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The 13 habits of highly effective leaders
Frank Julie
April 16, 2007

An adaptation from "The Art of Leadership and Management on the Ground" - A practical guide for leaders and managers to build sustainable organisations for permanent social change

So, what is your shadow? Allan Kaplan refers to the shadow as that thing or energy that arises when we have too much or too little of something or strive too much or too little towards something. He says: "When we direct our energies in too focused a fashion, a balance is lost; yet life strives towards balance."2 For example, you are fiercely fighting against poverty but you are poor in other respects, e.g. relationships with other people, don't look after yourself, mental poverty, etc. You start to romanticise poverty. I once worked with a health institute caring for sick people but internally the relationships were very sick. It was a sickness that pervaded the institute. Remember, the more you strive for something the more its opposite will appear. The sharper the light of consciousness the more intense is the darkness of the subconscious. Where you have high peaks you also find deep valleys. Where you have strengths you also have weaknesses, Your shadow is not necessarily a negative or destructive phenomena. It is when you deny this shadow that it is invested with destructive energy. You lose control over it and it starts to control you. So, how do you approach your shadow? Don't fight it. Make it your friend, your ally. Be aware of it. Embrace it and integrate it. When you push it away then you live in denial. Then it will haunt you, control and ultimately destroy you!

I am always amused when I hear leaders in NPO's bemoan the fact that they have no privacy in their personal lives. Well, what do you expect? To think you can have privacy in an organization is to suffer from serious delusions. The risk of leadership is about the risk of occupying a space that makes you visible and vulnerable. If you try to deny this it will haunt you wherever you go. In leadership there is always a trade off between power, privilege and privacy. You cannot have the first two and refuse to let go of the third one. In an NPO it is actually worse since we work with public funds and other resources entrusted to us. When you betray that trust how can you claim privacy or even confidentiality as some corrupt leaders prefer to call it?

Sorry, but you will always be under scrutiny. Not only what you do inside the organization but also outside of it. If you don't like this intense scrutiny then step down because you are then not qualified to lead. To lead is a choice, a choice to accept power and privilege, to occupy that space provided for you, a very sacred space. But it is also a choice not to accept power and privilege, to maintain your privacy and to abandon that space! This is why Drucker says that a leader is paid to be uncomfortable. As a leader you are always on trial. Whatever you say, do, write or even not say, not write and don't do is always being scrutinised. As Drucker said, "But a leader is not a private person, a leader represents."3

All leaders are fallible because they are human. There is no perfect leader. When people start to hero worship you then it is not about you really. It is about them and what they lack in themselves. They develop expectations about you that you are not even aware of. When you cannot meet those expectations then they will crucify you, forgetting it was all about them and not about you! Where you see this phenomenon, fight it. You may feel good in the beginning when others put you on a pedestal, but there is a price to be paid later on. Most of the time it will happen that the very people that put you on that pedestal will try and destroy you at a later stage. I have heard this from many leaders in various organizations.

This is probably one of the least appreciated elements of leadership development. Simply put, it means what are you doing when no one is watching? What are you doing behind closed doors? How well do you treat yourself and your family, your partner, children, friends, etc? What are you doing to advance the interest of your organization when no one is watching? What do you do at night, what are you reading and studying? How disciplined are you when on your own? Some people may not know it but great leaders are made through the things they do when nobody can see them. They make sacrifices without expecting credit for it, build relationships, caring for others, helping others grow without expecting anything in return. They don't abuse their partners and the trust others put in them. They don't use others as tools to advance themselves. They defend others even in their absence. They don't manipulate or take short cuts. In short, they build inner power, a power that cannot be taken from them. They build integrity. They learn to become whole. And they constantly strive for balance.

Many times great leaders create the unintended impression amongst subordinates that it is easy to manage an organization. It is like someone running a 100-metre hurdle effortlessly and someone in the crowd thinking how easy it looks. When the person in the crowd attempts the same thing, he realises how difficult it is. The point is that the athlete was not observed during training, when they constantly practised, when she was preparing for the race. Invisible leadership is like practising when no one is watching. You are on your own. Remember a race is not only won while running it. It is won while you also prepare for it. Invisible leadership is like preparing for your race. You have to practice all the time. There is no end in how much you can learn. So, what are you doing while no one is watching?

