When one reads the headlines of the day it is clear that we live in troubled times. The Middle East and Africa are ablaze, pirates sail the seven seas, Central America is mired in drug wars, and here at home our national, state and local politicians struggle to balance fragile budgets teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.
Today, it becomes easy to believe that “desperate times call for desperate measures.” And, perhaps this is true. The problem is that when leaders become desperate they often loose sight of what it is to be a leader, and what great leadership might look like.
Leaders are human, and subject to the same pressures that affect us all. Public opinion is a powerful force. It is tempting to take popular positions because by doing so leaders can feel supported, loved, and admired. They may also believe that they have chosen a wise course of action.
However, as the plaque posted in the Council Chamber of at least one Southern California city states:
What is right is not always popular. What is popular is not always right.
Great leadership requires more than saying or doing things that make a large number of people happy. Great leadership requires vision, a connection to reality, strong ethics, and sometimes, exceptional courage (Peter Koestenbaum) (One of the first blog posts in this series provides a quick overview of these attributes.)
Great leaders are those who will take the time to define “what we are trying to create as a result of our effort.” (Peter Block) Great leaders are those who understand that it is usually not the first answer that comes to mind that is the best answer. Great leaders are those who will go deeper, beyond the obvious answers like “We are trying to balance our budget.”, “We are against raising taxes.”, “We are against cutting programs.” Great leaders are the ones who see, and can help other see, the connections between our vision for the future and our current reality, understand our ethical challenges, and expose their courage to act in a visible and transparent way.
If you are a leader, take time to reflect:
- What is your vision? Does it go far enough to answer the question “what are we trying to create as a result of our efforts?” (Click here for more on the importance of vision.)
- Are you connected to reality, and not just a point of view? (Click here… and here for more on Reality.)
- Do you understand the ethics of the situation? Remember, ethics is more than following the law. (Click here for more on Ethics) (Also, this article – Ethics and the Prince – may be of interest.)
- Do you have the courage to do what is right? What is right may actually be what is popular. But it also may require opposing popular opinion. Do you have the courage to act? (Click here and here for more on Courage and Free Will.)
- Talk about each of these points with the people you trust and value. Don’t exclude those who disagree with you. They may be the ones who can be of the most help in clarifying your thinking.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges of the world we live in is that great leaders are often not recognized until the danger has passed. It is likely that your efforts won’t be recognized until the smoke has cleared and history is being written by the survivors.
Leave your ego at the door. Do your best. Invite others in to help. And, we will all get through these troubled times.
Courage in government is a double edged sword. The same strength to get behind and promote the right thing can also get you shunned, isolated, and basically hamstrung by people with different agendas. The tricky part is knowing how to be brave. Brave & courageous is not always loud and demonstrative. FWIW.
And sometimes as a leader, someone or some group within your organization has the solution/idea or concept and I think a good leader steps aside and encourages / nurtures the endeavor. Never taking credit and being as much of a team player as they would expect.
By taking the right, not the popular, road eaders can inspire. They set the goal others want so that others want to get behind the goal.
Supervisors ensure guidlines are set. Managers set guide lines. Leaders empower others to be their best even when manager or supervisor is not around.
The same goes for our political leaders. The unrest in Egypt shows the outcome of being too unpopular. Winston Churchill inspired.
Thanks for all of the great comments on the latest blog post. Hope it’s ok – I posted your comments on the main blog page (http://leadershipdiamond.blogspot.com/) as well, so the rest of the readers can see your comments.
Sonya, I couldn’t agree with you more. Courage, and Leadership, is quite often a double edged sword. Leaders often find themselves needing to consider the consequences of doing what is right.
Hal – I like your list. Is it OK to post this on the main blog page (http://leadershipdiamond.blogspot.com/) for all to see?
Eric and Allen – I also like your thoughts. I like the “inspire” and “step-aside” ideas you mentioned. Good leaders will know when to get out of the way and let the team do its work.
Hi Hal. Thanks. Done.
Slightly off topic, but I’m curious as to what readers thought of The King’s Speech and the leadership displayed by King Charles?
You must possess certain traits and develop a sound and balanced approach in order to become a great leader. Evaluate yourself by determining your strengths and weaknesses and work on improving on the latter. Your leadership style has to be flexible; in some cases you must be firm, but in others you should use persuation in order to achieve success.
A great leader must:
Be just, fair and consistent: Avoid favoritism. Be honest with yourself about why you make a particular decision.
Use sound judgment: Thinkg things clearly, calmly and in an orderly fashion. Avoid making rash decisions.
Be dependable: Consistently put forth your best effort in an attempt to achieve the highest standards of performance. Do not make excuses for your actions or lack there of.
Take the initiative: When confronted with new and unexpected situations, be resourceful and take immediate action.
Be decisive: Be calm and quick when making decisions. Get all the facts and weight them against each other. Communicate your decision in a clear, firm and professional manner.
Be tactful: Deal with others in a manner that will maintain good relations and avoid problems.
Be honest and truthful in words and actions: Practice sound moral principles above else. Stand up for what you believe is right. Do not give in to other people’s agendas.
Be enthusiastic: Demonstrate a sincere interest and exuberance in the performance of your duties.
Be unselfish: Be considerate of others and give credit to those who deserve it. Avoid using your position or status for personal gain or pleasure.
Be courageous: Have the inner strenght to stand up for what is right and accept responsibility when you make a mistake regardless of consequences.
Be proficient at what you do: Know your job well and understand your subordinates. Always seek to improve yourself.
Be loyal: Never talk about seniors unfavorably in front of subordinates. Stand up for the rights of those you lead.
Have the mental and physical stamina to withstand fatigue, stress and hardship.
Keep subordinates informed: Ensure that tasks are understood.
Develop a sense of responsibility among subordinates.
Set the example: Your appearance, attitude and actions are watched by your subordinates. If your personal standards are high, then you can rightfully demand the same from your people. Leadeship is thaught by example.
Quite a list. Almost sounds like the Boy Scout oath – to be loyal, trusworth, clean, reverent, honest …