As Socrates once said, “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” So why are some leaders considered wise while other leaders are considered fools? Here are ten telltale signs that point to a wise leader:
- Wise leaders listen. Foolish leaders like to hear themselves talk.
- Wise leaders constantly learn. Foolish leaders think they know everything.
- Wise leaders guide others. Foolish leaders direct others.
- Wish leaders welcome bad news. Foolish leaders shoot the messenger.
- Wise leaders seek out feedback. Foolish leaders shun feedback.
- Wise leaders are constantly trying to improve. Foolish leaders think they are already perfect.
- Wise leaders are humble. Foolish leaders are proud.
- Wise leaders give credit to others. Foolish leaders take credit for themselves.
- Wise leaders are merciful. Foolish leaders exact justice.
- Wise leaders forgive. Foolish leaders take revenge.
So what stops leaders from being bold? Among many reasons FEAR. FEAR has been known to stand for False Expectations Appearing Real. So if we generally get this, why do we so often shrug away from boldness in our leadership? Could it be that we are afraid to fail? I would offer a resounding YES! Once we have fully committed to a particular direction and are on-the-record there is scarcely a shadow to hide behind.
Setting aside the underlying fear of failure, to understand the importance of boldness in leadership we need to look at the opposite of boldness which is timidity. How many of us have suffered a timid leader? Did that leader inspire us to be our best? No. Did that leader inspire us to follow? No. In fact that leader’s lack of boldness, no matter what the cause, is like a highly infectious virus that is extremely contagious and often lethal. In fact if you look around you it is easy to see that people who have a timid leader often become timid.
So how do you move from timidity to boldness? Here are five things that you can do:
- Recognize FEAR as what it is False Expectations Appearing Real.
- Improve your self-talk. Stop talking to yourself in gloomy overtones about what ‘could’ go wrong. Start talking to yourself about what ‘will’ go right.
- Highlight the opportunities of stepping out. Often we dwell on what will lose if things go wrong. This results in missed opportunities.
- Understand that timidity will lead to the failure you are seeking to avoid. There is something to be said for the saying, “You only live once.” Saying this another way, there are no do-overs. The life you live is the life you will have lived.
- Recognize that boldness invites loyal followers, supporters and mentors to help you. Timidity has the opposite effect.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) famously coined, “What you do speaks so loudly that I cannot hear what you say”, why is the number of leaders who talk about leadership but do not walk the talk so epidemic?
You would think with a video camera in nearly everyone’s pocket or purse these days, along with the ability to post a video online within seconds that leaders, especially senior leaders, would be more self-aware that their words and actions are under constant scrutiny. Sadly this is not true.
Take for instance; the recent uproar caused by Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella comments at a women in technology forum regarding women asking for a pay-raise. Nadella’s comments are illustrative of a widespread leadership lack of self-awareness problem. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8KN3-0ZPH0 While Nadella has since publically retracted his statements and apologized for his inappropriate comments why did he make them in the first place? You would think a senior leader of Nadella’s stature and prestige would be far more aware of his comments and how they might be misunderstood. Sadly apparently not.
So why do leaders fail to walk the talk when most know better? Why do leaders lack self-awareness of how their leadership is impacting the people that they lead? Here are three reasons why:
- A mistaken belief that people will look the other way and disregard their actions in favor of trying to understand what the leader intended to say or do.
- Excessive drivenness that does not allow a leader any time whatsoever to take a breath and reflect on the present moment.
- A lack of understanding of the power of mobile Facebook, Twitter, or other apps that now allow instant global real-time communications.
As humorist Woody Allen jokingly said, “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”
Leaders who fear failure rarely accomplish much if anything. As is well known reasoned risk taking is part and parcel to leadership. A leader who refuses to take any risks due to the fear of failure never really blooms into the leader they might become.
Here are five reasons why a leader who fails to fail is failing:
- Failure shapes humility. Humility is critical to triumph as a leader.
- Failure causes reflection. Reflection develops character.
- Failure tests character. Untested character is dicey.
- Failure builds determination. Determination makes things happen despite the odds.
