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Gut Check: Are You A Bold Leader?

Leadership isn’t for the faint of heart.

It’s a demanding job and requires real confidence and courage if you are ultimately going to be successful.

Yet in many ways, this sense of boldness is lacking among many leaders. Many are too timid. I wrote about this recently in another post,  which got quite a bit of reaction from my readers. So I decided to explore this topic further.

Recently, more of my clients have communicated that their companies need their leaders to be bolder.

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes someone a bold leader. The good news is that I didn’t have to do much of my own thinking.

Just a few months ago, I had the privilege to spend one-on-one time with Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman, of the firm Zenger/Folkman, and they have been doing some really interesting work in this area. I’ve long admired their work and was excited to learn more about their current research.

What I learned is that their experience has been similar to my own. “Over the last few years, we’ve heard from many large companies around the world that they need their leaders to be bolder, so we wanted to better understand that type of leadership” said Zenger.

“What our research shows is that bold leadership is what differentiates really strong leaders from the rest,” said Folkman.

Based on their database of 360-degree assessments from over 75,000 business leaders around the world, they have identified seven key behaviors, that when taken together, measure a leader’s boldness.

Do you think you are a bold leader? Well here’s how you can tell. Do you regularly:

  1. Challenge standard approaches
  2. Create an atmosphere of continual improvement
  3. Do everything possible to achieve goals
  4. Get others to go beyond what they originally thought possible
  5. Energize others to take on challenging goals
  6. Quickly recognizes situations where change is needed
  7. Demonstrate courage to make needed changes

Zenger and Folkman created a “bold index”, and they found a highly significant correlation between leaders perceived as being bold, also being seen as very effective in other leadership skills. In other words, when leaders demonstrate boldness, we perceive them as being more effective.

However, in my discussion they did go out of their way to stress that bold leadership can be both powerful and potentially dangerous. I’ve seen this before. Someone thinks they are being bold when they bully others around. Or they think they are being bold, when they are making really risky decisions.

What Zenger and Folkman have found is that boldness can be a true leadership differentiator only when it is demonstrated along with other important attributes such as good judgment, honesty, integrity, collaboration, and a strong strategic perspective. They recently published a blog in HBR that goes more deeply into their research.

Organizations today need leaders to be bolder. To drive change and lead their teams confidently in a more dynamic business climate.

How do you stack up as a leader? Do you demonstrate the seven behaviors typical of bold leadership?

Take some time to reflect on this week’s gut check question: Are You a Bold Leader?



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About the Author

Vince Molinaro is a speaker, consultant, executive at Lee Hecht Harrison, and author of the New York Times bestseller The Leadership Contract now in its third edition.

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