Why do some leaders, even those with very little education, like Sam Walton of Wal-Mart, make more effective bosses than others who have studied the theories of management for years?

These questions, and similar ones, have intrigued pundits for ages. Today, across the world, there are entire colleges devoted to creating the best leaders in areas of all nature, including commerce, the military, and science.

And yet, we still haven’t really figured out the answer to the question.

Each year, new books are written on how to be a great leader. Because of the high demand, consultants and coaches speak on the subject globally — on a daily basis. Is there a science that can be taught to make the finest leaders, or is it, to a large extent at least, all about one’s “makeup”?

I think a lot of the answers can be found in a book written by Roy M. Spence Jr. in 2009. This month, on October 25, it will be republished in paperback form.

With, I think, one of the longest titles ever for a leadership book, It’s Not What You Sell, It’s What You Stand For: Why Every Extraordinary Business Is Driven by Purpose, it may sound like another lightweight tome from another guy who’s more interested in selling his book than providing ideas and answers. It’s not.

Spence has worked with a lot of very well-known organizations, including BMW and Southwest Airlines, and leaders. He’s worked with the Clinton Global Initiative. He has great ideas and backs them up with facts and history throughout the book.

A key message of the book is this: Even though many leaders may “know” what should be done, in practice they don’t “walk the talk.” I strongly agree with the premise. I believe this failure to apply one’s learning has a lot to do with why there are so many ineffective leaders at all levels in most organizations.

Years ago I had the opportunity to spend an entire day with the then-Chairman of General Motors, John Smale. We started over breakfast and rode together between meetings across the city. One of my objectives was to understand why and how the former CEO of Proctor and Gamble had moved into an industry in duress.

Smale told me about his values and the importance of having a purpose. It was clear from what he said that he believed no individual or organization would ever reach their potential without a clear understanding of their own purpose in life and the purpose of the organization they led.

I embraced that message and regard it as one of the cornerstones of success. Ask yourself:

  • Do you know what you stand for?
  • Do you know what your organization stands for?

Regardless of how hard you work or how many hours you spend on the job, if you are unclear about your own purpose — what you stand for — you will not achieve the greatness you deserve. Additionally, you’re more likely to have a lot of imbalance in your personal life as a consequence.

If your team is not clear about the purpose of your organization, they will not deliver their best performance. The best and most effective teams are not usually the ones who work the hardest or spend the most on new products and services. They are the ones who are united and working together toward the same end.

Where do you stand?


Leadership Coach