Over the past few weeks there’s been a lot of outrage over President Obama’s handling of the Gulf Coast oil spill particularly around his lack of leadership. So, what does it take to truly LEAD? Why do some people inspire others to follow them with seemingly little or no effort while others ‘try” to get people to follow them, but fail?

Over the past couple of posts we’ve been talking about how important it is to proactively prepare for a disaster and how the time spent in advance may just save your business. Well, never have those words been more true than with the Gulf oil disaster.

This is the biggest environmental disaster in US history and it’s clear that little or no effort was put into pre-disaster planning – either in terms of preventing such an oil rig disaster itself , contingencies for capping a well at 13k feet below the surface of the ocean or with containing an actual spill after the fact. As this disaster enters it’s  50th day with no end in sight, the finger pointing has begun and everybody is wondering WHO’S IN CHARGE? Well in situation like these, leaders are supposed to LEAD – that means stepping out of the comfort zone, innovating, taking risks, measuring results, and inspiring others to greatness. So how do true leaders do that? Let’s explore the leadership competencies that, when mastered, make seemingly ordinary people great leaders.

What are the competencies of a true leader?


Presence: You have to have poise, especially under pressure. True leaders arrive on time and present a charismatic air. They walk and gesture with confidence and exude decisiveness that tells others they are in command. Their handshake is firm. They welcome and even thrive on unrehearsed interactions with employees and customers. They are intense listeners and don’t interrupt. They express their accomplishments as “we” never ‘I” or “my people” and they give credit where credit is due.

Communication: Leaders are articulate, dynamic and inspiring with a compelling vision of the future. As an optimist, they lead by example and have a passion for doing the right thing and being the best. They strategically use silence to emphasize deep thought and wisdom. They have a high energy level and frequently participate in physical activity. They have mastered the ability to recall names and business data efficiently and use it appropriately. They never lose their cool and are well mannered and considerate of others.

Focus & Balance: Successful leaders think strategically and don’t get bogged down in the small stuff. They can distinguish between long and short range objectives and don’t confuse those with daily tactical obstacles. They understand the cause of the problem before implementing a solution and they often incorporate playing devil’s advocate to anticipate outcomes. They also surround themselves with top talent and then get out of their way so they can do what they were hired to do.

Visionary Change Agent: Effective leaders think outside the box and not only lead, but pioneer organizational change efforts that shift paradigms resulting in significant business improvement tied to innovation and organizational culture. They demonstrate managerial courage by understanding and managing risk without asking for permission or showing remorse. They masterfully circumvent and then change stifling policies and procedures to accomplish their goals. These visionary leaders don’t waste valuable time pouring over old data to thoroughly understand a new challenge; instead they take small steps toward a solution and “test” their gut instincts, refining their direction as they go. These leaders have a high tolerance for ambiguity, work well in uncertain environments and are extremely resilient.



Direct and Straightforward: Successful leaders think in bullet points and can articulate complex problems or processes in concise and simple language that is readily understood by all levels of the organization. When answering questions, they not only answer the direct question, but they also provide meaningful background information that demonstrates HOW they formulated their response. They have sound knowledge and appreciation of other functional areas and can effectively balance competing needs and priorities.

Results Driven: Successful leaders demonstrate a history of leading large complex projects, often with a global reach, and delivering consistently favorable results. They use common sense and have fought their way to the top often through seemingly insurmountable odds. They have embraced well connected mentors and seek advice and counsel often.

Emotional Intelligence: According to some, this is perhaps the most important characteristic a leader possesses. EI is made up of self-control, self awareness and stellar relationship management skills. Its being open both intellectually and culturally and recognizing not only the strengths and weaknesses of others, but their own and leveraging those to build synergies among the team.

Cultural Acumen: Today’s leaders need to be culturally savvy through international experience. They must embrace diversity holistically – in thought, in the workplace, and with the customer base.

No matter what your political affiliation, there are two “leaders” trying to manage this crisis in Louisiana – Bobby Jindal and Barack Obama, which one is LEADING and which one is merely trying?