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.