are selling to customersare, in fact, sourced from sustainable species.Changing consumer behavior is naturally harder. Programs such as charging and refunding deposits onglass and plastic bottles and aluminum cans provide direct financial incentives and are successful. But often,

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