Cultivating Exemplary Leadership (Part 5): What do Leaders do?

The past six months of blogs have predominantly focused on my views of exemplary leadership.  I’ve written about passion, respect, modeling the way, using gestures, and the like as ways that we can all build our leadership toolkit and act as leaders in our lives.  In today’s post we will veer away from my views on leadership and focus on some very important leadership characteristics that aren’t always at the forefront of our mind, characteristics that workshop and classroom participants have discovered.

In the video clip accompanying my November post we saw how workshop participants identified leadership traits and discussed how they are utilized by leaders in their lives.   In today’s clip you will see how when we use a creative exercise, we identify even more leadership characteristics and behaviors then we did initially.

In the Business Card Exercise, an exercise I have adapted and used over the years, participants are asked to name an inanimate object, not a person or place, but a thing, and write this thing on the back of a business card.  They are then asked to pair up with a colleague, switch cards, and describe to their counterpart how what the other person wrote relates to leadership.  These instructions often cause some apprehension as well as a few snickers, but what comes next is always exciting and insightful as participants spend a few minutes thinking about how their items can represent leaders in some ways. A few of the more common objects people write about and discuss include a chair, a tree, and a car.  There are also some interesting ones which are used (a stiletto heel is one of my favorites), and at the end of the exercise we all discuss how the items relate to leadership and enjoy some great insights.

Before I give you a few examples of how the above items relate to leadership, I will give you a minute to think about this for yourself.  How do these items relate to leadership?  Before reading forward, please do think, see what you can come up with, and share with me via email or by replying to this blog.

So, how do a tree, a car, or a chair relate to leadership?


A tree:  Well, a tree gives shade, thus offering protection to people from the elements and a leader must protect his or her people from the elements within the organization or outside of it.  A tree has firm roots (values) but can sway a bit with the wind; leaders need to stay true to their values but can sway a bit on execution of ideas based on ideas of their people.  Finally, a tree offers oxygen and sometimes fruit, offering those things to people for survival; a leader offers insights, thus helping their people to excel and grow.

A chair:  A chair offers support for people, just as a leader must do.  A chair can sometimes be wobbly and need something to help it function properly.  Leadership is not about a single person, a leader without a team can sometimes fall.

A car: What does a car do?  Well, it takes you from point A to point B….you get the idea!

These are just a few ways the above items relate to leadership, there are many more for these items and many more items to think about and relate to leadership.  I gave you a start, now look around the room, pick an item and think about how it relates to leadership; I bet it will be something that you didn’t originally think of when posed with the question to name characteristics of leaders!  If you come up with a characteristic of leadership relating to an item, I’d love to hear about it.  Please respond to this post or email me…I look forward to hearing from you!

Oh, since you asked, how does a stiletto heel relate to leadership, well, sometimes leaders have to put their foot down and say this is just the way it is (this isn’t often a good tactic, but sometimes we all need to remember that leaders are in their position for a reason and we need to have some trust…this is another blog post!).

Thanks for reading along and for allowing me to offer some more leadership tips to add to your ever-growing toolkit!


Howard C. Fero, Ph.D.
The Leadership Doc
Director, Graduate Leadership Programs
Associate Professor of Business and Leadership
Albertus Magnus College

untitled2Dr. Howard Fero, is an Associate Professor of Business and Leadership and the Director of Graduate Leadership programs at Albertus Magnus College. When not teaching classes and overseeing the Leadership programs at Albertus Dr. Fero uses his expertise to help individuals and organizations achieve optimal performance and effectiveness as The Leadership Doc. Dr. Fero will be blogging about different leadership topics throughout the year and speaks about these topics in his classes in the Master of Arts in Leadership and Master of Science in Management and Organizational Leadership Programs. He welcomes your comments and looks forward to communicating with you in our exciting new blog.


Leave a Reply