- Failure leads to challenge. Once a challenge is thrown down meeting it calls for innovation.
When you were a tot, as your Mom always said, “Tell the truth.” To say that it is imperative for a leader to always tell the truth is really a far-reaching understatement. So if the need for truth telling is universally true, then why do so many leaders when under pressure have trouble telling the truth? Instead of simply telling the truth many leaders tend to stretch the truth to its breaking point, or worse yet lie.
From the epic movie, A Few Good Men, when defense attorney Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) presses Marine Corps Colonel Nathan Jessup (Jack Nicholson) to tell the truth, Jessup explodes “You can’t handle the truth!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FnO3igOkOk
While this passionate exchange between Lieutenant Kaffee and Colonel Jessup is obviously a Hollywood-dramatization, here are five views on why truth telling is always the right choice:
- Despite cunning ruses, eventually the truth always comes out.
- Truth kept under cover always explodes. The bigger the cover-up generally the larger the explosion.
- There are no acceptable defenses to cover up (or stretch) the truth.
- Covering up the truth is a fundamental integrity issue.
- Your integrity is the foundation of who you are. Once you compromise your integrity, it is nearly impossible to rebuild it.
Rule-based leadership simply rarely works at all. Period. You ask why it doesn’t work? Essentially nearly all circumstances that count are far too complex for rule-based leadership to work. Situations are often very fluid. Rule-based leadership offer formulaic solutions that tend to be ridged with little or no flexibility to respond to a fluid and dynamic situation that most leaders face. Stated a different way when making tough decisions in a fluid environment, authentic leadership requires you to break the rules or you will fail.
Let’s illustrate. As any successful athlete will tell you, putting the game winning point, run or goal on the board seldom happens when you follow the rules. As famed hockey player icon Wayne Gretzky pointed out, “You miss 100% of the shots you do not take.” When the scoreboard is ticking down the last couple of seconds before the game ends a leader must act from their core-beliefs and not from their memorized leadership-rules. Unfortunately, if your core beliefs are weak and you do not know where you stand, what will you act on? When you are under pressure I can assure you that your true colors will come out. Good or bad these may not be the colors you may have learned to show to make your boss happy. Yes, it is true that in the short-game that a rule-based leader may seem to be rewarded for supporting the ‘corporate-line’. However, over the longer-game, a rule-based leader will typically flounder because they are not adding any new dimension or value to their organization or to their team.
This creates a quandary for an emerging leader. How do you break out without being crushed by the rule-followers? The status quo for many typical mid-level managers is to espouse the ‘corporate-line’ even if they do not believe in it. Regrettably, most followers smell out this risk-adverse leadership conduct very quickly. Not only does this create a large measure of distrust within a team it also creates dysfunction in the team due to a lack of authentic leadership that is based on values and not blindly upholding the corporate credo.
So what are some a potential solutions to this emerging leader quandary? As authentic leadership is by definition not rule-based, here are seven tips to help an emerging leader:
- Making decisions fearlessly based on your core-beliefs rather than on the corporate credo. (Yes, this can be dangerous but this is a key factor in building your personal brand and breaking out.)
- Questioning decisions respectfully and politely. (The use of questions rather than statements is suggested.)
- Demonstrating the moral courage to go on-the-record when you strongly disagree with a decision. (Once you are on-the-record with your opposition to a decision you must then either support the decision or leave the organization.)
- Being open about your weaknesses. (Sharing your weaknesses is difficult. Nevertheless teams tend to rally around a leader who is transparent about where they need help.)
- Becoming known for your thinking. (Offering an opinion based on emotion is easy. However, offering a well thought out analysis of a problem with potential solutions is hard work.)
- Seeing through problem to find solutions. (Many people see a problem but are apathetic and choose not to get involved.)
- Finally, working with a mentor(s) a couple of levels up in your organization can provide some cover from your rule-following boss and peers. (This level of mentor is not threatened by an emerging leader who is demonstrating potential but rather will welcome your unique point of view.)
