Leadership Strategies

Leadership Strategies

True leaders have an opportunity to lead brilliantly when their employees or constituency know where they stand. When thinking of well known leaders, charisma is frequently a quality that draws individuals to that person with magnetic force. In fact, charisma’s modern definition would be personal magnetism.

Charisma, however, is not enough. The danger of charisma can be seen when rogue leaders have inspired people to stop thinking and embrace a sheep mentality. Case in point: Hitler’s Germany. Well meaning ordinary people succumbed to a hypnotic trance that left millions dead and a nation decimated.

The precursor of that level of stupor and contraction was simply victim consciousness made manifest. The victim always points the finger of blame, looking for a scapegoat; handle the scapegoat and the victim’s life is sure to be improved. A manipulative charismatic leader carefully chooses the object of that blame and creates a scenario that supports his or her cause. We don’t have to look far to find such examples in history. Unfortunately, the cause is not always what it seems.

In a similar vein, recent political candidates provide us a chance to witness charisma in action. Widen the viewing point, and you will see charismatic movie stars, CEO’s and heads of state all pedaling their points of view. Because they are charismatic does not give them license to lead, it only makes them attractive to those that would be led. That, coupled with enthusiastic, emotionally hooked, and frequently ill-informed followers seeking a savior, is an open invitation for disaster. Thinking is hard work. Introspection and self-assessment is tougher. Leaders and those they lead need to hone these skills daily, less they succumb to the inertia of political correctness and expediency.

It takes courage to be a transparent leader. That, however, is what is called for in times of economic, social or world wide contraction. As leaders, we are called upon to rally those around us. To that end, we must consciously choose to expand when others are shrinking. Know where you stand, choose your battles wisely, and rally your constituency.

This is where the rubber meets the road. Like it or not, most folks want to be told what to do. Then they become resentful and get to blame their leader/country/rich/etc. for their current situations. This cycle is as old as Adam and Eve. Ultimately the rescuer/victim/persecutor triangle will fulfill itself. The times and roles change, the outcome is the same. It’s us against them one more time. Nobody wins. Everybody loses.

True leadership comes from the ability to take responsibility for thoughts, feelings and actions and then to stand by them. This self-leadership is developed through accepting life’s experiences and the consequences of one’s actions. Ownership of our choices, their outcomes, and the wisdom we gain from our experiences creates a firm foundation for success. We know what we stand for and we are unafraid to admit that we don’t know all the answers.

A leader is only as good as his or her word. That word, demonstrated through integrity in action speaks volumes. Leaders come in all shapes and sizes. They often times represent a 180 degree separation in viewpoint. This is not to say that positions will not shift in times of crisis or with additional information. Rather, it is to say that leaders have the ability and willingness to hear all sides, research, and review their position with an open viewpoint that holds the greatest good of all involved at the center of their decision. They also are willing to acknowledge their errors in judgment. Even more importantly, they trust their gut instincts.

As economic uncertainty and the media fan the flames of fear and worry, it is time for leaders to take a stand and support those around them. To do so requires uncommon wisdom and the willingness to candidly address their employees.

Here are some suggestions that will help you handle the heat:

  1. Tell the truth. It may not be convenient. Folks will get upset. Ultimately they will respect you. It will create new ideas and unexpected solutions. People are not stupid. The truth in the hands of gossips does incredible harm. Preempt the upset.
  2. Include your constituents, particularly the rank and file, in your problem solving. IT WILL SAVE YOU MONEY. A well respected medical center spent millions of dollars hiring consultants to solve their cash flow challenges. Had the organization (or the consultants) taken the time to survey those on the floor who KNEW the problems and the solutions, they would have realized an immediate gain in millions of dollars of cash flow. Instead, those who spoke up were punished with demotions, forced early retirement, or humiliation. Ironically, that institution still has problems. Now they count paper clips and have discontinued coffee for their patients. Those in the trenches were never approached, and the organization still hemorrhages money. Staff moral is abysmal, absenteeism is rampant, the employees intensely dislike management, and have absolutely no concern that the loss of money will ultimately impact their jobs and lives. More importantly, patients die because of such gross mismanagement. Had leadership taken the time to honestly connect with their employees, the problem could have solved, the staff would have been respected for their input, and most certainly morale and absenteeism would have been handled.(However, dysfunctional family systems is a subject for another day.)
  3. Always give credit where credit is due. Nothing will backfire on a leader quicker than his taking the credit for a job well done. This is rampant in the scientific community. (Also a story for another day.) A serious leader will also take the heat for his employees.
  4. When your staff is upset, put yourself in their position. Ask yourself what would make you a loyal follower. Hint: It isn’t necessarily money. Second hint: It has to do with honest appreciation. What a low cost, high return on investment!
  5. Continue to grow, expand your comfort zone, and embrace discomfort. Leadership is not for the faint hearted.

Leadership wisdom comes from many cultures, religions and ages. Perhaps Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher and author of theĀ Tao Te Ching, sums up a brilliant leader in action best: “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

Thanks for the gift of your precious time. More leadership thoughts later.

In the meantime, what are your thoughts?