Just like organizations, leaders also have an image that they project to the outside world. But your image (that which is visible) and your true identity (what you do privately) may not be the same. Your true identity refers to what I have discussed under invisible leadership. There must be congruence between what you stand for in your public and private life. I have seen many of my own close comrades who failed this test. Some of them still do. I have also failed this test miserably until I started to work more seriously on myself.

When there is an imbalance between your image and your real identity then you will suffer from a lack of personal integrity or inner character. What you stand for in public and what you do in private is not consistent. Scot Peck reminds us that the word integrity comes from the word integration. And integration he says means to bring the parts together.4 The opposite of integration is separation. When things separate, they disintegrate or they fall apart. When you lack personal integrity then you fall apart. It is in this situation where leaders who are not authentic or real are forced to wear masks to cover up their treacherous deeds. They cover up, sow division, recruit camp followers to compensate for their own insecurities, ignore policies and objective criteria when making decisions, or use policies to benefit them personally, play up to the camp followers who provide legitimacy to their masks, and become generally reckless!

The same applies to organizations where you also have an image and an identity. Sometimes you read beautiful reports about the work of organizations just to find out later how corrupt these organizations are internally. Then there is a lack of organizational integrity. (See the part dealing with board development) For example, an organization may preach about gender equality just for you to find out that its own female members feel marginalised and oppressed.

When you lack personal integrity as a leader it becomes impossible for you to develop organizational integrity. You cannot have one without the other. And you are not born with this quality. You have to develop it. It is a process. You have to be open and honest with yourself.

When you see signs of disintegration, learn to watch yourself and correct your behaviour. Admit your mistakes or indiscretions and move on. Learn to become whole. It is a process and a very painful one. There are no short cuts. When you live in denial about this, then you become unfit to lead as well as a danger to yourself and others. So, get real!

As a leader you have to make decisions about people working with you all the time. You have to decide on their placement in the organization, their promotion or even demotion, salary levels, evaluate their performance, etc. It is therefore a good thing to know as much about the staff member as possible to guide you in your decisions. When you approach the development of a person in a holistic manner, then finding out as much about the person helps you to understand the other person. But there is also a danger. This is the danger of getting too close. You are unconsciously sucked into the person's personal life. You become aware of the person's trails and tribulations and can allow these to influence your decisions about this person. This is dangerous.

The difficulty is that there is a fine line between knowing enough about someone to assist that person in her development and maintaining a distance to allow for objectivity in decision making. At an extreme level you can have two individuals who are emotionally involved and where these lines are totally blurred. And it cannot be otherwise because the demands of a task-based relationship (at work) are totally different from the demands of an emotionally based relationship (in your personal life). In the first instance you are contractually bound to perform certain tasks and deliver certain results and in the second instance you have a choice to stay in that relationship. You are not subject to deliver certain predetermined results for which you are financially rewarded.

Where individuals report to each other and they are emotionally involved then you may have a recipe for trouble. You will unconsciously put each other under unnecessary pressure in order to prove to others that you are objective. When one of the parties is not producing the results based on the predetermined performance criteria, then the temptation to be subjective can be great. But this will not help. Unless you work in different departments and report to different people, you should rather review your relationship and the impact it has on the organization. This also applies in the case of family members or friends working together. And remember, even if you try very hard to be objective there will always be other staff members and volunteers who (because of their own personal agendas) convince themselves that you are favouring the other person. I know this because I had personal experience of this phenomenon. I was compelled to make the difficult decision to end a relationship that lasted for four years. And even after ending this relationship I was still perceived to be subjective towards the other party! So, be warned.

As a leader your job is to make others happy. Right? Well, that is very wrong. In fact, it is dangerous thinking! It is not your task to make others happy. I have met many human resource managers who labour under this illusion. They tend to think that they are employed to maintain good human relations that will lead everyone to be very happy. The emphasis in their work is therefore on how much people pay, endless teambuilding activities, overlooking certain malpractices, etc. All of these aimed at making and keeping a person happy.

