The recent gutter fights between the President and leaders of Congress have given me plenty of presentation material.
While players in Washington were fighting it out like school children (“It’s your fault! No, it’s your fault!”), I was addressing two different audiences on leadership. The Washington spectacle enabled me to say, “Here’s a situation that is the direct opposite of emotional maturity, as described by Dan Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence.”
My first presentation was in Philadelphia, to a class on leadership at Villanova University. My book, The Leadership Solution, is a class text. The instructor, Rick Anthony, is a friend, colleague and one of our firm’s partners.
The second group was in Indianapolis at an annual conference of an international organization of which I’m honored to be a lifetime fellow. My presentation, titled “Beyond Talking Points,” emphasized that leadership is more about what you do than what you say. Oratory is useful if you have the gift, but oratory without substance behind it is blather.
Both groups wanted to know what leadership really is all about—what is expected of a Southwest Airlines or 3M leader, for instance?
I’ve reduced it to three things great leadership engine companies do that can also apply to small businesses like Fred’s manufacturing plant, Kathy’s real estate firm or Chuck’s insurance agency.
First, they make it very clear what they expect from their leaders. Yes, they expect superior financial results but they expect those results to be created with a deep respect for people. That means truly engaging people with an unwavering focus on meeting their customers’ needs. Always. Every day. Every hour. Not just sometimes or when you get around to it.
Second, they regularly and rigorously assess the leaders on how well they’re meeting the expectations and then deliver constructive feedback about their performance and offer intense coaching and development so they succeed. Assessments come from the leaders’ leaders, their peers and members of their teams. Often referred to as a 360-degree feedback.
Third, they hold their leaders accountable for meeting or exceeding those expectations through the reward system, special recognition and new, challenging assignments that capitalize on their strengths and help them continue to improve.
A client we’re working with now is a good example. Their expectations refer to creating a clear, shared vision, strategy and goals that set high expectations, building a culture of continuous improvement, collaborating with each other to accelerate innovation, selecting and nurturing people and providing resources so they can succeed. They talk about holding themselves and others accountable for results and putting customers front and center
Great leaders communicate well.
Jack Welch, former CEO of GE said: “We like people who are passionate about what they’re doing—who have a vision about where they want to go and can communicate that vision to the people they want to get there with.” He added, “When people of the same basic intelligence get the same information, they come to similar conclusions within a very small band.” There’s a lot to be said about that last sentence.
The great leaders put the desire for the right result ahead of the desire to be right. They share power because they know that an informed and empowered team is apt to achieve their goals and realize their dreams. Great leaders grow their people and help others become healthier, smarter and more autonomous.
Great leaders are authentic. They’re vulnerable; they admit when they’re wrong, when they make a mistake, when they need help.
Poor leaders tell and tell and tell. Poor leaders “take questions” because they think they have all the answers. Great leaders ask questions because they know they don’t have all the answers and want to stay in better touch with their customers and employees. During my two presentations, it was easy to point to our so-called leaders in Washington who seemed to be conducting a clinic on Leadership Immaturity.
These are our young people’s role models? That’s disgusting. I want my children and grand children to have role models who are decent not duplicitous, who bring people together rather than tear people apart, who help people see they can get to places they never imagined. That’s what leadership should be all about.
Who are our leadership role models today? Miley Cyrus?
As Mike Myatt, author of Hacking Leadership, writes in the current issue of Forbes,
“Whether through malice or naïveté, those who abuse or tolerate the abuse of leadership place us all at risk. Poor leadership cripples businesses, ruins economies, destroys families, loses wars, and can bring the demise of nations. The demand for true leaders has never been greater – when society understands the importance of leadership, and when the world inappropriately labels non-leaders as leaders we are all worse for the wear.”