Frequently Asked Questions
When we first began studying extraordinary leaders, we looked for results-focused leaders. As we all know, great leaders produce great results and outcomes; otherwise, they wouldn’t be great. By examining these leaders for the actions and behaviors they employed, and not for who they were, we learned how leaders become masterful at producing results. But we soon realized that many of the best “results” leaders were not well respected in the way they achieved results. In fact, several of the results leaders we studied were actually despised by those around them. So, we began looking for and studying “followership” leaders, as well. Followership leaders are those leaders who create deep and long-lasting relationships with others who, over time, would follow them anywhere and do anything for them. Then, the light bulb went on, and we decided to find leaders who excelled at both results and followership.
It took quite a while to find even one leader who shared both qualities. Through an intense search, we began to identify more of these extra-special leaders. When you find a leader who is both extraordinary in results and followership and you interview those around them, you hear the word “admired” quite frequently. When asked about these leaders, people would tell us they “admire them for this,” and “admire them for doing that.” We began referring to these exceptional leaders as “Admired Leaders” and it stuck. We then began calling the collection of behaviors these leaders employed every day as “Admired Leadership” behaviors. And so, Admired Leadership was born.
In theory, yes. But the goal is not to become an Admired Leader, but rather to learn and become skillful with the leadership behaviors used by Admired Leaders. By mastering these routines and behaviors, we can become more effective as leaders in all walks of life. The truth is, we cannot control the labels or evaluations others give us. Admired Leadership is a descriptive term we give leaders who excel in both results and followership. Achieving such an evaluation is not entirely up to you. Set your sights on enhancing your leadership effectiveness, and leave the evaluations for others to make.
Because organizations have the imperative to sustain their existence, they put a premium on achieving results. This premium on results and performance creates leaders who reflect that value. Leaders who rise quickly and become the most senior leaders in organizations are generally result-focused leaders. The best of these leaders produce extraordinary results over time. Followership is uncelebrated in many organizations, and therefore overlooked when making decisions as to who will lead. Making matters even more complex is that many followership-focused leaders are not concerned with, or exceptional at, producing results. As a consequence, very few CEOs and other recognized leaders attain Admired Leadership status. This is not to say that CEOs are not highly skillful leaders who are unworthy of recognition. Senior leaders in all industries and endeavors are viewed as exceptional; however, they are commonly viewed this way because of their ability to produce results and not for their skills at building relationships and motivating people.
The dominant paradigm in the study of leadership is the individual difference or personality approach. In this approach, leaders first come to a better understanding of who they are as leaders by examining one or more defining traits. This is achieved through diagnostic assessments or psychometrics. The next step is to understand how others are both the same and different from the leader. Leadership effectiveness and improvement occurs when the leader adapts to the differences of others and understands the limits and opportunities of their own leadership qualities. This approach is taught and emphasized in virtually every major university, business school and corporation.
The Admired Leadership approach speaks to the human desire to understand and explain why people behave the way they do, and it is tremendously valuable as a foundation for becoming a more effective leader. However, in order to make great strides and truly improve, a leader needs tools (strategies, routines, and behaviors) to apply in everyday situations of leadership. Admired Leadership is a catalog of those timeless and universal routines and behaviors that every leader can learn. The Admired Leadership approach does not require that you understand yourself or others, but instead is focused on the behaviors associated with excellence in leadership. By learning and practicing these behaviors, leaders possess the actions that create results and followership.
Individual differences are stable characteristics that distinguish people. Some are biological (testosterone), some are hereditary (trait anxiety), some are predispositions (how we tolerate ambiguity), and some are how we learn from repeatedly modeling after others (directive versus facilitative styles). Differences that are a reflection of outcomes or accomplishments from choices and behaviors are not fixed or stable. Admired Leadership is a description of differences, not stable traits possessed by some leaders and not others. While anyone can achieve some level of mastery by learning new actions or behaviors, differences are not connected to people, but to the choices those people make. None of us chooses how much testosterone or trait anxiety we have, but we all can choose the routines we apply in a given situation.