Well, your job is not to make people happy. It is to help others grow. It is to continuously create an environment where people can realise their own potential and where ordinary people can learn to do extraordinary things. For people to expect that your job should be to make them happy is an impossible expectation. It is impossible because happiness is primarily an inside job. It must start with you.

This myth of leaders employed to make others happy flows from a flawed understanding of what relationships are all about. Some married couples firmly believe that it is the duty of the husband and wife to make each other happy. Wrong! Scot Peck argues strongly against such thinking that can only lead to so much frustration. According to him, you get married to help each other grow. When that growth is not taking place you are bound to have a breakdown in that relationship.

The pain inherent in that process always accompanies your personal growth and development. You cannot avoid that pain. When true leaders therefore take responsibility to make others grow and develop, they also face the risk of people who will try to avoid that pain.5 When people practice avoidance behaviour (a form of denial) then they start to project that pain onto to other people. The leader usually becomes a convenient target. Remember, you are paid to be uncomfortable. This is another source of that discomfort. People that are not very conscious of the dynamics of organization will tend to personalise this inner conflict that they are experiencing.

Effective leaders that are truly committed to create an environment to make others grow and develop will therefore not always be very popular. And that is so because they have to force people to confront their own pain. Leaders who strive for cheap popularity will help people to avoid this inevitable pain. But this also makes them the most ineffective. Decide whether you want to be effective or popular?

A leader acts like a coach. Coaches don't play the game with their team players. They help to prepare them for the game. That is why I say that a game is not really won while you play it. It is first won while you prepare for it. Have you seen how some coaches like to stand on the sideline and freak out at players who commit errors while playing? They throw tantrums, become angry, shout at the players and just generally lose self-control. Are you also like this kind of coach? Do you also throw tantrums at board or staff meetings, lose self-control and become aggressive? Well, if you are then you are in the wrong job. You don't trust yourself. You have not prepared well enough. When coaches perform badly, when there are no proper results, when they cannot show much for their high salaries and perks, they get fired. Sport codes are riddled with such examples. And it cannot be otherwise. For a leader that underperforms is a danger to the organization and also to himself. He should be ruthlessly removed, for the sake of himself as well. The non-profit sector has a lot to learn from the sporting codes!

There was a case of a director in Cape Town who was so obviously under performing for years, but who earned a horrendous salary. Managers in the corporate sector must have envied him. Instead of his board getting rid of him years ago, he actually proposed that the organization should dissolve! Outrageous you might think, but in the NPO sector this is common practice. If they don't propose dissolution of their organizations, then they make sure they get rid of the boards, the very people who appointed them! In one case the entire board resigned from an organization. Instead of the director resigning due to this vote of no confidence and restoring the integrity of the organization, this man decided to continue as if nothing happened. Needless to say, he continued earning a huge salary for plundering and killing the organization. When confronted by others about his destructive behaviour, he boldly claimed that he was "protecting the integrity" of the organization. He was reminding me of the United States government who goes on a world crusade to advance democracy by destroying it! So, this gentleman was "protecting organizational integrity" by destroying it. And whilst he was able to provide salary increases, bonuses and loans and generally went on a spending spree, he had enough followers. Until all the funding dried up course! Well, if you don't perform according to the demands and criteria of performance placed upon you, please do yourself a favour: Be open and honest and fire yourself!

In my days of utter confusion I used to think that the organization is my life; that my work is my life. Later I realised how dangerous this kind of thinking is and the bad practices it generates. And it actually happens without one being aware of its consequences. On the surface it sounds very progressive and a statement of total loyalty and commitment. But this is only on the surface.

