Over the years, I have experienced working with wonderful and fantastic leaders. I have also worked for some horrible, self-centered supervisors and managers.

Notice, I did not refer to the latter group as leaders. These few certainly are not, nor will ever be, leaders. In fact, these self-centered individuals are toxic.

Why do I make such bold statement? Each of us will leave a legacy to some degree. The decisions we make today will have an impact on us in each day that follows.

Many will remember us for the poor decisions we made, and they will speak negatively about us years after we leave our positions. Some will speak highly of us based on what they considered to be good decisions and actions. They will remember how we treated them and others, how we defended or punished our staff, and how we kept our integrity intact with the organizational courage necessary in doing what was right when political pressures were placed upon us.

The reason I make such a bold statement in speaking about some supervisors and managers as not being leaders is because we, as a society, are lacking leadership competencies in disciplines today. This applies not only in government, but also in the business world.

What does good leadership require?

To be an effective and influential leader, we must build our organizational strength by mentoring, coaching and developing our staff to take our positions when we leave. We must empower and allow our employees to blossom, expand their skills sets and take charge.

We can no longer afford to hold our employees back. We must give them guidance to grow within the perimeters we set to help them build upon their own success, which will naturally become a reflection of ours. We can no longer afford living in the days of selecting our friends, or "yes men" as our next supervisors or managers as these individuals will become a much larger problem down the road.

We need to build organizational leaders who will have the courage to stand tall with confidence to get us through tough times. We don't need managers who run to attorneys and human resources trying to find ways to justify their actions rather than do what was right from the beginning.

Unfortunately, today too many "leaders" in key positions have insulated themselves with their friends and far from the effects of their failures, and their support from above makes them seemingly invincible.

These individuals in leadership positions can, and more likely will be, detrimental to the organizations of which they are a part. These leaders skew facts, fail to abide by their own policies and regulations, and fail to base decisions on the merits and facts placed before them, as only a few examples.

The failure to identify these toxic leaders constitutes negligence on the part of higher-level leaders in each of these organizations as they either knew or should have known that the actions and decisions are truly not best for the organization. In fact, these words, "knew or should have known" equate to high-dollar figures in litigation.

How do we do improve our leadership abilities?

Although not all-inclusive, I have developed a list of some actions that must be made to improve our organizational staff and leadership.

1. Apply what you learn

We must apply what we are learning within our educational settings, more specifically the leadership and command schools we attend.

In so many organizations where I have friends, many of them have experienced the same thing I have where our organizational leaders are not applying, nor doing, what we have been taught within these schools. This becomes troubling as it confuses our staff when we send them to these schools and they return wanting to apply what they have learned to further help the organization but are met with resistance.

2. Mentor your successor

We must build mentoring programs within our organization. If we do not, how can we expect our staff to grow within the organization? We need to train and coach them to succeed, to learn how to make decisions for the positions they seek.

This includes replacing you, as we must focus on the needs of the organization. Let's face it, at some point everyone leaves the organization, so why not mentor your possible replacement? Failing to have qualified staff to promote within your organization is just a poor reflection on the leaders themselves.

If your organization has to seek outside for promotions, then the "leaders" certainly failed to lead. A leader must inspire others to seek career advancements and prepare them for success. Excelling organizations have staff of all ranks constantly learning and growing.

3. Set consistent qualifications

We must incorporate high standards and consistent qualifications for our staff to reach for the positions they desire in order to create a more qualified and prepared candidate. This will alleviate leadership inequities and competencies.

We should not change qualifications to help one specific candidate we desire or change requirements to prevent current staff from being eligible to apply for promotions without a transition phase. We need to allow current employees the ability to ensure they obtain the new standards we are asking for them to meet our "minimal" job requirements as we continue to raise the bar.

Furthermore, our friends and family should remain just that, friends and family. I know as leaders we want someone we can trust, but the question is, "Are they fit to perform the job duties?" Then find that person, based on merit, performance, capacity, qualifications and reputation, not just because you owe someone a favor or because you don't like the next qualifying candidate who more likely will get the position.

4. Be honest

We need to learn how to be honest with our employees and help them succeed. The majority of employees do not apply for positions where they will be unable to transfer or promote within an organization. Most employees seek jobs where advancement opportunities exist.

Therefore, leaders create opportunities for their staff. If employees seek input and guidance from you, give it to them. If you are so worried about them suing you or creating further problems for you, then why are either you or they still there? One of you is the problem, and the problem needs to go.

