What Price Leadership?
That is a question many have faced, some have mastered, but few have paid the ultimate to master. President Lincoln paid the ultimate price, and proved to be not only a tremendous leader, he did it under the most difficult of circumstances, pressured not only by those closest to him, but a nation torn in half. He is attributed with the title of the country’s first Republican; the Founder of the Republican Party. Few, if any would disagree.
I’m not suggesting that in order to be a leader one must die trying to lead. What I am suggesting that in order to lead (a business, an idea, followers, other leaders), one must be ready, willing and able to “lay it on the line” so to speak. A true leader must make the tough decisions, stare difficulty and potential loss directly in the face and do what is necessary for all the right reasons.
In business tough decisions come rapid-fire, and it isn’t always easy to discern which is the right course of action. Leaders know instinctively what to do, and do it. Remember the old saying, “he who hesitates is lost?” Well, indecision is no decision; the worst course of action. In the book, Lincoln on Leadership, there is a passage that reads something like this: One of Lincoln’s favorite General Officers was one that made a wrong decision, but made that decision quickly, with authority and without any remorse once the action didn’t prove correct. That is the sign of a good leader, at least in Lincoln’s mind. No one makes all the right decisions all of the time, but it is by far better to decide on a course than let it be dictated to you through circumstance.
What makes a leader? In my mind a leader is capable of winning the minds and hearts of those who side with her/him. That person through is example, style of communication, inclusiveness (as opposed to single minded decision making), energy and esprit d’ corps that causes those around him/her to WANT to follow into the jaws of hell; to charge the wall regardless of the challenges. A leader knows each and every subordinate, their lives outside of the activity (employment, club, team, etc.) and shows a sincere interest in them personally. Too big an organization to know everyone? I worked with a hospitality leader that had 26 direct reports and a total of 355 full time employees under command. It was a huge food and beverage organization, and covered a 24 hour a day operation. Some worked the graveyard shift, and were seldom seen by the public. Others worked behind the scenes, in the laundry, maintenance department and in the dish room. It didn’t seem to matter, because he was accustomed to MBWA (manage by walking around). Most of his twelve hour days were spent on his feet rather than at his desk. He knew each and every one of the staff by first name, knew some of their children and spouses by first name, and even attended some of their birthday parties and personal celebrations. I was amazed when I first began working with him in an advisory mode. He was well liked, respected and they were loyal to him. He appeared in court as a character witness when they had legal difficulties, posted bail for the wrongly accused son of a waitress, donated time to clean up a community that several staff members lived in (in the inner city of Detroit) and lead them to earn high honors from the corporation as a “most improved” operation.
That in my opinion is a leader. A leader does what it takes to EARN the loyalty and trust of those they lead, and re-earns it by every action on a day to day basis. Leaders are born, but they can be self-taught if they truly take it upon themselves to WANT to be a leader.
My recommendation: Learn about your people. Learn about their families, their interests, and most of all, EARN their respect through sincere actions. A smile and a warm hello cost nothing, but pay great dividends. Your employees have mouths to feed, and your organization is not just them; it is the family members as well. You have a responsibility to make decisions that impact all of them.
Remember, in an entrepreneurial environment, the respect and loyalty of individuals is currency. The more paid in, the better the return. You may have only a few under command, but it won’t stay that way. Growth is assured through proper actions, smart decisions and prudent use of resources. A leader knows that, and acts accordingly.