I have learnt that to regard your organization as your life is to unknowingly promote a form of sectarianism. This is how a close comrade of mine, Ronald Wesso, aptly puts it: "An organization becomes a sect through subjecting the humans who create it to itself. In a way people relate to an organization as gods. They create, build and sustain it - without them it cannot exist. In a sect this is also true. But something astonishing comes to happen - the creation of gods over the creators. Instead of something human individuals create jointly in order to live freer and better, these individuals come to accept they have been created in order to free and better the organization. Rather than shaping the organization to serve their needs and lives, the individuals shape their lives and subject their needs as befits the organization until tragically, the organization becomes their sole purpose; they lose their lives to the organization." 6 Peter Drucker once said: "If you make the organization your life, you are defenceless against the inevitable disappointments."7 Well, ask me. I should know!

So, make sure you keep your personal life separate from your organizational life. Make sure you spend time to develop your personal life and not subject it to the life of the organization. When you do this, letting go of the organization and giving up formal power is much easier and less painful. It is like a woman who gives herself completely to her husband. She sacrifices everything, until the day when they have to separate or divorce. The woman is devastated! She only knew one life! The life of her husband! Her husband became her sole purpose for living. (Remember this saying: "I will die for you!") Her own independence has been sacrificed on the altar of total loyalty and she never prepared herself for the inevitable disappointment. A divorce or temporary separation is sometimes the only solution for this person to reclaim her independence and even sanity! So, be careful and remember the organization is not your life.

This is what Peter Drucker had to say about this phenomenon:
"I would not want any person to give his or her life to an organization. One gives one's very best efforts." And again "When effective non-profit leaders have the capacity to maintain their personality and individuality, even though they are totally dedicated, the task will go on after them. They also have a human existence outside the task. Otherwise they do things for personal aggrandizement, in the belief that this furthers the cause. They become self-centred and vain. And above all, they become jealous."8

When I ask leaders and managers what is their most important job they usually come up with different responses, none of them the right one as far as I am concerned. Your most important job is always to work yourself out of your job! For as long as you stay in your job you will never know if anyone has really developed, or if you really made a long term sustainable impact. You will never know if you have passed the final test of leadership - the continuation of the organization. For as long as you stay you can only stunt the growth and development of other members including yourself.

Leaders that fear what will happen to them after they leave their jobs prefer to stay in their comfort zones. Confronted by a sea of unemployment they are literally scared to take a step out of their organizations. They fear the worst. But this is precisely the point. It is about their fears, their personal interests and not the interests of the organizations they lead. It is about what will happen to them and not what will happen to the organization. They get trapped and start to project that fear onto the organization. They start to confuse their needs with the needs of the organization. Precisely because your most important task is to work yourself out of your job, succession planning cannot be delayed until you take that step. You have to work on it all the time. Where there is nobody to succeed you, look on the outside. Be honest with those who harbour leadership ambitions within the organizations, even those who are most in denial about it.

1. Make sure you spent time on succession planning. This is a crucial part of a risk management strategy and taken very seriously in the corporate sector. Shareholders who invest in a company take their money very seriously. We do not do the same in the NPO sector because it is not really our own money on the line. Well, no one knows what will happen to anyone at any stage and therefore you should apply your mind to who will succeed you as a leader.

2. If you don't have the right people within the organization, look outside. Scout for available talent. This is not easy in the NPO sector. The skills and experiences we look for are scarce and therefore expensive. You cannot start looking for those skills and experiences when you are about to leave.

3. If you have a choice, make sure that your successor is already employed whilst you are still in the organization. This will give you time to mentor, coach and properly induct the person. Leaving this to somebody else is a high risk and can only create the space for someone with hidden motives to usurp power and compromise the integrity of the organization. I know of an organization where someone appointed as acting director to help find the successor to the previous director decided to be acting director for more than a year instead of the prescribed three months. This person had no prior experience of managing an organization at that level and it was not long before the organization was caught in the grip of a severe crisis. To crown it all, this person was handsomely rewarded by his board for work not done! This was at a time when the organization was facing a funding crisis. (Remember the early example of the director who "protected the integrity" of the organization?)

4. Planning for succession can never be done in great haste or under pressure. Consult with other leaders who have had similar experiences and get advice. Get your board involved as well. They will have to make the final decision in any case so let them help you. Remember that you should never choose your successor. Yes, you make recommendations and give advice since you know and understand the demands of the job. But your board must decide finally. It must be an objective decision and not a subjective choice. Leaders can sometimes fall into the trap of selecting people who remind them of themselves, i.e. they look for a copy. This is dangerous! A copy is simply an imitation of the original and is always weak. When you make such a selection you will set the other person up for failure.

