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 Management Minute

The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership

By Michael R. Fraser, PhD, CAE, Chief Executive Officer, AMCHP

In my continuing quest to study and share on the topic of leadership, I recently read a book called The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership by Gary Burnison. Gary is the CEO of Korn/Ferry, one of the largest talent management/executive recruiting firms in the world. Korn/Ferry recruits leaders for executive jobs in all sectors worldwide. As such, their CEO is in a remarkable place to identify and cultivate leaders. Gary’s leadership style, in addition to his 12 “absolutes,” seems to be very much like my own. I thought for the next few issues of Member Briefs I would summarize each of his 12 main absolutes and share some thinking about how they relate to maternal and child health (MCH).

It might seem obvious, if not redundant, that his first absolute is “lead.” That’s right, one of the twelve absolutes of leadership is leadership (seemed strange to me at first too). But what he means by “lead” and leadership, and why he starts with this seemingly obvious concept, is really important. To Gary, to me, and to many other students of leadership, leading is about getting people to take responsibility for a shared vision and motivating them to carry out their work to fulfill that vision. Leadership is not about title, power, coercion or where you sit in an organizational chart. Instead, leadership is about motivating, collaborating and sharing. Leadership takes humility, grace and understanding. To “lead” is to support, encourage, bring together and move forward. By reminding us that what is essential to leadership is not the leader but those whom the leader leads and honing in on a shared vision for the future, Gary sets up the rest of his absolutes and shares an important tip for those of us in leadership positions in our organizations.

Far too often we confound those trappings of organizational power (title, prestige, salary, budget size, spheres of control, etc.) with leading. Leaders are often in the limelight, taking both the heat and praise for the actions of their organizations. But the absolute of leadership is not about those trappings. Instead, leadership involves getting the ego out of the way and instead inspiring, connecting and promoting the successes of others in obtaining a shared goal or accomplishing a shared vision. As a leader in MCH, your responsibility is to develop a shared vision of the future and work to move that vision forward – not by yourself, but with others. It is an important lesson for us all and one that I hope helps you see yourselves as MCH leaders wherever you sit within your organization or agency.

So, what are the other absolutes? Those are to come. But in the next two weeks, join me in taking stock of your leadership – where are you leading and where are you struggling to lead? As we continue our conversation, I hope that you share what you have learned with me and others!

If you would like to get your own copy of The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership and follow along over the next few months, you can order it online via the AMCHP link to Amazon.com. AMCHP receives a small royalty for all orders placed via this link. The opinions of the author, and of Mike, are their own and are not the official position of AMCHP.