Leadership is About Defining Your “Gaps”

On a visit to Nashville, Tennessee, I interviewed Cal Turner for a leadership anthology I was creating. The book, Transforming Power: Stories from Transformational Leaders for Encouragement and Inspiration, was published without this story from Cal. After reading the interview draft, he decided to publish his own leadership book. I should have been disappointed, however, I was pleased to have been an inspiration to a very successful leader. One pleasure of leadership is inspiring others, and not just taking all the pleasure for one’s own self.

Another reason that I was pleased was the message that Cal taught me that day. His story was about taking over as CEO of Dollar General. As Cal related the experience to me, he noted that he met with his leadership team and said to them, “I got this job because of my genes and not because of my ability. However, I have a vision of success and need your help.” He went on to say that every person stepped up to the challenge as they took the company public, and the business continued to be a great success.

His lesson to me was that leadership is about defining your gaps. Gaps, in this instance, are the skills that the leader is not proficient with or should not be doing. John Maxwell speaks of a similar principle when he encourages leaders to delegate when a skill is 4 or lower on a scale of 10. Cal’s story is about authenticity and transparency as a leader. He went on to say that if leaders are not honest about their weaknesses, then team members will respond in an unhealthy way. As Cal put it, “They are going to show that they know you have weaknesses.”

Transformational Leadership is a style of leadership that grew out of the military and education cultures, as defined by Burns and Bass in the 1980s. One of the principal traits of this effective style of leadership is authenticity. The leader models what he or she wants to see in the team members.

Leading sometimes means asking the right questions. It never means that the leader must have all the answers – and certainly not all the right answers.

Here are 5 leadership tips I developed from my visit with Cal:

  1. Clarity – Know and communicate your vision and goals for the organization you lead, so those whom you lead understand where they can participate. Develop clear action plans with defined roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities.
  2. Honesty – Always “speak the truth in love.” Be direct with all communications, asking for what you want and responding openly when expectations are not being met. Develop a culture of high performance where every participant understands open and honest communications.
  3. Engagement – Allow team members to create action plan steps for the organization’s goals that you champion. If the leader creates the action plan, then there is no buy-in from the team. A high-functioning team consists of competent people capable of defining the pathway to success. Allow every team member to participate.
  4. Listening –┬áListen to members of teams and honor diversity in perspectives. An effective leader understands that gathering information is necessary for making the best decisions.
  5. Empowerment – Leaders define the end result, delegate responsibilities, and get out of the way. High-performance teams develop synergy as they use their expertise to create the pathway to success. Micromanaging teams defeats team energy.

Get a coach, mentor, mastermind group, or establish a feedback system to identify your gaps. They are called “blind spots” because we can’t see them.


Hugh Ballou
The Transformational Leadership Strategist

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(c) 2012 Hugh Ballou. All rights reserved.

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