Effective Leadership: Follow-through

Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality. –Warren Bennis

As we continue this series on leadership, I want to point out that leaders are not born; they are made. It’s a myth that certain personality types make better leaders. I would argue that your personality type simply shapes the type of leader you can be. It is also shaped by your experiences, your attitude, your faith, and the amount of work you are willing to put in. Plowing new paths requires a lot of hard work, which is exemplified in the quality we are covering today: follow-through.

I’m convinced that a leader’s effectiveness is directly linked to their ability to do what they say they are going to do. “When you get right down to the root of the meaning of the word ‘succeed’, you find that it simply means to follow-through.” (F.W. Nichol) Everyone wants to be successful, right? But there are so few that are actually good at following through. Why is this? From my experience, it’s because it requires hard work and we live in a society that is averse to working hard. We like our handouts and we like chasing our squirrels. We lack the physical, mental and emotional discipline required to stay focused on seeing vision become reality. Referring back to the opening quote, leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.

So how do we improve our follow-through capacity? From my experience, there are some proactive steps a leader can take to set himself up for success in terms of follow-through.

Be careful what you commit to. It is very easy to become overextended as a leader because there is always so much to do and so many that want your attention. Learn the liberating power of “NO”. If you need to permission to say no to something, I give it to you now. Remember that you are only as effective as your ability to follow-through on your commitments. If you take on too much, you are in danger of being a leader in title only.

Delegate and trust others to get the job done. If you’re like me, you would just assume do the task yourself because it will get done correctly the first time. But that is a horrible leadership strategy in the long run because you 1) overextend yourself and 2) fail to develop other leaders. A leader must view development of others as a top priority because, as you reproduce yourself, you extend your reach and effectiveness. Developing others is tough because it requires you to follow-through, which, as we’ve established already, is hard work. But it’s a higher level of follow-through because it doesn’t require actually doing the work, but rather overseeing it and keeping tabs with how it’s being performed. This is where the principles laid out in Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager become important. Short and to the point goal-setting, praisings and reprimands keep a leader engaged but entrust the worker to get the job done. (Click here for more on Blanchard’s book.)

One final point. A leader that doesn’t follow-through instills distrust in those that follow him, which leads to further ineffectiveness. If those that follow you don’t trust that you will do what you say you are going to do, then it doesn’t matter how smart, talented, or well-intentioned you are. Mary Kay Ash, founder of the highly successful Mary Kay cosmetic company, gives excellent parting wisdom. “Those who are blessed with the most talent don’t necessarily outperform everyone else. It’s the people with follow-through who excel.”


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