Are You a Tough-Minded Leader?

Norb Slowikowski / November 2016

Are you a tough-minded leader? Before you answer that question, let me give you some information that will enlighten you about what tough-minded leadership is, and then you can decide.
Tough doesn’t necessarily mean hard. For example, a piece of granite is a hard substance, yet if you hit it with a hammer, it will shatter into pieces. Now think of a piece of leather: If you hit the leather with a hammer, it doesn’t make a dent—in fact, hitting leather with a hammer will make it more pliable and supple.
That’s what you want from tough-minded leadership: a durable mind-set to deal with whatever specific needs arise. The leader who expects his or her people to perform their best will achieve the greatest results. Setting the expectation for your team members is key.
The tough-minded leader believes that performance is all that matters. This may sound a little rigid at first. Team performance is typically defined in terms of getting things done. In a tough-minded leader’s point of view, performance means total performance. An emphasis on qualities like commitment, courage, integrity, loyalty, hard work and fairness matter as much as talent, ability and skills.
The tough-minded leader respects the dignity and worth of each team member and guides each person to integrate his or her best performance into the framework of the organization by doing the following:
Encourage input from everyone. Ideas, suggestions—whatever it takes to help define the best possible mission, vision and goals to move the workplace forward on a path to continuous improvement.
Develop clear and specific performance standards. Measure performance against set standards—no compromising.
Implement a pay-for-performance evaluation process.
Develop processes and procedures for people to follow to achieve consistency of excellence on the job.
Use ongoing training and coaching to develop and hone the skill sets of your team.
Challenge your people to strive for continuous improvement every day.
Develop and maintain emotional vulnerability (the capacity to let others in and let yourself out). This required communication that includes shared meaning and shared understanding.
Provide consistent interaction. and MBWA (manage by walking around).
Expect the best from team members every day.
Let’s circle back to the beginning. With this additional information, how can we expand on the definition of tough-minded leadership?
Let’s take the definition of leadership and expand it to encompass tough-minded leadership principles: “The development of clear and complete expectations in order to identify and utilize the strengths of all resources in the organization—the most important of which is people. Set the pace with high expectations for all players in the process.”
These ideas are tough but not hard. So let me end with the following questions: Do you care enough to lead? Do you care enough to expect the absolute best from your people?
I think you know the answer. The tough-minded leader will settle for nothing less.

Norb Slowikowski is president of Slowikowski & Associates, Inc., Darien, Ill. To contact him, email