Becoming a results or followership leader is about making decisions and engaging in actions that produce outcomes. Admired Leadership is an evaluation, not a stable trait, that people use to describe how they judge leadership. So, while we can say some leaders are “Admired,” we are not referring to an individual difference in the psychological sense, but are referring to an aspiration and an evaluation of leadership. Because anyone can learn and master a behavior associated with Admired Leadership, the behaviors and the evaluations they produce are not stable predictors used to describe individual differences.
Differences between people are marked and obvious. Anyone who is lucky enough to have multiple children or siblings knows how different people raised in the same environment can be. We generally marry people who are very different from us. When we begin to lead others from different generations and cultures, we soon believe that we are not as alike as we are different from others. Naturally, we take our observations and experience of difference to the study of leadership. As humans, our desire to understand and explain why people do what they do makes this difference approach even more seductive. We want to understand who we are and why we do things, and so we start with those differences that are stable traits, often biological or hereditary in nature. It is not difficult to make sense of why the psychological or individual difference approach to leadership is so popular. Differences are everywhere. To get better, leaders need to understand how great leaders are also the same, how much they share in common, and how the tools they use to achieve extraordinary results and followership are learned behaviors that do not spring from personality or stable traits.
We have studied more than 12,000 exceptional leaders, looking for what they do every day that others don’t. Through observation, interviews, and examination of artifacts (speeches, outlines, emails, reviews), we have attempted to uncover the behaviors and routines of extraordinary leadership.
Our focus has been to uncover the routines and behaviors that are not well known or understood. While some behaviors are counterintuitive, most make perfect and common sense once you hear them. We know we have found an Admired Leadership behavior when we can explain a timeless and actionable routine of practical value in just a few minutes.
There are no optimal leaders or organizations. Everyone has flaws, even Admired Leaders. That said, Admired Leaders are highly respected because of the results they achieve and how they engage others to achieve them. They do many things differently than most leaders. It is not uncommon for the extraordinary leaders we named “Admired” to be masterful at 20 – 25 of the routines and behaviors, occasionally even more. But no one we have ever studied is skillful at every behavior. Learning and making a handful of behaviors a part of your everyday leadership style can pay big dividends in your effectiveness and how you are seen by others.
In our view, we are born with many predispositions and traits important to leadership, but none of us are born or inherit specific behaviors or actions of leadership. Anyone can learn Admired Leadership behaviors, and with practice and commitment, they can make them a part of their everyday leadership style.
The individual difference approach is popular and ingrained in almost every academy of leadership. It teaches us to adapt and flex to others. Good leadership, from this view, is about knowing yourself, knowing how others are different, and then adapting to those differences. Therefore, we engage different people and different situations differently. Admired Leaders do this as well, but they also believe that some routines and behaviors are universal in their contribution to leadership. They don’t turn these behaviors on and off as they engage differences, but instead make them a part of their everyday leadership style and apply them in all situations and with all people. We believe the consistency of these behaviors and routines is what makes some leaders admired by others.
We use the term behavior to denote any leadership action that can be learned and applied consistently in everyday interaction. Routines are simply those behaviors that have multiple steps or actions. We also use the term routine to distinguish actions that are employed for effect, such as techniques, and those actions that are practiced until they become a part of a leader’s everyday style. By engaging in behaviors over and over again, they become a reflex and we do them without thinking. We mean this by “routine,” as well.
When we do something as a technique as opposed to a routine, we do so to achieve a desired effect or outcome. We only engage in techniques selectively when they serve our goals. Therefore, we never become masterful, or even skillful, at these techniques, which often causes them to fail at their intended purpose. Moreover, because we only engage in techniques every once in a while, others who experience our techniques know this tactic is not typical for us and they smell a rat. When others see us doing a technique we don’t commonly employ, they immediately become suspicious that the action is disingenuous and is being used to create an effect. As such, people often resist techniques used by leaders. When actions or behaviors used as techniques fail, the leader abandons them and begins looking for a new technique. This common and vicious cycle helps no one.