Wrapping up this topic of “Why do leaders fail” a conversation about vision is in order. What is vision? Meriam-Webster says, vision is “the ability to see: sight or eyesight.” Of course this is not what we mean. More to the point, as famed leadership guru and author Warren Bennis once said, “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.” This could not be truer. Nevertheless, a tangible definition of ‘Vision’ is elusive at best.
Given the lack of a tangible definition of ‘Vision’, taking this vision conversation a step further, vision entails a much more encompassing notion of a person being able to see far out beyond the horizon where most people normally see. In some circles vision can take on a rather eerie, and in some ways metaphysical quality, of the ability to see things that other people simply cannot see.
One of the chief complaints by many followers is that their leader has no vision. So what do followers mean by this rather harsh comment? To more fully understand this comment, we need to discuss what vision is not.
Here are 7 ways vision is not conveyed:
- Timidity or unfounded anxiety about taking an action.
- Accepting the status quo, or worse yet, general apathy.
- Wavering or waffling about what direction to go.
- Slicing up the current sloppy reality into black & white facts.
- Guessing what will happen next based on the past arc of events.
- Warming-up and re-serving another leader’s dream.
- Being politically correct and saying what your followers want to hear.
Looking at this a different way here are 7 ways that vision is conveyed:
- Taking bold concrete actions. (Being ballsey if you would prefer.)
- Challenging what the current status quo is for what could be.
- Making clear decisions in a rapid manner and then demonstrating a steely resolve to see them through to the end.
- Uncovering the underlying whys and wherefores for what is the current sloppy reality.
- Thinking holistically (parallel thinking that allows the leader to see the whole) rather than thinking linearly (sequential thinking where the leader is often surprised by what is happens next).
- Presenting a fresh understanding or new truth.
- Finally, the courage to say what needs to be said no matter how unpleasant.
From the above an easily explained and tidy definition of what leadership vision is hard to pin down. Nevertheless, most followers know when a leader has it and when they do not.
As noted in “Why do leaders fail?”, “people have a 10th sense for when someone does not really care.” Famed Rabbi Harold Kushner, and author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” has said, “Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.” Leaders indeed should care about others, especially their followers. Caring impacts them. It gives them a sense of purpose. And yes, real “Happiness” not just for the person receiving the care but the person offering care.
In keeping with the theme, “Why do leaders fail?”, so why is passion so important? Famed author Tony Robbins has said, “Live with passion!” He has also said, “Passion is the genesis of genius.” A leader that lacks passion lacks genius. He or she also lacks creativity. They lack drive to get things done. Life becomes listless without life. So how do I get passion? In my belief, you cannot get passion. Unfortunately, some organizations attempt to force passion. Not only does this fail but people become resentful, or worse feel guilty because they feel flat. Nevertheless, if the idea does not warrant passion it cannot be manufactured or pumped up. In essence this means that if an idea or concept is passionless, it is time to find another idea or re-frame the present idea so that it generates genuine passion.
While there are many reasons leaders fail, here are three of the biggest reasons:
- Lack of Passion. Too often leaders simply lack passion. This happens all too often in the corporate environment where someone is promoted into a leadership role. Unfortunately all too often the ability to maneuver politically with the ‘right’ people can lead to a manager being promoted into a leadership role. However, it is this same approval seeking behavior that hampers a person from leading effectively.
- Not Caring. Just like a dog can sense fear, people have a 10th sense for when someone does not really care. Often people greet each other with a customary “How is it going?” Have you ever noticed that only on an exceptionally rare occasion does anyone actually say how things are going? In the same way, people can smell-out a leader who expresses interest in what is happening but yet does not truly care. Well-meaning words fall on deaf ears but actions are heard clearly.
- No Vision. People love to be led. If a leader is simply following the established office protocols and agendas for the most part people will simply discount the leader as just another ‘manager-wannabe-leader’. Leaders must have vision. Leaders must think. Leaders must challenge the status quo. Leaders ask lots of questions. By the way true leaders are quite disconcerting to the avant-garde who are used to running the show the way they see fit without anyone challenging them. So duck.