The 3 Essential Things Great Leaders Understand

February 27, 2013

Last week I was invited to speak to an audience of Canadian government executives about leading in a world of change. I’ve spoken a lot about performance and collaboration in past years, but never about leadership. So this was an opportunity for me to reflect on my experiences and observations over my career.

Leadership can be a difficult topic about which to convey anything meaningful. There is so much written about the topic and it either feels like conceptual theory or platitudes, or you wind up narrating personal war stories. I’m no Tom Fox, who writes thoughtfully about this topic weekly for the Washington Post!

Leaders I Have Admired. Over the years I have had lots of opportunity to meet, work for, or observe leaders that I admired:

Political leaders, like Comptroller General Elmer Staats, Vice President Al Gore, and President Clinton; Military leaders like Colin Powell and Thad Allen; Agency leaders who transformed their agencies, like IRS commissioner Charles Rossetti; OSHA administrator Joe Dear, and Veterans Health Administration undersecretary Kenneth Kizer; Network leaders like Francis Collins (who led the decoding of the human genome), John Koskinen (who led the Y2K effort), and Ed DeSeve (who led the implementation of the Recovery Act).

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