Techniques are always situational and aimed at achieving a desired outcome or effect. Admired Leadership behaviors and routines are universally applicable, timeless, and do not require leaders to assess people or context to employ them. The idea is to use Admired Leadership behaviors every day and in all our relationships. Over time, they become routines that create the foundation for our leadership style. You always know you are engaged in a technique when a behavior or action only applies in a given and highly specified situation.
In our study of extraordinary leaders, we often ask how they came to learn, understand, and practice the behavior in question. We hear three distinct answers to that question. The most common is that the Admired Leader had the good fortune to have an excellent and important role model that exhibited some, or all, of the behaviors. By modeling after these role models and making the behaviors their own, they were able to create a routine that they became committed to over time. Surprisingly, bad role models also serve as the catalyst for Admired Leadership behaviors. Some Admired Leaders told us they experienced a particularly bad leader, employing tactics with ill-effects, and they committed to doing the opposite. So, some Admired Leaders created new behaviors and routines in opposition to what they experienced from poor leadership. Lastly, the more experienced Admired Leaders tell us they are on the “hunt” to find new behaviors and routines with universal application. They observe, study, and question everyone, looking for a nugget from which they can create a routine that allows them to be the leader they most desire to be.
The Admired Leadership approach is to celebrate behaviors common to the most extraordinary leaders rather than look for differences between them. Many Admired Leaders who are women employ the same routines and behaviors as their gender counterparts, and vice versa. This is not to say men and women lead in the exact same way, and the scholarly literature on the subject highlights several salient differences. But when it comes to the behaviors and routines of Admired Leaders, we we have learned that great leadership is simply that, regardless of leader gender.
We have been able to identify several hundred Admired Leadership behaviors and choose to offer this set of 10 modules with 10 behaviors as an introduction. Of the behaviors in this course, they are typically the most common routines shared by the vast majority of Admired Leaders. We think of this set as foundational but not exhaustive. We continue to search for new routines as we identify and study more Admired Leaders and hope the conversation that springs from sharing this work will enable us to learn from others who have witnessed great leadership.
Many behaviors and routines essential to leadership are well-known and have been studied for decades. At this point in time, these behaviors are thought to be second nature to leaders. While leaders benefit from being reminded of these actions and principles, popular culture is replete with gurus, experts and speakers who excel at underlining these well-worn maxims. With Admired Leadership, we strive to identify and articulate those behaviors and routines that are less known and largely unpracticed. This is why we encourage less seasoned leaders to seek leadership advice from other sources before turning to Admired Leadership. This work is about taking leadership to the next level and not about teaching the basics important to everyone.
Because Admired Leadership behaviors and routines are universal in their influence, making them a part of your everyday leadership style is only beneficial. While a leader employing these behaviors may not be rewarded or recognized for doing so, they will never be seen as ineffective for using them consistently. As you come to understand and practice any given Admired Leadership behavior, the question to ask is, “Will the routine ever cause harm to others or undermine a given situation?” We believe that with a true understanding of the Admired Leadership behaviors, the obvious answer is no.
When we first began studying leaders, we developed a methodology to identify leaders who produced extraordinary results (independent of factors like team talent, organizational resources, and market cycles) by focusing on a set of performance metrics used by a given organization for specific leadership roles. As our work progressed, we then began identifying and studying followership leaders by surveying team members throughout an organization and asking them questions about who they would follow if given a choice. Once we combined both methodologies together, we were able to identify those leaders who are “Admired” by others for results and followership. After many years of conducting our Admired Leadership study in dozens of organizations, we were able to discern the relationship between a specific set of behaviors and the likelihood that a leader was either a results leader, a followership leader or an Admired Leader. We now use the simple method of interviewing leaders who are seen as special by others and asking them for evidence that they employ one or more of 10 foundational behaviors common to all Admired Leaders. Of course, they don’t really know what we are asking for, but the practice of specific behaviors provides a highly reliable indicator of what version of a “special” leader they might be. A variation of this method also allows us to examine historical leaders who are no longer available for direct examination and interview.
