Leadership: How Much Difference Does a Small Difference Make?

Two thousand years ago the Jews were searching for and anticipating the Savior who would lead them to the Promised Land. And while the messiah was found for much of the religious world, the search for leaders in the secular world continues unabated.

The world seems perennially in need of and in search of great leaders. We  in America are no different. We seem eager to grow leaders  as if they were corn on a farm. Every newborn child is a candidate. Plant the leadership seed, provide a nourishing, educational environment, and voila!, you’ve got another leader.

The idea of growing up to be a great leader starts the first time our parents see us and can swear they hear Hail to the Bob MacDonald on LeadershipChief playing as background music in the delivery room. Our education to become leaders seems to start right after we are old enough to go potty by ourselves and does not end till we are too old to go potty by ourselves. In between, our lives are relentlessly bombarded with teachings of what leaders ought to be. There is no escape. Whether we are at home, school, church, boy/girl scouts and even at work, we are besieged and implored to learn to be a leader.

Our society is so obsessed with leaders that we could spend the rest of our lives reading all that has been written about leadership and not even scratch the surface. (Of course, a glance at the news of the day makes it obvious that few business executives or politicians are reading any of the information available on leadership.)

And, how many times can people tell us that in order to be a leader we have to have vision, trustworthiness, courage, dedication and enthusiasm? Well, my belief, honed from decades of experience and observation in the business world, is that it takes more than having our brains injected with the concepts and traits of leadership to identify and develop real leaders.

The business world is filled with thousands of individuals working hard to be effective leaders. And, that is good, but hard work is not enough to distinguish oneself as a truly outstanding leader. My thesis is that if you want to rise above the rest and achieve truly unique levels of success, it is not enough to simply follow the rules and lead like everyone else. You need to be different; you need to do more than other individuals in positions of leadership.

Think about the world of professional golf. There are literally thousands of professional golfers who have, for most of their lives, been schooled in the rules and techniques of golf. Professional golfers spend untold hours honing their skills and learning their game.

The reality is that among those who make a living as a professional golfer there is a razor thin difference in the knowledge of the game and skills at striking the ball. And yet, despite only the slightest differences in experience and talent, certain golfers consistently rise above the rest to achieve remarkable success.

Through August of 2009, the player ranked number one in scoring average per each round of a tournament averaged 68.18 strokes. The player ranked number 100 in scoring average took 70.80 shots. That is barely one-half shot difference per round. This ever-so-slight, half-shot difference in scoring translated into five victories and $7,688,163 in earnings for the player ranked number one in scoring compared to no victories and $464,401 in earnings for the player ranked number 100. Clearly it is not physical ability that separates these two golfers, but something else that makes the difference between a good and great golfer.

The world of leadership and success in business is much the same as the world of professional golf. There are thousands upon thousands of men and women who have the education, opportunity, experience and ethics to be successful leaders. And, many of them do so. And yet some seem to do more and emerge from the pack. As in professional golf, it may be only a slight difference between those who are good leaders and those who become great leaders, but that difference makes all the difference in the world.

My belief is that it is possible for all of us to take what we have learned regarding leadership and then take it one step further. Doing so enables us to break out of the crowd to become exceptionally effective and successful leaders.
While we have learned all the rules and traits of leadership, what has not been taught is how to achieve the “slight difference” that goes beyond the basics of leadership. Of course, the reason for this is because society speaks with forked-tongue. Society says it wants great leaders and yet teaches everyone to lead the same way as everyone else. Difference is discouraged.

Here is what I mean.

Being a leader means doing the right things that are required to be done. Being a real leader means being different by doing the right things that are not required to be done.

Exceptional leadership is the process of social influence in which one person can use simple techniques that enlist the aid and support of others in the accomplishment of goals for the benefit of all. Real leadership is simply doing more than what should be done and doing what can be done. There is nothing complicated and secret about being an exceptional leader. Real leadership has been a secret, because it is not taught, often discouraged and rarely practiced.

Being a real leader – which means being willing to be different – will enable you to be more successful and lead a richer, more satisfying career than you ever thought imaginable.

It is no coincidence that companies that operate under the aegis of leadership that is clearly and consistently above the accepted norm perform better than those that don’t. It does not mean that competing companies are managed by Bob MacDonald on Leadershipleaders who are weak, but only that those who rise above the accepted leadership levels are able to outperform on every business level, whether in the basement mailroom or the CEO’s big corner office. And it does not take much to do that.

You may not fully believe in that the payoff for slightly better leadership will be significant, but just like scoring only one-half shot better in a round of golf creates a significant difference in results, the evidence is everywhere in the business community that leaders who seek to go beyond the norm do make a difference. Real leaders operate in a constant, consistent, respectful, parallel and open manner. They are willing to share the success of the organization with those who helped achieve it. Traditional leadership tactics do not require that they do this, but they do it anyway.

And the Moral of the Story …

The real path to successful and effective leadership is to seek to fill the gap between learning what others have learned and doing what others do not understand to do. This approach will allow you to stand out from the pack and always shoot at least one-half shot better than the rest.

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