As leaders, we train, coach and develop staff. If your staff is not ready to promote, then help them if that is their desire. If they are not ready this promotional time, they will be next time. They should have the opportunities to attend training, temporarily lead a function or operation, and to be placed into positions that allow them to expand and apply themselves. We need to see how they perform and build upon those situations.

Each one of us had someone who helped us along the way, and it is our duty and responsibility to help our employees reach their goals, whatever those goals may be. This creates a sense of employee value, worth and engagement.

As Warren Buffet had recently been quoted, "Someone once said that in looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy. And if you don't have the first, the other two won't matter."

The tone of every organization is set by those who are in key positions of the organization. Those leaders must have the utmost integrity and strive on excellent internal customer service if they are going to expect their employees to give our customers, our citizens, what we all expect — honesty, integrity and excellent customer service.

What steps can we take?

If leaders do not have time to develop their staff, recognize them or help them reach their goals, then they are not doing their job and most certainly are not leaders. The tone of the organization regardless of what the organization is will be set by those who lead them. The employees will mimic, to some degree, what they experience.

Leaders must have a global vision of the organization, and it must be shared with the employees. Without a vision, the employees have no direction. Without direction, there is confusion and discord, and employees are lost. Therefore, the ship will sail circles in the mighty ocean, never reaching a destiny other than the ocean floor.

Leaders must set the standard for others to follow. They must have a plan and a goal, and share that direction with their staff. They must lead with confidence, communicating clearly their vision to all to ensure understanding minimizing confusion.

To become an effective leader, you must build upon your relationship with others within your organization as well as outside your organization. Building strong relationships and teamwork is what builds the strength within that is paramount to success.

How do we do this? With habits. Every day we must make an effort to contact different members of our organization and build upon our relationship with them. The habits you develop and maintain will be a direct indicator of what you have achieved and will achieve.

Strong leadership is the core of the success of any organization. If it is lacking, it will become apparent. Therefore, building relationships depends on openness and trust, which develops when we give time to our staff. In addition, this helps address performance-based deficiencies and personal problems more easily when they do develop.

Avoid group think

Strong leaders also realize the dangers associated with group think. Group think creates an environment in which others are reluctant to express contrary opinions. "A group makes faulty decisions because of group pressures that lead to a deterioration of mental efficiency, reality testing and moral judgment," psychologist Irving Janis says.

The Space Shuttle explosions, both Challenger and Columbia, taught us how critical and damaging it can be to not voice the concerns and issues known to us. We, as a society, have a tendency to destroy our organization and projects by not addressing and fixing the matters known to us.

This is unacceptable. Flying until it is proven not to be safe can no longer be the answer. This means confronting the employee, regardless of position. Be honest, coach, lead and direct the project but listen to each other as you go. In doing so you have by far a better chance of being proactive in managing or eliminating the problem, improving your organization and staff, getting the buy-in, engagement and support you will need.

"The lessons learned from the Space Shuttle Challenger accident are universally applicable, not just for NASA but for governments and for society," states the government report of "Lessons Learned from Challenger, 1988," which should have significant meaning to every organization.

So how do we prevent group think? As a leader, you may start noticing your employees are always agreeing with you and not offering resistance or sharing different viewpoints. You may want to select an employee, prior to your next committee or command staff meeting, and direct him/her to be open and share an opposite viewpoint.

Taking one employee aside and giving him/her permission to be open will encourage others to speak, bringing about more dialogue and collectively a more comprehensive plan for success. You may have to be a little strategic at first in picking the right employee to do this, but it will be well worth it, as this will embrace creative thinking, honesty and energy that leads to excitement and productivity.

Unfortunately, too many employees and supervisors are sitting on the bandwagon wanting to be well-liked, striving to avoid being in the hot seat so they won't have to worry about their job status. The problem is they are promoted to do a job and should be doing what it takes to improve the organization, not just their own resume or personal desires. This means we should be seeking out the next generation of leaders and empowering them while moving the organization forward.

Today, trust in top business and government leaders may be at an all-time low, given the highly publicized failures of many CEOs and other organizational leaders. However, trust is an essential element in leadership and developing it with your employees is a must to be a successful leader.

Yes, trusting others may tend to make you vulnerable at times to the actions of others, but if you are always doing the right thing, you should not have to concern yourself with others malice actions. If we can earn each other's trust, we will have a better chance in getting the buy-in we need to move the organizations forward, and improve our services and abilities along the way.

We must be servant leaders. By serving, supporting and building our employees and customers, we will build the communities we desire to be a part of.