We can admire people for many reasons and those who have achieved significant success in their field are commonly held up for well-deserved praise. Admired Leadership reserves the label of an Admired Leader for those extraordinary leaders who achieve both results and followership over a sustained period of time. By that definition, many of the best-known leaders do not qualify in the full sense of that definition.
Because of the focus society places on results, we often conflate leadership with team and organizational performance. When we collectively identify great leaders, we typically raise up results leaders as exemplars. Results really matter, but Admired Leadership suggests how leaders achieve those results is of equal importance. The majority of highly-profiled and well-respected leaders we have studied have fallen squarely into the results-leader bucket. This is not to say they are not great leaders. Achieving extraordinary results is a difficult feat and very rare. We continue to study and learn from results leaders, but we reserve the title Admired Leader for those that demonstrate both results and followership. These leaders are the rarest of pearls in an ocean of good and great leaders.
The overwhelming majority of Admired Leaders we have identified are not known to those outside of their organizations or circle of leadership influence. The best leaders eschew profile unless it is forced upon them. They prefer to establish their credibility with peers and within their community of connected leaders and remain relatively unknown to the outside world. If we published a list of the hundreds of Admired Leaders we have studied, it would look like a list of everyday names, with a few notable exceptions.
To make this point more specifically, we can honestly say we have never come across a leader more admired, or from which we learned more from, than Dick Morgan. Dick was a former leader at the utility company Consolidated Edison of New York. His career spanned decades beginning in the 1960’s, and he was a legend inside ConEd, as well as with many New York government insiders. He served the company in several leadership roles, including Head of Steam Operations and Head of Emergency Services. In the latter role, he died tragically in the 9-11 World Trade Center attacks when he rushed to the scene to lead ConEd employees and others out of the firestorm. Dick Morgan is one of the hundreds of Admired Leaders we have been honored to learn from, and like so many we have studied, he is largely unknown and would have liked it that way.
We refrain from identifying those Admired Leaders whose roles requires profile and are therefore well-known for two reasons. First, we don’t want to hold them up to ridicule or scrutiny because of our accolade of being labeled an Admired Leader. More importantly, though, we believe the “hero worship” so many people have for leaders is unhealthy for making them better. Every leader, even those deeply admired by others, is flawed. We are, after all, human beings with foibles and regrets. We believe it is time to hold up behaviors and routines, especially those that are powerful and timeless, instead of people. Great routines will never disappoint or need to be questioned. Great behaviors are worth emulating more than people.
Because Admired Leadership behaviors and routines are timeless and universal in their application, the idea is to practice them until they become a part of your everyday leadership style, much the way you teach yourself to stretch before you exercise or ask questions of others to maintain curiosity. In other words, the key is to use them all of the time and with everyone. Your leadership style is comprised of the mindful actions you employ on purpose and the habits that no longer require conscious thought. The idea is to use Admired Leadership behaviors mindfully until they become reflexive habits.
We have found the best way to approach learning the behaviors and routines is to focus exclusively on one at a time. When we attempt to use multiple new behaviors all at once, it is easy for them to become techniques that others resist. Committing to one behavior means using it every day in at least one relationship. The more often we practice the behavior, the more likely it eventually becomes a habit and a part of our everyday style as a leader. In our experience, a commitment of everyday practice for 6 – 8 weeks creates a permanence in style. Once you’ve made a particular routine your own, you can begin to work on another behavior. In theory, it will take a decade or more to master the 100 routines and behaviors we have outlined in this course. Don’t let that dissuade you from beginning this journey. Mastering even one Admired Leadership behavior can have a profound impact on how you lead others.
We have been studying and learning from Admired Leaders for over 30 years and have shared what we have learned with a select group of clients and leaders as our advisory practice grew. So many leaders who know of our work have encouraged us to share it with more people. Their reason, which is now our reason, is to influence more leaders than an advisory practice can touch, as well as to make more people better leaders, parents, spouses, colleagues, and friends. Selfishly, we would also like to create a new conversation about leadership where others acknowledge that excellence in anything shares common routines. This is especially true of leadership, but that view has been muted for too long. Our goal is to raise the voice of what great leaders do, not just who they are.