Jay’s Straight Talk CXIII…Leadership Has Left the Building

Jay’s Straight Talk CXIII…Leadership Has Left the Building

Recently I've immersed myself into learning more about the paradox of how we can have so many resources on leadership: books, speeches, videos, seminars, workshops, role models, etc. yet we seem to have a dearth of really good leaders. Where is the disconnect? What's missing? How can we make a difference in developing and nurturing true leaders? What really defines a true leader?

Because of my background as a longtime CEO and my current role as one whose "Why" is to help others become their best possible selves I often am asked what makes a great leader a great CEO?

Here are a few of my thoughts.

Engagement: The true leader is immersed in her or his role. Getting outside the ivory tower and into the trenches while learning from the folks in the field on the firing line and dealing directly with the customer is paramount for leadership. Leaders get their direction from their employees, customers, vendors, prospects, and stakeholders. As Tom Peters once said, leadership is exemplified by "walking around." They are truly involved.

Accountability: No legitimate leader is a victim, a blamer. Leaders accept responsibility for their actions and inactions. They yearn for the yoke of responsibility and they thrive on their team's accomplishments and learn from their setbacks. By accepting personal accountability they are brilliant at holding others accountable too. They create a culture of accomplishment, improvement, accountability, and results. You'll hear them heaping praise on others, not basking in personal self-aggrandizement.

Integrity: Leaders have sound moral compasses. Their honesty and values from childhood reflect a deep sense of their purpose and the foundation of all of their decision-making. These leaders don't need posters on the walls for folks to know where they stand. Each day they live and breathe their character. It's not just their words, but more importantly their deeds, their behavior that shows their true colors. They are predictable and they always do the right thing. The steadfastness of values creates a culture of integrity attracting that same caliber of team members.

Curiosity: All great leaders have inquisitive minds. Perceptiveness, sensitivity to others, and a vision that enables them to connect the dots of the future allow their active minds to dynamically adapt the course properly and to analyze and solve problems with the best resources available. They are continuous learners always seeking to better themselves mentally and professionally. They are full of questions and genuinely want to hear what others think. It is from this collective wisdom that they build consensus and sound direction. Egotistical know-it-alls will never be leaders in the truest sense.

Transparency: What you see is what you get! With the best leaders, you always know where they stand. Openness, candor, and clarity are their hallmarks. They listen well while sharing their own candid thoughts. By surrounding themselves with the best, the leadership's team is built stronger. There is no room for games, politics, political correctness, and egos. Everyone knows what's going on and why. No hiding the ball. No room for secrets, backroom deals, or for being disingenuous. The sincerity of the leader fosters a transparent and inclusive culture.

Decisiveness: Being wishy-washy is no place for a leader. Decisions must be rooted in strong values, good information, and moral courage. Weakness of character cannot be hidden. Leaders are often faced with tough choices and therefore must have a sound framework and the unimpeded unfiltered honesty from others to consider when making them. They should have the self-confidence tempered by humility to surround themselves with folks that will tell them the brutal truth…and not sugarcoat it. Ultimatums should almost never be used; they force the other side into defensiveness not cooperative problem-solving.

Courage: Leadership often entails dealing with tough and unpleasant decisions. Sometimes the alternatives are not pretty. The greater good will often prevail when leaders have the fiber to choose the best from among no perfect options. Being a leader is not a popularity contest. It's about doing the right thing at all times even when it's unpopular. It's about mutual respect…earning it and giving it. Strong leaders have the ability, the responsibility, and the willingness to make the hard calls when they are needed.

Detail-oriented: Our best leaders "sweat the small stuff." That doesn't mean they are micro-managers. It means they pay attention to putting the "candles" on the cake. Their eye and sensitivity, and for going the extra mile with everyone with whom they interact shows that they care. It demonstrates perfection, a quality to be the best, and attention to detail that makes the good great…the wonderful spectacular…the job a career. We've all seen it; we know it when we see it. Great leaders do it naturally. The status quo never pleases them.

Empathy: No leader exists without followers. People follow those that they can believe in, can relate to, and who they know care about them as individuals. Effective and successful leaders care about others. They have the ability to put themselves into someone else's shoes. Their authenticity is not something that they have to work to develop it's right there every day as a natural part of who they are and how they make others feel. Leaders bring out the best in others.

Competence: Obviously it is hard to lead if you do not have the skills, experience, or training to perform successfully in the role. Competence is gained through years of hard work, learning, and experience. Newly minted graduates have education and skills and often leadership traits. These need to be honed and polished to prepare them for greater leadership responsibilities. Some folks are thrust into leadership roles before they're ready. In that case, they should be honest and not fear asking for help, seeking mentors, coaches, and role models. No one is fully ready when the time comes but the successful leader looks into the mirror and candidly assesses strengths and limitations…then develops a plan for building the necessary leadership foundation.

Trustworthiness: Aside from dictators, who are not true leaders in my mind, all great leaders build trust. Trust is the glue that builds successful enterprises. Greatness comes from the bonds of mutual trust. From genuineness, vulnerability, openness, candor, and honesty, a trust can be created that will take a leader to heights that are unimaginable! Of all the above qualities of successful leaders, trust is the thread that ties them all together in a "bow" of pride and accomplishment.

Our founding fathers demonstrated all of the qualities just outlined. Their bravery and vision led us to the freedoms that we enjoy today. To them, we will ever be grateful.

Leadership today exists in many places. For that we are fortunate

Sadly in most political circles, it is a rare commodity. Most and in some cases, almost all of these qualities are lacking. Crises are apparently learned of from the news reports. Our leaders express surprise and outrage. Committees from their inner circles are commissioned to prepare reports. No one is held accountable, then blame is placed on everyone but the "leaders" in charge including the "one" at the top…and the beat goes on. To quote Rod Stewart their ad-lib lines are well-rehearsed. Words from Teleprompters followed by actions and deeds that show the truly weak character and backbone that is revealed as the real person.

This dearth of leadership has caused our country to lose respect in the world. Our president was just selected in a recent poll as the worst since World War II. Like Nero fiddling, he golfs, fund raises, and casts blame while Rome (USA) is burning. He's the bystander in the Oval Office pointing fingers at all but himself.

As bright, energetic, and take-charge people we can make a difference. We can grow and develop leaders in our children, our co-workers, our employees, and our friends. We will do it through mentoring, being role models, encouraging, and teaching. Through our individual decisions, we can have a real voice in the leaders we choose to follow or those whom we select to lead. In our organizations, we can support and encourage the leaders and we can drum out the pretenders. One brick at a time we can rebuild the foundation that we all know is possible for leadership that matters and one that lasts. Leadership has left the building but we have the responsibility to usher it back in.