Integrity – Of course we want leaders who say what they mean and mean what they say, however as history so often reveals, promises passionately declared in public are forgotten once microphones are turned off and audiences have gone home. Too often integrity seems situationally framed. Deception trumps truth when it seems in best interests to do so. What is forgotten is that once birthed, deception’s Frankensteinian growth is uncontrollable. That innocent newborn can be a very unruly adolescent.
The truth is that despite the pressures to compromise, leaders who act with integrity maintain their dignity long after their departure, even should they be pushed out corporate doors. Admittedly their self confidence takes a beating were such an event to occur, however integrous leaders can still sleep knowing they didn’t have to navigate a labyrinth of lies, trying to recall which versions were told to whom. In time integrity will provide them with the stability needed to move forward. Nothing contributes more to cultivating trust than a leader whose words and actions have been tested and proven true. Successful leadership doesn’t occur without integrity.
Compassionate Competence – Competence is an obvious characteristic of successful leadership. But what exactly is it? Many mocked when Ronald Reagan was elected the United States’ 40th President. Was he really the best the world’s most powerful nation could offer? Surely there were many more intellectually gifted and a multitude with more international experience. Overlooked was that among his numerous strengths, he had the self-awareness and confidence to select people more knowledgeable than he. Reagan used these ones wisely. Following the embattled Nixon years and the nondescript Ford presidency, Reagan’s impressive communication gifts and winsome spirit rallied America from a debilitating sense of self–doubt. Those who thought him weak discovered otherwise when he decisively stood against those he believed were imperiling the nation be it the air traffic controllers or world leaders who opportunistically positioned themselves.
Reagan’s tenure reminds us to use caution before defining competency too prescriptively. He understood that he didn’t need to have all the answers rather that he, with advice from advisors, would be principled, courageous, and decisive when called for. When diplomacy better served his purposes, his considerable people skills enabled him to build bridges to understanding.
So how does this apply to this discussion? The field of education looks for ‘education leaders’, business for corporate leaders, philanthropic organizations for non-profit leaders. Many would be better served with gifted people leaders rather than philosophical experts who have been mandated to lead. Unquestionably, the best choice is finding individuals who excel at both but if a choice needs to be made between candidates with similar strengths, organizations are often best served by leaders with strong people skills who can draw leadership from others. Initially their impact may be less, but this leadership style will go much further in building a collaborative organizational culture that empowers an expanded base of leadership. (This is not suggesting recruiting leadership from outside specific sectors. Leaders must understand the environment in which they are to lead. Failure to do so will compromise their ability to earn employees’ respect which is necessary to lead.)
This category is defined as ‘compassionate’ competency. The addition of compassion is to acknowledge the danger that can accompany leadership if it is primarily agenda driven. While strategic plans may achieve immediate goals, the rush to solution can result in significant road kill. Agendas can blind people to damage that might be irreparable. Such workplaces risk becoming ‘task rich and morale impoverished’. A task deficient situation can usually be easily rectified but a morale damaged environment takes a long time to rebuild. (See Employee Focused).
Courage – Leadership is tested most when times are tough. During halcyon days, observers are many, investigators few. Let things turn badly and all that changes. Actions come under close scrutiny. People demand every decision to be justified.
Leaders will always be called on to make decisions based on information they alone possess. Sometimes actions need to be taken that will impact a few in order to spare the many. In an ideal world all will escape, injury free but that is not the world in which leadership moves. Those who don’t understand this shouldn’t aspire to positions of leadership. Leaders do need to be as transparent as possible but some tough calls can’t be explained and can’t be avoided. Make no mistake, courage isn’t merely a beneficial quality successful leaders should possess; it is essential.
Successful leadership requires all the attributes addressed herein but the first three noted, courage, competence, and integrity, are inseparable. Courage without integrity and compassionate competence can be self-serving and abusive. Integrity without courage can paralyze when decisiveness is required. Competence without integrity may choose the expedient disregarding the impact on people who could be considered collateral damage. Successful leadership needs these three factors to act in concert.
Strong But Balanced Work Ethic – Few things contribute to a person’s success more than a strong work ethic. Employers are always looking for those who give an honest effort and can be counted on to complete the task at hand. In many cases, people who possess this attribute find ways to do far more than what has been asked. This may go unnoticed for a time but that rarely remains the case. Even if acknowledgement doesn’t come from others, there is much to be said for the personal satisfaction that comes with knowing you have given your best to what you have been called to do. So, as a leader, be all there.
There is a flip side. Work for some can be all consuming. While that may serve employers well, it may be serving the individual poorly.
Truly successful leaders understand that boundaries need to be established. These understand that life is lived best when there are no regrets. If fences aren’t established, work will consume the hours it is given. It will reach over and take from what should be allotted to family and friends. It will feast on time that should be centered on faith, recreation, and replenishment. The lie it tells is that its needs are greater than these others.
Many don’t discover this until they have suffered significant loss often involving the relationships that matter most. As we all know, time is not reclaimable. Scripture states, “What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul.” Be clear, the person who fails to establish his/her own boundaries will have them determined by others.
Perseverance – Successful leadership must think long term, choosing future benefit over immediate gain. Determining what actions are required and when is the art of leadership. Wait too long and you are out of the game. Decide too early and you may risk what you spent time and energy developing. In Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell drew attention to the value of perseverance specifically noting the ’10,000 hour principle’. That said if an individual lacks capacity, no amount of practice will turn adequacy into excellence. Simply stated, there are situations when, “You can’t add to what momma didn’t put in.” Determining when to hold on and when to let go is usually easier when you obtain wise counsel from others.
Stephen Jobs possessed an amazing ability to blend resolve with innovation. He refused to compromise on the quality he demanded of his brand but he also understood that success could not rest on past accomplishments. He persevered on matters he determined should define Apple. He also had an uncanny eye to see and then adopt what others had prematurely abandoned or failed to exploit because they hit belief ceilings regarding where their creations could go. Jobs persevered when others didn’t.
by Rob Inrig
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