Leaders are people of consequence. They set goals, make decisions, take action and get results. Goals-decisions-actions-results. That critical chain of events drives leaders, grows companies and advances civilization.

Understanding what it takes to be an effective leader doesn’t get any simpler than that. It isn’t rocket science. And yet, the topic is endlessly debated in business schools, books and blogs. What’s the result of all that rhetoric? More rhetoric.

One of the most common idioms of the day is “Let’s have a conversation.” OK, let’s do that.

We’re having conversations about everything under the sun, from income and gender inequality to income tax and immigration reform. From healthcare and entitlements to infrastructure and education. From racial tensions and terrorism to entrepreneurship and economic recovery.

The thing is, those conversations never end. They don’t influence the chain of events that actually moves us forward. They’re self-serving and self-perpetuating. They’re not even constructive debate. If anything, they’re just driving us further and further apart. Truth is, we couldn’t be more divided.

Want to know what all those conversations signal about our culture? It means we’re leaderless. Either that, or our leaders are incapable of making things happen. The chain of goals-decisions-actions-results is broken. I know that because I’ve seen lots of companies behave the same way. And their stories always end the same way.

I once consulted for a midsized public company whose executive team debated everything. Endlessly. They would spend hours, days and weeks in one meeting after another. It was pure analysis paralysis. Even when they came to a rare and miraculous decision, it wouldn’t be long before they’d start debating it all over again.

You could give them advice, but they’d just debate that too. The company had simply grown to a size where its relatively inexperienced leadership team was no longer competent to take it further. Today, that company no longer exists. Its products are long forgotten, its thousands of employees laid-off and scattered to the winds.

All companies, organizations and nations depend on the decision-making process to advance their agenda, achieve their goals and grow. When leaders are dysfunctional or incompetent, that process becomes corrupted. It takes on a life of its own. The constant conversation and divisive debate continues ad infinitum. The inevitable result is stagnation and demise. I’ve seen it happen time and again in companies and organizations big and small. And I’ve never seen it end any other way.

There’s a ridiculous amount of rhetoric about leadership these days. The big thing is for leaders to be great storytellers. Communication skills are the new must-have traits. What a load of crap. In my experience, communication skills are in no way indicative of strong leadership or predictive of success.

Whether they’re running small businesses, big corporations, or entire nations, the one thing leaders need to do effectively is make that single chain of events happen. Set goals, make decisions, take action and get results. That’s what makes things happen. That’s what moves us forward.

Speaking of stories, here’s one I know you’ll appreciate. It’s about a nation that has all sorts of issues and endless conversations about them. Who’s having all these conversations? All the career politicians, czars, administrators and bureaucrats. All the lobbyists, special interest groups and activists that seek to influence them.

All the nation’s people are also having lots of conversations about the issues: millions of conversations 24×7 on the news, in the blogosphere, on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

What’s the result of all those conversations? Lots of self-serving and self-perpetuating legislation, regulation and taxation. And no real results that meet long-term goals. Nothing that moves the nation forward.

That’s a sign. It’s a sign of incompetent leadership, corrupt processes and a dysfunctional government that long ago ceased to function as it should. And perhaps the most glaring sign is all the conversations so many of us are having about just that.

Real leaders don’t have conversations. Real leaders set goals, make decisions, take action and get results. That’s what real leaders do.

For more on effective leadership, buy Steve Tobak’s hot new book, Real Leaders Don’t Follow: Being Extraordinary in the Age of the Entrepreneur.

A version of this was originally posted as a Critical Thinking column on foxbusiness.com

  • Roger

    Very interesting. I understand your point, but not everything in life is “executive function”.
    Sometimes, to achieve the best goals and take the optimal decisions are necessary both the discussion and the debate.

    Encourage the debate and ensure that everyone involved express their opinions are also functions of the true leader.

    But yes, the conversation can not be infinite and there comes a point where it becomes repetitive and actions must be taken.
    Regards
    Roger