NextGen Know-How: Three Pillars of Exceptional Leadership

three classical Roman composite columns holding up an ornate frieze
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

4 minutes

Leaders need to get out of the technical weeds and focus on these key responsibilities to facilitate a positive, result-driven team.

One of the biggest challenges professionals face when promoted to a leadership role is determining where to focus their time and energy. In a contributor role, we are rewarded for technical expertise and skill. The transition to leadership can be very different and challenging, as many professionals have not been prepared and developed to master the competencies that are necessary for success as leaders.

I remember the first time my vice president gave me feedback after I had been promoted to assistant director of human resources. It was about two months into my new leadership role, and she called me into her office to tell me to stop doing my old job. In my previous role as human resources generalist, I performed several technical jobs, such as processing payroll and benefits. While I wasn’t still processing payroll every two weeks, anytime someone had a payroll or benefits issue, they came to me to fix them. My boss told me I needed to start delegating; fixing payroll and benefits issues was not my job anymore, and I was expected to coach my employee to perform those functions. She wanted me to focus on creating leadership programs to develop our management team. This was a big shift for me, as I had always equated my value with my technical HR expertise. But in my new leadership role, the competencies required and the value I needed to contribute were vastly different from my previous role.

For many new managers, leadership can feel less tangible than their previous technical role. We aren’t sure where to spend our time, so we become fixers (jumping in to solve problems our employees should take care of) instead of facilitators (facilitating dialogue and coaching employees on how to handle challenges themselves).

Leaders need to focus their time and energy on the right areas to facilitate a positive, result-driven team—creating a likewise positive and productive culture. There are three key pillars of exceptional leadership that are important for building the trust and commitment needed to produce sustainable results.

Create Clarity

The first pillar is clarity. Creating clarity means consistently sharing the vision and the path for your project, team or organization with employees so they know where to focus their attention. Leaders need to inspire employees by sharing how their contributions fit into strategic goals, and then set clear expectations, individual and team goals, and deadlines. It is necessary to create clarity daily, so employees understand the priorities. This requires leaders to have the skill of zooming in and out: zooming out to see the broader strategic picture of what needs to be done while anticipating obstacles and adjusting priorities, and zooming in to focus yourself and your staff on what needs to be done in the short term.

Take Care of the Culture

The second pillar is culture—to develop a relationship with each employee and understand how to adjust your leadership style to bring out each employee’s best performance. This is a very important part of leadership; leaders should be spending a significant amount of time coaching, developing and providing honest, consistent, meaningful feedback. When an employee struggles, managers should be there providing support and direction. Leaders also need to be approachable and foster cohesiveness and constructive conflict among their staff. Your job as a leader is to create a positive and results-driven culture in your functional area, as well as the overall organization.

Consistency and Results

Leadership is not effective unless you can facilitate consistent results—the third pillar. This means modeling accountability for your staff, creating structures, following through and being on top of your own priorities while continuously focusing your staff on the daily goals to lead to results. Leaders must be able to coach employees to focus, remove roadblocks and make timely and thorough decisions.

To be a successful leader, you must focus on the people side of the business and know how to get results through people. This is why delegation is key. Leaders need to appropriately delegate tasks so they can focus on the most important priorities of creating clarity, caring for the culture and delivering consistent results. Not everyone is meant to be a leader. Leadership is a privilege and a huge responsibility. True leadership is in service to others and requires mastering relationship competencies for success.

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CPCC, PHR, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or

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