Imperatives of Leadership Excellence

Readers of the Leadership Platform column are in general avid seekers after leadership excellence, and our passion is to assist you where possible. As this is the commencement of a new year it is appropriate for us to share some imperatives of leadership excellence.

The three we are discussing are all keys to opening the door to emotional and mental leadership maturity. The three are ‘obedience’, ‘letting go’ and ‘values’.

  1. The first universal principle is obedience. Obedience is not an optional thing in human behaviour. No matter what we do we are being obedient to some idea, impulse or influence. Thinking, hesitating, evaluating and doing are all manifestations of obedience. We cannot move from point a to point b without being obedient to some feeling or perception. We may often resent being ‘forced’ to choose and act, but our resentment does not in any way detract from the basic universal truth that obedience is an imperative of human behaviour.

The difference between a good leader and somebody that is not may often be seen in their attitude towards obedience. Good leaders don’t fight universal imperatives of human behaviour!  They resist the common practice of resenting the challenge of decision making, especially in difficult situations. They instinctively realise that making decisions is not only an imperative of living, but that a negative attitude towards making positive decisions is a killer of excellence.

Being positive and courageous are choices we have made to be obedient to the best inside us. Look around you and you will find this is an attribute of good leaders. They do not fight the universal imperative of obedience.  A great many people are caught up in a vicious spiral of resisting obedience to higher values and objectives as a result of pride or negative behavioural habits.

  1. The second imperative is ‘letting go’. In a previous leadership gem in this column we shared the story of the man climbing a mountain and after much effort he reached the top and threw up his arms in delight. Suddenly a strong gust of wind blew him over the edge of the cliff. He managed to cling to a jutting edge and pleaded desperately in prayer for help.  He heard a voice: ‘Do you believe I can cause the wind to blow you back on top of the cliff?’ He answered immediately; ‘Yes, Lord, I believe!’ The voice replied: ‘Let go….’  During a conversation I had recently, the person added the following titbit to the ‘man over cliff’ story. She said that apparently the man could not let go. The next day rescuers found him frozen to the side of the cliff. They also found that there was a ledge a foot below him that would have saved his life if he ‘let go’.  ‘Letting go’ is about the principle that we cannot change our behaviour to a higher order, new and better habits, without letting go or sacrificing the old habit. This principle is taught comprehensively in Christian and other doctrines over the ages. It is a simple principle. We have to ‘let go’ of the old habit or perception before we can embrace a higher principle. Poor leaders and performers tend to mumble and grumble instead of simply letting go so that they can move forward emotionally and mentally.

‘Letting go’ requires faith and courage. It is a normal tendency to try to stand in two worlds. We recognise the validity of new insights and possibilities but we somehow prefer to cling to the old. This often leads to failure. I know of great leaders who have a fine sense of humour in recognising their mortal tendency to hesitate and to cover their options. They realise it is very difficult to do at times, but their allegiance to the path of emotional maturity and excellence is greater than their desire to cling to negative habits. They have the ability to smile at their own weaknesses but are determined to choose the higher path of excellence.

  1. The third imperative is that of values. Believed values are an imperative of human behaviour. This is a principle that often escapes us. Sometimes, perhaps far too often, people believe that developing a solid value system is a ‘nice to have’ but that other priorities are often more important. We find that this happens a lot in career situations. For example, in matters of business people acknowledge the importance of values but under pressure they default to business priorities that may or may not support their organisational values.

When we think of values we often think of principles of character such as honesty, faith, diligence, integrity, openness, and humility. One of the keys to the kind of great seamless leadership that makes the world a better place is the realisation that our real beliefs and values drive our behaviour and performance. This means that if we are not emotionally and mentally committed to positive values we will automatically default in our behaviour to negative beliefs. All of us are confronted with a mixture of negative as well as positive beliefs and values. Good leaders consciously recognise their human weakness to negative perceptions and values and they work hard at ‘letting go’ of these barriers to excellence by pledging obedience to higher values. I am aware of a friend who grew up in an environment where crude expressions and swearing was an integral part of his daily language. Because of his love and respect for the woman he married, he sacrificed the habit of swearing and replaced it with an expanded vocabulary that is certainly much more pleasant on the ears!

The three imperatives of human behaviour mentioned above are not negotiable.

Whether we like it or not, obedience is a basic imperative of life. The question is really: What principles or values am I obedient to? As we walk the path of leadership, we have to learn to let go of many things. Often we must let go and sacrifice a good thing in order to take ownership of a better. Our believed values are not a nice to have. They are imperatives of human behaviour. If we do not build positive values that we are prepared to sacrifice and even die for, then we will simply be one of the many that are swept along in the path of negative or watery beliefs.

Surely we deserve better! 

This article appeared in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

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