John Abplanalp, Founder of Tight Lines Advisors, reflects on his extensive career and defines what it takes to be a Great Leader in today’s changing world.
What does it take to be a leader? Moreover, what are the qualities that distinguish a truly “great” leader from an average one? Recognizing this distinction evokes different thoughts and meanings to each individual. Influenced by one’s personal life and work history, they can be as diverse and unique as a fingerprint. As our global landscape continues to rapidly evolve, business leaders will face constant challenges that will require them to readjust their abilities and talents to this ever-changing world. While there are plenty of good leaders, this new world will demand more great leaders to light the way forward.
John Abplanalp, a manufacturing industry leader and former CEO and President of Precision Valve Corporation, recently paused from his new role with Tight Lines Advisors to answer the question, “What makes a Great Leader?” As the head of a global manufacturing firm, John has had the privilege to work with great people from diverse cultures. From CEO’s to managers, floor workers to contractors, a wide breadth of personal interactions has led Abplanalp to his own explanation to the question.
In his humble opinion, here are the characteristics of a Great Leader.
Abplanalp believes great leadership begins with empathy, a willingness to see the world through another’s eyes, and to recognize the common human spirit shared by all individuals in an organization. “People want to be a part of something good and contribute their mind, body and soul, not their just arms, back, and legs,” explains Abplanalp. “Employees desire to see their role as more than just “work” and it’s up to their leader to recognize this fact, and foster a professional, working environment that supports this mindset.” What’s true for a team member’s personal life also applies to their work life; they truly want to help, contribute and make something better. A leader who recognizes this and sees the process through the eyes of another, gains the respect of each team member. It empowers them to be more productive and ultimately become the best advocates for the organization.
In Abplanalp’s view, great leaders also have a great sense of humility. This personality trait can be a challenging proposition for the type ‘A’, take charge executive. Yet, the most effective leaders recognize they can’t do everything by themselves, nor should they make it their objective. Abplanalp explains, “Solutions come from letting processes run, not micromanaging every issue that occurs in an operation. My Father could “listen” to the voice of a manufacturing facility and know how well it was running.” The best companies in any industry implement proven procedures that provide continuous feedback on the health of an operation. A great leader leads while being lead within the organization, meaning they help put the right processes in place; then let those processes unfold empowering the people working within to organically provide the solutions should problems arise.
Integrity in a leader builds a foundational trust with all the stakeholders in an organization. Regardless of position, every member of an organization takes their cues from the top down. Teams must trust the abilities as well as the sincerity of their leader. Likewise, the leader must trust the abilities of the team members and respect their input, which can sometimes be more insightful than their own! A sincere leader who projects integrity and displays strong moral principles inspires their charges to commit fully to a mission. Mutual trust throughout an organization also leads to an ability and willingness to readily embrace change. In a supportive and encouraging environment, innate fear of change is reduced and an organization can confidently progress towards its established goals.
A great leader pools all available resources, makes an informed decision, and stays the course towards achieving a designated objective. Abplanalp recalls the words of Winston Churchill, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” It’s that determined resolve and mindset that distinguishes the average leader from one that is truly exceptional. Perseverance is contagious and team members can sense whether everyone is in it for the long haul. A standout leader sets an example by displaying the level of commitment that’s expected from members of the team. A “this too shall pass” attitude sends both calming and motivational signals to the team. Abplanalp concludes, “The power of perseverance reinforces to team members that they are not being led by a boss, but by a Great Leader who respects and values their viewpoint and shares in their single-minded purpose.”