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Leadership: Sometimes A Cold and Lonely Job

Before e-books became the rage, on Sunday afternoons I would wander the aisles of Barnes & Noble on a discovery mission of exploring books. As I walked around pondering all the effort invested in writing these books, I came to the section about business leadership. There appeared to be an endless supply of material on the topic, probably more books than I could read in a year. It seemed bizarre that so much expertise had been documented on the subject and yet when you read social media posts or just talk to people you might conclude that good leadership is a rare trait to encounter in the real world. That all being said, I feel fortunate in my career that most of the managers I worked with were solid leaders, some exceptional. I also have been fortunate to have worked with many talented people that gave me feedback on various aspects of leadership they felt was effective. I believe being a good leader is a most serious endeavor and is a role of high responsibility for all who choose to pursue it. I will share a few thoughts about the role and why it can be very rewarding some days while being a cold and lonely job on others. I think you will see why I say this as we go along. Let me quickly add that this posting is based on my experiences from the real world written down by me, there are no ghostwriters. I am not representing any other interest. The topic of leadership is a rich topic that easily goes beyond the space allowed for in a single article on LinkedIn. My desire here is to capture the fundamentals and to be helpful as a standalone document. A collective benefit of social media is sharing one’s experience with your fellow teammates. So here goes. I have broken the discussion into three major sections each with a few sub-sections. See below:

1. A Few Basic Characteristics of a Leader a. Genuinely Like People b. Listen to Everyone c. Willing to Stand Alone

The most important attribute of a leader is that you genuinely like people. A simple statement with powerful implications. This is all inclusive and cuts across the full spectrum of personalities, economic status, ethnicity, political perspective, religious beliefs, etc. I learned the importance and power of this from a man who lived across two world wars and a great depression. These experiences undeniably defined him. He was born in 1901. When I was a little guy, he used to take me with him on Saturday mornings to run errands. As we walked around the downtown streets, it seemed to me that he knew every third person we passed. He stopped and talked with all of them, listened to them as they shared their thoughts, he asked about their families, and genuinely seemed to like them and was happy to see them. While we were driving home later, he would often tell me something positive he liked about every person we met that day. Those were fun days for me and not to be forgotten. You may ask why it is important to like everybody. It turns out that collectively as a human race we have encountered many challenges over the past thousands of years. These challenges come in multiple forms. Some have been self-inflicted on how we managed ourselves collectively with various forms of governments which led to wars etc. Others not self-inflicted are catastrophic diseases plus environmentally our planet has undergone drastic life-threatening changes over the past 20,000+ years. Yet despite all these things we have endured and here we are today stronger and more vibrant than ever. We owe, in large part, our different personalities, perspectives and collective teamwork to this successful record. All of our personality traits and individual skills have developed out of these survival trials our ancestors endured. Anything contributing to our well-being that has withstood this test of time deserves our respect and deeper understanding. This means as evolving and maturing leaders we must recognize that as individual’s our skills and perspectives are limited. No matter how smart we are (or think we are), we’re still just one person with limits. Surrounding ourselves with others like us is also limiting because this is essentially like talking to yourself. The self-realization that a leader needs to develop is that the larger the difference of backgrounds, skills, and perspectives each person on a team has, the stronger the overall fabric of the collective organization will be. That is the lesson from our long-standing survival. As you become aware of this and internalize it then liking everybody takes on a deeper meaning. If you like everyone it’s easier to listen, which leads to mutual respect. Sincere listening, especially when you seek others out, establishes credibility which results in reciprocity and then others listen to you. That sounds like the start of teamwork. However, if all you had to do in business was listen and like everybody to be a good leader then my faithful golden retriever could do it. There’s more. The finesse of good leadership in business is the ability to take the interest of customer’s requirements, business objectives, and your team's capabilities into a balanced consideration. This needs to be done as a data-driven fact-based thought process. After reviewing the data and assessing the issue or opportunity, sometimes it is straightforward to arrive at a team consensus on best next steps, especially true if you have a rapport with them. The reality is there will be times when it is not. It is these times when consensus cannot be arrived at that the leader will need to stand-alone and decide. This is a reality for various reasons. Some decisions, especially the difficult( ex. personnel, change in strategy, budget reduction), often cannot be made by a committee. Your position and influence as a leader dictate that you develop the vision for the optimal path. This can be controversial with the vested constituents, but if you have taken due weighting consideration of all inputs and arrived at a decision for all involved then your open-mindedness, determination, and courage will define you as a leader going forward and you will be respected for your commitment. On average you will make things better, others will see this, and they will follow you.