5. Make sure the central task is clarified because this will determine the person you will finally select. Clarify what the organization requires at that stage. What skills, competencies and expertise are necessary to carry out that task successfully? Look for a track record, for a record of success. And don't forget to check and double check references. Talk to those who worked with the potential candidate before such as donors, network partners, previous superiors, etc. Get a cross section of opinion. Ask for previous assignments successfully completed. This is a strategic position and you have to be thorough. Give this person an assignment before the position is finalised and check the results.

6. And when you leave make sure that you have a back-up plan if your initial plan backfires. When I left my organization years ago, I made many mistakes in this regard, some with disastrous consequences! You don't have to make the same mistakes. Talk to those who have already been through this experience. Consult them. And remember, don't rush this decision. You are dealing with the most strategic position within the organization. At this level the organization will rise or fall.

7. And be careful for picking the perfect number two in the organization; the person who thinks that the top job will automatically become his/hers once you leave without showing anything for it. This is very tempting. It saves you all the money in the world and since you know the person for a long time and have worked with him/her, it becomes expedient to appoint the number two. When I left my organization years ago, the same pressure was exerted to do this. I refused to fall in this trap. I knew we had to look outside for talent. The central task has outgrown the internal members. Some people did not like this but I had to be honest with myself and the organization. I wanted to live with my conscience. But as soon as I left, the decision to look outside was abandoned immediately. The organization is now an empty shell! The board resigned, almost the entire staff were retrenched or left in anger and disillusionment, projects were closed down, funding dried up, staff loans were paid out left, right and centre, bonuses and increases were paid and organizational property vandalised. The last time I heard this person was still in charge! I don't know of what!

This is what Drucker wrote about appointing the number two:
"Partly out of emotional commitment, partly out of habit, the perfect number two is put in the top spot, and the whole organization suffers. The last time I saw this was in one of the world's largest community chests. Fortunately the number two who was picked by his predecessor because he was so much like her realised after a year that he didn't belong in the top job and was utterly miserable in it - and he left before either he or the organization had been badly damaged. But that is a rare exception."9 In my experience I only know of two cases where the number two abandoned the position after they realised that they were not up to the pressure required by the job. And in both cases it almost happened too late!

I am always confronted with the question: "Are great leaders born?" My answer is always NO! In any case I must still find a person who can identify a great leader at birth! I am not aware of any scientific tool that can measure this process. In any case I always wonder how people expect any person to enter the world?

The fact is that effective leaders are self-made. Even if you have all the potential to become a great leader, you still need to be trained, mentored and coached. Great leaders don't fear the strengths of others more experienced than them. And remember, leadership cannot be taught like you teach history at university. Leadership is a practice, a discipline in its own right. So leadership is about doing and not dreaming. Not everybody is fit for leadership, especially at the highest level of the organization. Here it is not just about developing certain characteristics and then you become an effective leader. This is wrong thinking. You have to practice and practice correctly. And the place to start is in your own personal life. Personal leadership precedes organizational leadership. Like I stated in my introduction, it does not mean that you will automatically qualify as a great leader, but it is a necessary requirement.

There is no leader who can claim to know everything. To think this is self-delusion of the highest order! To know something means to be aware or conscious of something. Sometimes this is equated with being clever, to have knowledge that others don't have. In a world of complexity this understanding can be dangerous sometimes. It is summed up in that old slogan by Francis Bacon namely: "Knowledge is Power!" Nothing is said about how the knowledge is applied, of the morality of applying knowledge. It is like the brilliant scientists in the United States who have enormous knowledge about science but uses it to develop weapons of mass destruction! Now how useful is this kind of knowledge anyway?

