First a disclaimer: I generally do not value books on leadership. They are similar to books on dieting and addiction, in that more information is not the answer, and leadership books are least helpful to people who lack the natural talent to lead. Most writers on the subject have their own business model that’s driving their writing: write a book, get on the speaker circuit, and build a consulting practice. They rarely offer new ideas and most of the information is anecdotal; that is, not supported by quality research. However, there are a few writers on the subject that have stood the test of time, use hard data, and are cited by proven, world-class leaders. These are Peter Drucker, Warren Bennis and Jim Collins.

Just last week a younger client commented to me: “No offense, but isn’t Jim Collins a bit dated?” He then went on to refer me to a book he recently read by a local professional speaker. Great athletes, musicians or doctors don’t read books on how to be great at what they do. Don’t waste your time reading books on leadership unless it’s something by Drucker, Good to Great, On Becoming a Leader, or The Leadership Challenge (ok there’s one more author I like).

In his seminal book, “On Becoming a Leader” (revised 1994), Warren Bennis provided a preview of the changing characteristics that would be required for effective leaders in the 21st Century. Among the many points he made was a list of the differences between managers and leaders, two of which I think are core to common confusion among leaders:

  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.

As a CEO and in my role as executive coach, I apply a values-based view of leadership. A handful of core values drive every decision and priority. Else… there are too many temptations and distractions and I want to feel fulfilled in the end, not just successful. I apply this to leadership, coaching, and life.

True leaders value people

To a very large extent, my coaching focuses on executives who are facing the challenge of transition; of moving into a new dimension of their professional or personal lives, where they are learning, growing, and changing. Yet I have found that there is one constant that can aid in such a transitional development – and that is the values you carry with you.

Whether in your work or personal life, valuing the people around you can be a constant through any sort of change, a foundation on which to build your move to something new.

In business, where value comes increasingly from the knowledge of the people in your organization, leaders do not merely assign tasks, but will define a purpose for them, nurturing skills, developing talent, and inspiring positive results. As Peter Drucker once wrote, the task of a leader is not to “manage people”, but “To lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of every individual.”

The same is true in your personal life, where you would never think to “manage people”, because doing so would be a form of control or manipulation of your family and friends. Just as you value the people in your personal life, a true leader carries that same appreciation into his or her professional life, valuing people over process and placing integrity above practicality, competition, and success.

What kind of leader do you want to be? What kind of person do you want to be?