August 2011

Voices from Industry

What makes a great leader?

By Jim Popowich

Jim PopowichCall it the Holy Grail of management. Individuals and corporations alike continue to search for an answer to the question: “What makes a great leader?” This quest can be challenging, but it is one well worth undertaking.

A plethora of books exist that provide us with plenty of great ideas that can work; however, one thing I learned many years ago is that there is no textbook solution that fits all situations. It is up to us as individuals to figure out what works and what makes a difference. That being said, I will not pass on the opportunity to share some of my thoughts on this topic.

A great leader is someone who creates a strong organization. This starts with establishing a structure that addresses the specific needs within the business, providing a clear definition of roles and responsibilities, which ultimately creates accountability for what gets done.

Great leaders surround themselves with people that fit the culture of that particular organization – there is no “cookie cutter” type of employee. They recognize their employees’ strengths and encourage them to use these strengths to their full potential. Good leaders must be capable of being good followers in that they promote the goals and aims of the organization.

A great leader ensures that the company provides a safe and healthy workplace for its employees – an absolute requirement. When employees and peers are valued and made to feel so, it reinforces their commitment to the organization, which ultimately contributes to a company’s success.

A great leader also looks beyond the walls of his or her particular organization to the community in which we all work and play. The community should want us as neighbours. What does this mean? We need to respect our communities’ interests, produce economic and social value, and be good stewards of the environment. We must operate with integrity, conducting our business to the highest ethical standard – and we all share this responsibility. Everyone within an organization must respect and obey the “laws of the land.” Avoiding conflicts of interest is also necessary, as these situations may not be the most beneficial for your organization. In this respect, great leaders act as role models to all employees in achieving these objectives.

It is worth remembering that companies do not create reputations, the individuals within the organization do. Leaders in an organization strive to gain the trust and respect of customers, investors, employees, suppliers, business partners and the community, which will benefit the organization as a whole. This is key to creating relationships with stakeholders that will stand the test of time. Attention is in the detail and it is up to each one of us to figure out what makes sense for us and our organization.

Although leadership is imperative at the top level of an organization, it does not stop there. Leaders are important at all levels of an organization and much of what I said above can be applied to everyone throughout a company. Leaders create an environment where everyone shares in the responsibility for sound decisions and actions, and one where employees will speak up when they have concerns. They will also work to positively influence fellow employees and treat each other with respect, which in turn increases the level of openness, honesty and professionalism. All of this contributes to strong core values.

As a last thought, much of what we do as leaders is driven by what we have learned, but sometimes the most effective leadership skill is common sense and simply doing what is right.

Jim Popowich is a director at The Mosaic Company and CIM Council member. Currently retired after 40 years in the mining industry, he was president and CEO of Elk Valley Coal Corporation.

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