Healthy Leaders


The Two Things a Leader Does That Last

Jess MacCallumJess MacCallum

Leaders come with a variety of experiences, tools, approaches and methodologies. The thing they all share, however, is the belief that they can bring value to an organization in the form of substantive change. They all believe they can guide a group to achieve a given goal.

But no matter what area of expertise or experience, no matter where they start in the process of influencing an organization, there are basically two categories of value a leader brings that last.

Clarity: Correcting assumptions, focusing on the right goals, setting direction and eliminating distractions ‒ these are part of bringing clarity to a team or organization. Thinking more clearly and consistently leads to better planning and better execution. It also ensures momentum since sound thinking builds upon itself. It’s the root of ongoing, positive change. But thinking alone isn’t enough. Thinking without action accomplishes nothing.

Habits: Establishing measurable goals, developing healthy behaviors, breaking bad routines and establishing useful ones ‒ these are where results really begin. Results are directly caused by actions, and results are what leaders are paid to produce. While actions should be based on sound thinking, it isn’t always required. A useful habit often produces successful results whether the thinking behind it is sound or not.

The tendency to prefer one of these over the other almost always comes from a previous imbalance in one’s personal experience or disposition. There’s no reason thinking must precede action in all cases. The truth is these two are not in competition with each other, they are complementary ‒ ideally clarity and habits ought to be partners. They influence each other in ways too intricate to make one categorically dependent on the other.

Which came first when you learned to walk as a child, thinking or acting? When someone throws you the ball, do you think about catching it or do you just catch it? Did you ever taste something you knew you wouldn’t like only to find out it was delicious? Did you ever learn to play golf by just studying the subject? My point is that action is a form of thought. It informs your concepts and ideas with real data and helps you to modify your actions, thus creating a feedback loop. A healthy habit can increase clarity of thought.

An effective leader is one who brings clarity to an organization or team, and helps develop the habits that support the health and improved performance of the organization and its other leaders. An effective leader ties clarity and habits together as equal partners in positive organizational change.

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