Some essential requirements given for powerful leaders

November 15, 2010
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Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed to achieve greatness, without really caring who gets the credit for the work as long as the results are achieved. If we accept this as an indicator of human success, it seems in conflict with what we see as great qualities in the people we measure by “traditional standards” regarding their personal accomplishments.

Seldom do we look at “process,” focusing more on what great things were done than on how they were accomplished.

Ask most people who they feel are true leaders and you will probably hear the name Steven Jobs, Jack Welch, an American president or two— some outspoken champion of change who has accomplished visible things. While these individuals may be change agents, they are not as effective as a humble leader able to foster “buy in” to process change, such as a teacher whom you still remember or a spiritual leader who helped transform your life.

Max DePree, a great West Michigan leader, wrote: “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.” In order to lead effectively, one must consistently demonstrate humility, honesty and integrity so that people want to follow. Note that “following” should never be done blindly; it must include independent thought, analysis and consciously directed efforts.

Humility is disciplined strength. Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise. While a leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change. Think about how different a sporting event would be if the coaches took all the credit for their team’s successes. Some would call such an event a debate, but it surely would not be much of a game when played “one on one” without team participation.

Honesty is living, speaking and acting with a truthful sincerity that is free from deceit or fraud. Communicating honestly means to speak plainly and pointedly, stating all facts and assumptions considered before a decision was made so that people know what you are saying and, perhaps more importantly, why you are saying it.

Respect is not purchased by cashing in an astounding vocabulary; it is earned by simply stating one’s position so that it can be clearly understood and acted upon. While we have the right to freely and openly express our beliefs (short of harming another), we are not given the right to be taken seriously in all that we say — unless we have earned it by consistently demonstrating a high level of integrity through our actions.

Integrity is the value one establishes when he or she adheres to moral and ethical principles as guiding factors in the decisions they make — when moral character and honesty is expressed within all their personal and business interactions. People respect individuals perceived as “having integrity,” trusting what they say and willingly following where they lead because they know “where they are coming from” in everything that is said or done.

Saying what you mean and then doing what you say are two of the greatest attributes a leader can possess. Nobody is perfect: We are all human, and humans make mistakes. The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction, they must be honest in accepting the blame when efforts fail. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization — credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.

While charismatic leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick changes usually saves money in the short term), sustained success is delivered through leaders providing stability, long-term growth and coordinated group effort. Perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility, to put corporate and employee growth before our own so that we might reap the rewards of organizational success.

Are you “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” as one of our recently elected politicians stated during his acceptance speech? Did you “vote for change” this past election — regardless of your normal political affiliation — hoping that your voice might help make a difference? Are you frustrated with campaign promises not kept, with politicians quickly moving from the “what do you need me to do?” to a “what can I do to be re-elected?” perspective? Do you feel (like nearly 70 percent of a local radio audience) that the election WILL produce different results than we have experienced during the past several years? If so, you (like many others) have put your trust in the democratic process upon which our great country was founded (and has worked so hard to maintain). Now that the election hype is over, we should offer a bit of business-oriented advice to our elected leaders. We expect more than promises; we expect honest actions to resolve the problems so aptly identified.

Humility, honesty and integrity are leadership characteristics we should all strive to achieve. They are also, however, the attributes to which our elected officials must be held most accountable. We would not be allowed to say one thing and do another in any of our relationships. We must not allow our elected leaders to do “the same old thing” rather than what they’ve promised during these past several months. Compromise is necessary within a fractionated political machine, but do not allow your leaders to compromise the honesty, integrity or values for which you voted.

David J. Smith is president and CEO of The Employers’ Association, a not-for-profit provider of human resources solutions since 1939.

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