Leadership is all about interaction: an interview with Dr. Jeff McCausland

Are people “born leaders” or can they be developed?

I definitely believe that leaders can and must be developed. Still there are certain personality characteristics that may help someone become an effective leader. People who are extreme introverts and find it uncomfortable around groups can become leaders, but it takes a greater effort. This is not unlike high performing athletes who may have better eyesight, height, strength, etc. as part of their physical makeup giving them an edge. Still, in both cases the individual has to devote both study and effort to continue to capitalize on those inherent advantages.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

I have learned that most people want to do well and be part of a high performing team. I do not believe people go to work each day seeking to fail. But leadership is an art and not a science. Consequently, relationships are key. Leadership is all about the interaction between human beings. A leader has many jobs, but let me discuss three.

First, define a vision for the organization and then seek to convince the members of his team to follow that vision. This often requires work.

Second, the difference between leaders and everyone else is “the leader decides and he or she decides when they are going to decide. Consequently, the leader must manage the organizations time. How much time do we have? When do I have to make a decision so that my team has enough time to explain to those working for them what their goals or objectives are? How much time do I have to seek consensus before deciding which direction we are going to take?

Third, the leader must seek to invest in his or her people and develop a high performing team. The ultimate goal of the leader is to make him/herself irrelevant. The true test of any leader is how well the organization performs once the leader departs. Did he or she develop a team so even if they were missing the organization continued to climb?

How has your leadership style evolved?

I continue to be amazed by how little I know. I have learned an effective leader must continue to develop in two ways. First, an effective leader must continue to develop his or her competence in his or her profession or occupation. Second, they must continue to think and develop themselves as a leader. Furthermore, I have learned that building organization consensus and cohesion is key. The leader cannot simply announce the vision for the organization and then expect everyone to immediately buy in and move out in the direction defined.

Chris Nassetta, CEO of Hilton Corporation, once observed that when he took charge of Hilton he spent nearly two years traveling throughout the corporation which has 150,000 employees worldwide. He said he was convinced that everyone was “pulling hard on the oars” but they were often pulling the oars in different directions

Finally, I have found in my work with many, many organizations that most are willing to invest millions in new technology or capital investments. But they are only willing to invest pennies in their most important resource — their people.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

I try to think hard on what I need to invest my time in and what is best done by others. Empowerment is key to the success of any organization. So I frequently ask myself, “Am I getting in the way of one of my employees who is anxious to take responsibility for something?”. I seek to spend time thinking about the future of my organization and not get buried in day-to-day decisions, which can be handled by others. Finally, am I learning something new today that will make me either more competent or a better leader?

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

What makes you happy and what do you enjoy? I cannot imagine you could do well leading an organization if you are not enjoying the experience, either in terms of its intrinsic rewards or the position working for you and your family.

Next, what is the vision I have for the organization? Can I galvanize the resources and build the consensus right now to move the organization in that direction? Finally, what is my assessment of my team? Are they ready for the vision? Do I need to do more teambuilding or do I need to add new team members and perhaps remove existing team members?

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring?

You want to ensure that the person is intelligent and has passion for the organization and its aims. It will not work to hire someone who is very intelligent but cannot work effectively with others—that can be a disaster for any team. Finally, do they have a desire to learn, improve themselves, and a desire to be innovative and “make things happen”?

I often use the example of Coach Dean Smith, University of North Carolina. He was at one point the winningest coach in NCAA basketball. A sportswriter once asked Smith what he looked for in basketball prospects. Smith replied, “I look for players who are fast. I can teach someone how to shoot, rebound, read plays, pass, etc. I do not know how to teach them to be fast….” In similar form I believe I can teach anyone who wishes to learn how to be successful in the organizations I have led. I just don’t know how to make them innovative or “make it happen” when they do not receive specific directions.


Dr. Jeffrey McCausland, Founder and CEO of Diamond6 Leadership & Strategy, LLC is a retired Army Colonel with over 30 years of unique and challenging leadership experiences. As a retired military officer and veteran, Jeff’s work has taken him all over the world serving in a variety of command and staff positions in places such as the on National Security Council Staff, U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, PA, and the Pentagon.

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