Passion – In parent seminars I commonly caution parents that children take their cues from them especially when it pertains to painful or calamitous events. If parental response is ‘over the top’, catastrophic then the children ‘catch’ this belief. Children are usually better served with ‘calm’ acknowledgement and sorrow over the wrong or injury suffered. This needs to be paired with a comforting re-assurance that this road will be journeyed together.
The underlying premise is that certain qualities are fostered, shaped, and strengthened by our environment. The context gives or denies permission to expected behavior. The emotional impact conveyed by leadership is no different. This is not to suggest that leaders become cheerleaders nor adopt slogans of the week because no such strategies are needed when employees are working in an organization characterized by a motivating, lived out vision. Leaders who lead with genuine passion will find that their excitement transfers to others. This passion doesn’t need to be manifest in ‘rah, rah’ approaches rather it is nurtured by the evidence of belief.
Passion is contagious. In its presence, motivation comes alive, vision becomes clear, and core values take on flesh.
Optimism – When Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs”, he wasn’t addressing optimistic leadership but he well could have been. Though optimism may not be essential for leadership, those who possess it along with the other attributes noted, discover that great things happen.
Leaders who take people’s eyes past difficulties to see future possibilities, gain a passionate following. Of course this future must be realistic and achievable otherwise credibility will be lost but history holds special places for leaders who inspire hope when hope is gone. Some of the world’s greatest victories have been achieved through leaders who led with this gift.
Selflessness – Scan leadership bookshelves and you will find that titles addressing this quality will be in short supply. Ego is a hard thing to keep properly inflated. Even those who purport to do so are soon penning autobiographies, How I Humbled Myself and Became Great.
Leadership that continually trumpets its success tends to be meteoric followed by spectacular flameouts. There is a lot of glow for a time but before long its presence disappears from the heavens.
People follow leadership (characterized by integrity, compassionate competence and courage) that leads them to a greater cause, something they believe in and to which they will commit. This leadership earns a loyal following because it is based on authenticity and principle. This type of servant leadership is value embodied and value driven. Selfless leadership is not to imply leadership that is weak or indecisive. Fundamental to it is an orientation that values others as partners working for a common purpose rather than hired hands used to accomplish the leader’s ends.
Those who follow a self-promoting leader tend to do so because of accrued gains. Often this is a stepping stone ‘followership’. Once benefits cease, people move on. Should this leader fall, he/she may be just another stone to walk on in order to climb to where further gains can be taken. Self-promoting leadership may provide people with certain benefits but contrary to the selfless leader, it rarely earns admiration and loyalty.
Employee Focused – In some sectors, it was common to hear the client-centered mantra, “The customer is always right.” Conveying good intent, other inadvertent messages are also communicated. Were a dispute to arise between an employee and client, the company seems to have stated where it places first loyalty. This may be music to the customer but is discordant to the employee who has committed his working life to the company. This is hardly the platform on which a company can securely build a loyal, committed workforce.
A large, successful company turned this perspective upside down, clearly stating that their employees were number one. At first glance this appeared risky. Being in a client heavy industry, it seemed suicidal to part company with the customer first approach. The truth is they understood what others hadn’t.
The secret to their success was to invest in their employees knowing that these were their richest resource. They believed that value rightly given would result in satisfied and happier employees which in turn would result in better served customers. Their workforce was encouraged to have fun and were empowered to solve problems without always having to check with higher level management. Despite positions held, employees were given the respect and authority to act. The results were magic.
Take Responsibility – Few people are more difficult to be around than those who are quick to point the finger. These ones assign failure and blame in every direction but theirs.
In truth, leadership gains respect when it doesn’t ‘throw others under the bus’. Characteristic of this leadership is an attitude of respect for others and a predisposition to protect the dignity of others whenever possible. Of course this doesn’t mean hiding things that shouldn’t be hidden but the price leadership worthy of respect must pay is that some things are never told even though the telling may put leadership in a better light were the whole story to be known.
Successful leadership takes the hit when it is in the best interests of another to do so. Despite many clamoring voices who feel entitled to know more, in most cases they do not have that right. Certainly telling the story may make it easier for leadership but often this is done at the expense of another’s rights or dignity. When this is the case, it is almost always best to continue standing on higher ground rather than bowing to the expedient.
Leaders who embody these qualities are well on their way to leadership success.
by Rob Inrig
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I welcome your feedback as well as your observations about leadership and the lessons you have learned. Submissions are made with the understanding that they may be freely and without obligation be used in any future publications by Rob Inrig.