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Leadership Is an Art

By Max De Pree
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Leadership Is an Art by Max De Pree

Leadership Is An Art (1987) teaches you how to lead your employees in a kind, humane way. The best leaders know that empathy and elegance are the keys to workplace success, not tough talk and harsh discipline. When you look at leadership as an art form, you won’t just improve your company but also make life better for the people you lead, too.

Key idea 1 of 7

A good leader guides employees toward pursuing a company’s shared mission.

In the movies, the “evil boss” is a classic character. He’s intimidating and rude, barking orders at subordinates from behind a big, heavy desk.

Good leadership, however, is the direct opposite of this caricature. Being a good leader is about being helpful, leading employees in a team with the ultimate goal of performing better.

A leader provides employees with direction, which has three components: values, a vision and goals.

A leader should communicate a company’s values. Is the firm family-friendly? Client-oriented? An employee needs to know a company’s core principles, to stay on track with work and goals.

Leaders also need to be clear about what a company is working toward: the company’s vision.

Which aspects of the company need to change to keep up with the times? Which traditions should be preserved? Is the company targeting a wide range of customers, or catering to a specific group?

Finally, leaders have to outline a plan for achieving the company’s vision. What are the specific goals in doing so? Employees need to know what they’re aiming for.

Good leadership doesn’t stop here. A good leader also makes sure employees are personally invested in a company’s mission, and actively seeks out ideas on how to improve the company.

One effective strategy for engaging employees is to offer them ownership shares in the company. Giving an employee stock in the company creates a win-win situation; employees are more motivated to generate profits, and in turn, the company thrives.

Strong leaders create a climate in which employees have the freedom to develop skills and ideas. The furniture company Herman Miller achieved success based on this concept.

Herman Miller has been encouraging employees to share ideas for enhancing company productivity since 1950. The staff earns a cut of any gains they generate, too. From 1987 to 1988, employee suggestions helped the company save some $12 million.

This strategy pays off, too: Herman Miller is regularly cited in Fortune magazine’s list of “most admired companies.”

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