What is Leadership?

Burke Nicholson

February 2006

What is Leadership?

I’ll give you my answer first in case you don’t want to read the rest of this column: I don’t know. The sports pages are rife with stories about NFL coaches getting fired. Hired because they could lead, fired just as quickly, only to be snapped up again somewhere else. I’ve read all kinds of books on leadership but I am still not sure what it is. It’s kind of like pornography—you know it when you see it.

Here is one interesting tale of leadership. A friend of mine in Boise, Idaho, rents a house to three members of the state football team. The coach told him if he has problems with his tenants to call him on his private line. What’s this? A coach who really cares about his players? A coach who meant it when he told a player’s mother that he’d look after her son? I do believe that the University of Colorado Buffalos landed a real leader in their new coach from Boise State. Last year’s AWCI president, Bruce Miller from Colorado, should be happy.

Here’s another example: My company deals with a community bank and, sadly, the founder just died. Throughout my years of business there, whether I talked to him or one of his staff in charge, I was always treated the same. Everyone in a leadership position at the bank has his values. He was committed to all his employees, and they in return to him.

One of the best young managers I’ve met says hire good people, then worry about their skills. It’s a lot easier to teach skills than it is to change people not fit to work for you.

Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s, just fired his manager, interviewed a bunch of men and then rehired the one he just fired. He found the old guy was the best new guy. Great cooks use the same ingredients that average cooks use, but it’s in the mixing that makes the difference.

So, here’s my advice on leadership: Read all the books you can, network with your contemporaries at the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry, study successful leaders of successful organizations around you, and listen to your employees. Remember: Everyone who works for you is a reflection on you. You are, in essence, giving your wallet to everyone you put in a position of authority—whether they operate a computer or a screw gun. If you’ve got the right mix, you are a good leader.