2. Fundamentally - Two Types of Leadership

a. Respect and Loyalty b. Fear and Manipulation

I would be remiss if I did not mention an observation made over the years. It is that no two leaders are the same. Each has personality chemistry attributes that create uniqueness. Recognizing this, I am summarizing by reducing all the styles and types of leadership into two lowest common denominators from my perspective:

  • Leadership Based on Fear: results in manipulation and the suppression of the collective team’s creativity.

  • Leadership Based on Respect: leading out of respect for people yields loyalty and unleashes the collective creativity.

You are probably saying isn’t this obvious which is best, and I would agree. However, oftentimes, we think of “fear and manipulation” being associated with corner case extreme examples, such as dictators of countries, but it turns out you may encounter financially successful companies managed in this fashion. Sometimes this is from the top and other times it is embedded and tolerated in the organization elsewhere. It seems self-evident that the sustainability of management by fear is much less probable compared to “respect and loyalty”. For example, “respect and loyalty” style create a team with expressive ideas plus a faithfulness to stick it out even when things are challenging and there is no personal gain to be achieved – “fear and manipulation” creates social behavior of individual survival as the primary mission with little regard to genuine teamwork. This type of environment struggles to compete over the long term. As a leader, you have a choice which style you choose. For self-confident leaders the choice is clearly an interpersonal style of respect, for the less self-confident the choice will be elusive. You don’t want to be this person. 3. Three Circles of Leadership Mastery Achievement I wanted to share a model that shows the categories of leaders I have seen. The model (see above) has three circles. The first and largest circle is achieving admiration for your integrity from a team resulting from your interaction with them. A second smaller circle is being recognized as a subject matter expert on the business. Finally, the smallest circle is the rare leader who achieves a position of reverence by all he or she works with. They have demonstrated integrity, deep understanding of the business and charisma. The value a leader delivers to a business is the ability to inspire and influence the organization's creativity and collaboration to achieve goals. Each of the three circles has an increasing ability to achieve these things. The circle of reverence having the most profound influence. When an organization has reverence for its leader, the influence factor is so high that the team will do things simply because they are asked and will go above and beyond without being asked. The team attributes become more optimistic, they put aside dysfunctional disagreements and invests enormous energy into the mission. They do all this because they revere their leader no other reason needed. The limitations of the individuals will be transformed into unlimited potential. Enormously powerful. Strive to be this person.

Summary The gentlemen I mentioned at the beginning was my grandfather. He passed away while I was a teenager. While getting out of the car attending his funeral, I was struck by the number of cars lined down the highway awaiting to arrive. I am not aware that he ever held a formal management role. However, his influence and impact on others were immeasurable. You might have thought we were at a head-of-state funeral. At the end of the service, a person who had known him for years said to me, “your grandfather was a beloved man, being with him was like stepping out into the sunshine on a cold morning.” Every person I have ever met that knew him had similar comments. This all made an indelible mark on me. He was a person who genuinely valued everyone’s perspective which made him a natural leader. If I could borrow a few words from the late Dan Fogelberg as it relates to my grandfather, “his gentle means of sculpting souls took me years to understand”. Like physical fitness, leadership requires commitment. We all know that exercise is good for us and will pay off in the future. It’s not easy. Likewise placing a group of people’s needs above your own and being faithful to fact-based decisions for the business will also pay off in the future. It’s not easy managing facts and emotions. It requires commitment. This commitment will have times of loneliness, but there will also be an unmatched reward in seeing a team, or person, accomplish what no one believed could be done and occasionally hearing the feedback of the difference you’ve made in a fellow earthling’s life. Bottom line, if you’re committed to personal excellence and see the unique value of each person, then jump in, we can always use one more solid leader. Best of luck. Source:

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