Illustration of businesspeople crossing a bridge

This is the fifth article in the 2021 series on leadership, which began in the January 2021 issue. The concepts and ideas discussed in previous articles are important and necessary; however, without the essential “leadership sauce,” one can never become a truly transformational leader.

Let me give you an analogy to better describe what I mean. Great chefs know that a good meal is composed of wonderful ingredients properly prepared, but what makes a dish truly memorable is the sauce. Similarly, leadership has many important components, but the leadership sauce, which I’ll describe in this article, is the indispensable component of effective leadership. The sauce is spread over the previously discussed leadership components, allowing a dynamic and transformational leader to emerge.

The ingredients of the sauce are essential, yet personal to each leader. The best way to develop your leadership sauce is to experience and learn from both your successes and failures.

Ingredients of the Leadership Sauce

Let’s examine each of the six main ingredients in the leadership sauce.

#1 Passion

This is a powerful force and essential to leadership. Passion should not be confused with outward emotions or lots of activity. Rather it is a powerful, internal driving force. No effective leader can be successful without passion. Leaders don’t do the hard work of changing things for the better because they are “supposed to” or because it is “expected.” Rather, true change happens because a leader deeply feels the importance of the change and is driven to pursue that change.

Passion drives determination, persistence, and urgency. Without passion, it is very difficult to remain determined when no one else can initially see your vision. Without passion, it is nearly impossible to persist against the array of obstacles and barriers that are unavoidable around important change. Passion is what fires the urgency that is frequently essential.

Passion isn’t learned or developed. We all have passions, but many of us do not recognize them or are afraid of our own passions. You cannot fake passion. Leaders must understand their specific passions and how best to express them.

Passion in the workplace is a positive and inspiring force. Passion is contagious. When someone exudes excitement, it influences others to try harder and reach further. When channeled properly, passion is one of the most powerful motivators, and can:

• Help sharpen one’s focus.

• Stimulate creativity, innovation, and hard work.

• Enhance the desire to pursue excellence.

• Bring energy and enjoyment to work.

#2 North Star/Set of Values

All effective leaders know their North Star and the values that guide them. Your North Star is your personal mission statement. It’s a fixed destination that you can depend on in your life, even as the world changes around you. A leader’s North Star is in their heart and soul, as well as in their head.

Your North Star helps define what you do, and values help define how you accomplish that purpose. Values provide the framework within which you can test decisions, accomplish tasks, and interact with others. All great leaders can easily articulate their values. They intuitively know their bottom line—the line they will never cross.

Although leaders may emphasize somewhat different values, their values must always be grounded in the greater good. Equity, fairness, common ground, civility, trust, empathy, and compassion are all examples of leadership values. The specific values that a leader emphasizes are important; however, more important is that the leader believes deeply in their values and is personally committed to them.

Values are the engine behind an organization’s culture. They help organizations determine a range of acceptable behaviors, defining for leaders, employees, and residents alike which actions are encouraged and which are unacceptable. A local government’s values create helpful boundaries that show staff and residents where the organization will go and where it won’t go.

#3 Integrity

Integrity is one of the core leadership values, perhaps the most important. Simply defined, integrity is an adherence to a code of values, and the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.

Integrity is primarily learned in childhood or not at all. Integrity is very personal. It is yours and yours alone. No one can take it from you or force you to give it away. Only you can give away your integrity, and if you do, it is exceedingly difficult to regain. Your integrity is defined by your values and your values are defended by your integrity.

#4 Political Astuteness

Robert Kelley defines political astuteness as “the ability to manage competing workplace interests in order to promote an idea, resolve conflicts, and most importantly, achieve a goal.” It is about knowing how to get something done within a specific environment versus having an aspiration to get something done.

All great leaders have learned how to be politically astute. It is primarily learned through mistakes and failures. It requires an understanding of the social, cultural, organizational, and political environment in which leaders operate. It is about being able to read people and situations, knowing how to communicate effectively and acting accordingly.

Too often innovative and creative ideas are lost because of the inappropriate timing of their implementation. Political astuteness helps a leader know when to:

• Act with urgency and when to be patient.

• Lead and when to follow.

• Compromise and when not to.

• Hold firm even if that might lead to getting fired.

#5 Courage

This is an incredibly important ingredient of the leadership sauce. I have discussed it in a previous article in the series, “Leadership in Local Government, Part 4: Fear and Courage—The Leadership Duality.” Courage is the biggest antidote to the risk aversion that cripples our profession.

#6 Trust

Trust is a complicated and nuanced concept. All great leaders are trusted by others and have earned that trust based on how others experience their leadership. Unlike integrity, which is yours to hold dear or give away, trust is something others give to you. However, like integrity, once you lose trust, it is exceedingly difficult to regain.

Trust is not only based on your words and deeds, but how you implement those deeds. Others will only trust you if they see that your words and actions are consistent and that you act based on your stated values. Trust and integrity are intimately related. Without integrity, you will never earn someone’s trust.

Trust is often earned during periods of conflict and disagreements that are resolved in equitable ways. You can’t go out and seek trust, but rather, trust will find you if you deserve it. Trust me on this.


1. Of the six key ingredients of the leadership sauce, consider the following:

• Which ones have you effectively developed and used?

• Which ones have been more difficult to develop and use?

• Are there other key ingredients that should be included?

2. Think about a situation in which you observed a leader demonstrating multiple ingredients of their leadership sauce. What was the situation, what action(s) did the leader take, and what was the result or outcome?


The leadership sauce is absolutely indispensable to leadership. The sauce is a big part of why leadership is an art and not just a set of skills. Are the ingredients of the leadership sauce developed by nature or nurture? The answer is a large dose of both.

Every effective leader has to develop their own sauce. Practice is essential to improving one’s leadership: The more you practice, the more you will create your own leadership sauce that will make you a dynamic and transformational leader.

Leadership is a journey. Great leaders learn from their individual journeys. Unfortunately, many folks go mindlessly through their journey and do not become leaders.

If you possess passion, a North Star/values, political astuteness, courage, integrity and trust, you will be an unstoppable and powerful leader.

I passionately hope to see more chefs in local government experimenting with their own leadership sauce. I stand ready to help anyone in developing their leadership sauce.

Headshot of author Ed Everett


ED EVERETT, ICMA-CM, is a consultant and former city manager, Redwood City, California. In 2007, he received ICMA’s Award for Career Excellence in Memory of Mark E. Keane. (


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