The Effective Leadership Jigsaw Puzzle

effective-leadership-puzzleWhat does it take to be a leader who lasts to the finish line and finishes much stronger than they started? Although there are different views about what constitutes good leadership, it is possible to distil some broad categories or competencies, from which most effective leaders will draw. These categories are factors that will impact on an individual’s ability to lead others effectively, in a range of different situations. This could range from leading a large group of people, a small group, a small team, or just a short-term team working on a specific project. While there is no single competency that will result in effective leadership, the suggested competencies listed below, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, result in a picture of effective leadership.

Emotional IntelligenceOur capacity to recognise, understand and harness our own feelings and the feelings of others. The seminal book on Emotional Intelligence was written by Daniel Goleman in 1996. In it he suggests that in his experience and research, only 20% of a person’s success in life can be attributed to their “IQ”, whereas 80% can be attributed to “EQ”. He goes on to say that academic intelligence offers virtually no preparation for the turmoil – or opportunities – that life’s ups and downs bring.  This is not to say that academic achievement is not important, but it does emphasize that without EQ to balance and enhance IQ all the intellect in the world will not make someone successful.  Becoming more aware of your own EQ gives you skills to enhance and expand what you do with that EQ so that you can become an even more effective leader.

Contextual ThinkingHow well we link specific events, tasks and action into wider patterns. Often, leaders are very good at identifying the most efficient or effective way of getting a task done or achieving a goal. This outcome focus is of course essential. Sometimes, leaders find themselves struggling with the immediate processes, but enjoying taking a longer-term view, seeing in general how specific tasks fit into a larger picture. Sometimes we call ourselves “visionary” or “big-picture” types if we have this preference. What we need is both – the ability to manage the task at hand in whatever detail is necessary and the ability to see the bigger picture. Typically, our focus is on the immediate – doing things the right way, sometimes at the expense of seeing how those things fit into a bigger picture.

Directional ClarityOur ability to identify a credible destination and clearly communicate to others how to get there in a clear and simple way. Providing directional clarity challenges us to identify and communicate the way to achieve goals. This, of course, typically involves taking people on a journey, and those journeys typically require dealing with change. Moving from one place to another takes effort, energy, commitment, trust, willingness to learn, adaptability – and a confidence in where we are going and why it is worth the effort.

One way to think about our “directional clarity” competence is to ask how well we can help people “want to travel with us” in the direction we believe our group or team needs to go. This means, in part, being able to describe the future – to identify where we need to be, why, and how we can get there. We know that people often resist change and fear new directions, so part of our challenge is to help people want to change. John Harvey-Jones once said that “the task of leadership is really making the status quo more dangerous than launching into the unknown”.

Creative AssimilationHow well you creatively draw together apparent unrelated information to arrive at a clear decision or course of action. Creative Assimilation is about processing and working with the various perspectives, inputs, issues and facts that present themselves to us in the course of decision making, planning and strategising. It’s about being “creative” – but don’t let that word mislead you; creativity isn’t the preserve of “creative types”. All of us can be creative. Of course, some people are more comfortable with new ideas and approaches, are more naturally drawn to innovation and more comfortable with paradox and ambiguity. But we can all take a creative assimilation approach – in fact, we must.

Change Orchestration – How effectively you manage personal and widespread change to actively steer the process to positive and beneficial ends. The ability to lead and manage change is one of the most crucial and demanding aspects of a leader’s role. If organisations only required maintenance, leadership skills would not be as crucial. But in order to adapt, respond to threats and build sustainability we must be prepared to change – indeed leaders know that part of their role is to anticipate change, to try to see the future and begin preparing for it now.

The challenge for any leader inevitably lies in the fact that people often don’t like change because it is threatening, it is destabilizing and it may require new skills, approaches, environments. And yet, change cannot be ignored. We tend to think that we are unique in living in a time of change, and yet change has always challenged human beings. In 513 BC, Heraclitus of Greece observed: There is nothing permanent except change”. Niccoli Machiavelli said (in the 16th century): “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.” Hence, leading or orchestrating the change process is one of the most important aspects of any leader’s role.

People Enablement – How well you empower individuals and teams to feel that the consequences of their actions are their own. “Empowerment” has become a buzzword, but behind the jargon lies a vital principle. In order to create and sustain change we have to give people the “power” to institute and sustain it.

And one of the most important steps here is to remove obstacles/roadblocks from the way of those we are asking to carry out new initiatives. This apparently obvious step is frequently neglected, creating (quite naturally) the reaction, “we can’t do that because …”. When you think about it, how else do we really Empower, that is, give people power? People enablement is about giving people the ability, the means, the resources, the clear path to operate in new and more responsible ways.

Reciprocal communication – How well you design and send your message and attentively listen to people’s responses in order to adjust. “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place,” wrote George Bernard Shaw. It’s a profound thought and one that we know from experience is all too often true. Probably the biggest mistake we make is assuming that because we’ve said something those we said it to have heard it, understood it, accepted it and will respond (appropriately) to it – a big ask!

There are a couple of ways to look at communication. The most common is to see it as a “one-way” activity: I tell you what to do. This model has a sender, a message and a receiver. Excellent! No! Because to be effective, most communication needs to have a process for the receiver of a message to confirm that they understand or agree or that they need further information. This is the feedback process or the reciprocating element. Poor communicators may accept that feedback is legitimate but assume that if they don’t get any feedback it must be because their message was easily understood (and therefore that they are great communicators). Why might people not provide feedback? Lack of opportunity, not invited to, fear, no feedback channel, didn’t realise they were supposed to either provide feedback or respond to the message. Effective leaders are effective communicators and effective communicators build in feedback processes to ensure their messages are understood, acted on or clarified.

Driving Persistence – How well you tenaciously stay on track and maintain a focus on your goals. Driving Persistence is about our personal ability to stay the course in the face of uncertainty, challenges and opposition. It’s about how we deal with adversity. Despite our planning, creativity, emotional intelligence, and education, the fact is that our work as leaders is constantly under challenge. Some we can anticipate and prepare for, some “blindside” us; when you’re out in front you have to be prepared for disappointment just as much as success and satisfaction.

It’s about sticking to the task, not giving up, having the courage of our convictions, staying focused, and keeping others’ commitment to the task “. It’s very much about the example we set. This can be our quiet determination and relentless pursuit of our goals. Or it can be the way in which we “rally the troops”.


Colin is the Director of ResourceZone International and CoachNet South Pacific. He is a recognized authority in areas like coaching, leadership development, team building, organizational health and growth. He can be reached at



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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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