My wife and I recently finished watching the TV series Friday Night Lights (by the way, one of the best programs ever). The show is about a small town in Texas, high school football, and all of life’s wonderful mysteries.
One of the lead characters in the show is Coach Eric Taylor. In the final season, he finds himself leading a group of talented kids who are losing the ability to play as a cohesive team, and thus are falling apart in slow motion. In one short scene, he enters the locker room, and writes a single word on the whiteboard: “State.” Through the magic of television, lo and behold, everything starts to turn around. I won’t spoil the finale, but I think Coach Taylor demonstrated the secret to the most powerful leadership skill.
Take, for example, the embattled Yahoo, a company that has struggled for years to define itself and as a result has fallen behind all of its competitors in terms of search, email, news, etc. What the company needed was a leader with purpose, unafraid to choose a path and stick with it. The ultimate question being: Was it a media company or a tech company? While the tech world watched closely for signs of life, CEO Marissa Mayer sent the strongest indicator yet of true change at the company. She declared once and for all that Yahoo is a technology company, doubling down on efforts to improve the product. How has she fared? Over the last six months, Yahoo’s share price has gone from $16 to $24 a share. You tell me.
There are so many characteristics of great leaders. Different circumstances demand different leadership styles. But if I had to choose one characteristic that is most important, I believe it is the ability to clearly communicate your purpose. If those you lead don’t understand what you believe in, what your goals are, and what you personally are willing to do to help get there, they will never be able to maximize their collective potential. I’ve seen this many times with the organizations we work for. Those that do this well prosper and shine. But if leadership struggles with this, inefficiencies and even failures are all too common.
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