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Leadership Made Simple, Not Easy

The cover of the book Touching People's Lives by Michael R. Losey.

The following is excerpted from Chapter 18 of Touching People's Lives (SHRM Books, 2017), written by past CEO and President of SHRM Michael R. Losey, SPHR, CAE.

If I were to list just the titles of the books dedicated to the subject of leadership, I could probably add another one hundred pages to this book.

Yes, leadership is important—critical, in fact. No organization can long exist without good leadership.

Leadership is the capacity to influence others to jointly work toward a specific goal. Key elements are recognizing change and solving problems, which are what we get paid to do. Key skills, abilities, and diversified experience are necessary to:

  • Identify and define the problem.
  • Generate alternative solutions.
  • Evaluate the alternative solutions.
  • Determine the "best" solution.
  • Take actions to "mitigate" the disadvantages of the best solution.
  • Implement the decision.
  • Follow up to evaluate the success of the solution.
  • Take corrective action, where necessary.

After all, if we never experienced change, we would not need leaders.

Someone once told me that there are only two types of people who like "change": One is a baby with a wet diaper, and the other is a cashier working at a cash register.

However, change always happens, sometimes at different frequencies and impact. The desired result is making things happen to address the changes—in the right way. Major contributors to doing the right things are the leader's initiative, creativity, interpersonal skills, and values. 

Consistent with attempting to keep this simple, the execution of good leadership can be greatly enhanced with what I call "The Five I's."


Already referenced, intelligence is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. We are born with most of our capacity and potential for performance in this area. An appropriate education adds to intelligence. The result is thinking and solving problems with what you know.


Initiative is simply doing something without being told to do so. In a competitive environment, high-performing leaders are always trying to anticipate what will be required next versus awaiting instruction.


In addition to taking the initiative when others may not, the capacity to offer completely new ideas and better solutions that meet changing requirements is a skill that is very important in a leader. Of course, intelligence and experience will contribute greatly to this skill. However, being innovative requires more than those attributes. It requires a discipline to be not only curious but also willing to challenge and create through dedicated effort.


Being honest and having strong moral principles are not automatic. In difficult situations, a reputation for honesty and fair dealings can provide protection when almost everything else fails. Good leaders make their position clear, even if it is contrary to the consensus of others. In addition, they tell the story the same way every time; otherwise, they risk trying to remember what they told someone previously and where. This is easily accomplished if the leader always tells the truth. In the long term, this straightforward, non-contrived behavior will contribute greatly to the credibility critical in any leadership capacity.

All of these characteristics, when combined with sufficient effort, can create a great leader. However, absent effort, mediocrity is a result. I have never seen a successful leader who did not apply significant effort.

In addition to effort, there is perseverance. Sometimes this occurs when a superior ignores, or worse—rejects, a leader's repeated attempts to influence or advance a proposal. As emphasized earlier, high-potential leaders who are knocked down will not stay down. They return time and time again to advance what they believe is a good suggestion. Are they at risk? No, not if they have the skill to continue sincerely and skillfully advancing their recommendation.


Potential leaders can possess almost all of the "I's," but if they lack the interpersonal skills to lead and work effectively with others, they probably will not be successful leaders, or at least not as good as if they did have this capability.

Lacking interpersonal skills does not necessarily mean they will fail. It is important to recognize that such people may be best placed in a role that allows them to be individual contributors, with their singular opportunity for contribution, even if it means working essentially alone.


Mike Losey, SPHR, CAE, is a past president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Before being named to the Society's top position in 1990, Losey previously served 30 years in HR management and executive level positions with two Fortune corporations. He has been active in international human resources and is a past president of the North American Human Resource Management Association (NAHRMA) and the World Federation of Personnel Management Associations (WFPMA).


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