[IMGCAP(1)]Answer this question: What kind of leader are you?

Now answer this question: How do you know?

Did you answer based on your paradigm of what a great leader is, or did you base your answer on your principles and core personal beliefs? If your answer is based on a paradigm, chances are that what you say falls on deaf ears; i.e., “do what I say, not what I do” tends to apply.

Your approach to being an effective leader should be centered on principles and character, according to Stephen R. Covey in “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Our character is a collection of our habits, and habits have a powerful role in our lives. Habits consist of knowledge, skill and desire. Knowledge allows us to know what to do, skill gives us the ability to know how to do it, and desire is the motivation to do it.

I like to equate “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” to an operating system. You can’t run QuickBooks without Windows, and you can’t be an effective leader without the knowledge, skills and desire powered by your character.

The seven habits are broken up into three categories: dependence, independence and interdependence. Habits one to three deal with self-mastery (be proactive; begin with the end in mind; put first things first). Basically, you learn how to lead yourself. This is the dependence stage.

The second stage, independence, consists of habits four to six, and includes teamwork, cooperation and communication (think win/win; seek first to understand, then to be understood; synergize). In other words, you learn to lead others.

The third stage, habit seven, is about continual improvement and increasing production capabilities (sharpen the saw). To be effective at this stage of interdependence, a great leader finds the proper balance between personal production and improving the firm’s capability of producing — you’re leading the firm.

With your operating system properly installed (perhaps some paradigm shifts have occurred during this process), an effective leader must invest in software (i.e., smart skills training for improved emotional intelligence) to expand their knowledge and skills, thus increasing their desire for continuous improvement for themselves and their firm.

As a (future) leader in your firm, I challenge you to throw out your old paradigms of what an effective leader is and let your character and core values guide you. And don’t forget to sharpen that saw regularly and often. Remember, knowledge allows us to know what to do, skill gives us the ability to know how to do it, and desire is the motivation to do it.

Jeffrey Pawlow is the CEO and Managing Shareholder of The Growth Partnership, Inc. and The Partner Institute. The Partner Institute is a two-year, multi-disciplinary program for accountants designed to build a participant’s personal, interpersonal, managerial and organizational skills.

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