Did you notice the slogan on the dedication page of this book? It says "Knowledge is power but Consciousness is light!" And this means that how knowledge is applied is as important as the knowledge itself. Effective leaders understand that knowledge without consciousness is dangerous. But more is involved. What we also need is conscious consciousness. This is the awareness/knowledge that you cannot always know! Life is too complex for any one person to know everything. In a knowledge based society that is highly specialised effective leaders understand that they should be humble and admit from time to time that "I don't know". To admit that you do not know and that you need help from time to time is a sign of strength not weakness.

It is a good practice therefore for effective leaders to get out of their own office or comfort zones and assume the role of being a follower. I used to spend time in various departments in my organization working with and next to the office administrators, finance staff, and so on. I also used to rotate the chairpersonship in meetings by delegating to others to chair. Here I assumed the role of the follower. In the beginning people were very nervous. For some chairing a meeting was a frightening prospect! But this was how I expressed my need to be educated by my staff. Here I consciously stepped out of my role as leader and consciously assumed the role of a follower.

It is important in a highly specialised organization that staff understands the need to educate their leaders. But it is more important for the leader to show that he is in need of education. Five dynamics unfold during this process:
1. The leader gets first hand exposure to the day-to-day challenges experienced by the member in her work.
2. The hidden potential to exercise leadership of the member can be uncovered and cultivated.
3. The leader communicates his humility to the member and his desire to lift the person up to the level of becoming an effective leader.
4. Staff members will value the time the leader spend with them to see what they are good at.
5. By listening to your staff member in a non-threatening environment (you are in their space) you promote upward communication by listening to them about the challenges they face.

This is a very important question and one where there is a collective ignorance in many organizations. In any organization, there will be someone taking up (unconsciously of course) the role of sufferer. This is not accidental. This is a simple group dynamic. You see, wherever human beings come together, there will always be issues amongst them. These issues emanate from people's past experiences. Some people may have been abused, physically or mentally, some may have grown up with single parents or even no parents at all. Others may have been denied a decent education whereas others may have had painful experiences of torture, etc. The fact is that we live in an imperfect world and therefore we are all imperfect human beings trying to cope with a world in a painful transition. When groups come together, be it in the family, organization, your friends, school, etc. you will always find that the group strive unconsciously to maintain its own group health. It is trying to cope as a group or a team. It tries to cope because the issues we all bring to the group cannot be left in a vacuum. Remember that nature abhors a vacuum. Someone therefore unconsciously steps forward to fill that vacuum. This is the person who is absorbing the issues for the group to maintain its collective health. In the traditional family we call this person "the black sheep". At school this person is labelled "the problem child". The fact is not that the child is a problem but that the teacher has a problem understanding the child! What the teacher does not realise is that the child is protecting the group (or class in this case) or that the black sheep in the family is protecting the entire family (or white sheep)!

This person who suffers for the group is also found in your organization. It is not always easy to locate this person but try to find out who is the most depressed or who is having the most issues in the organization. Sometimes the leader steps forward unconsciously to play this role.

"Remember, the task of a true leader is to create more leaders not followers!" (John Maxwell)

"A manager is paid to be uncomfortable. If you are comfortable then it is a sure sign that you are doing something wrong." (Peter Drucker)

Written by: Frank Julie, independent development consultant and author of "The Art of Leadership and Management on the Ground" (A practical guide for leaders and managers to develop sustainable organizations for permanent social change)

To read more about the book, view its detailed contents and comments from community leaders and academics around the world, please go to To order the book and get a free list of donors in South Africa, please e-mail Zandile Stols (PA) at

1.Robert A. Johnson (1993) Owning your Own Shadow
2. Allan Kaplan (2002) Development Practitioners - Artists of the Invisible, chapter 11
3. Drucker (1990) Managing the Non-profit Organization, p. 48
4. M. Scott Peck (1993) The Different Drum, pp. 234-253
5. M. Scott Peck (1983) The Road Less Travelled, p. 13
6. Ronald Wesso (2003) When God Is Called A Party, an unpublished paper
7. Peter Drucker (1986) The Effective Executive, p. 260
8. P. F. Drucker (1990) Managing the Non-profit Organization, pp. 20-21
9. Ibid, p. 26

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