This article is being written right before July 4th, Independence Day in America. As soon as I pen those words I am hit with a dump truck of irony. I usually enjoy writing my holiday articles where I get to reflect a bit, rejoice in the spirit of the day, and encourage you to celebrate too. Yet this time, I am concerned; very concerned.
On one hand, I want to stay true to my pledge to keep my content non-political and I will. Yet recent events of the past 18 months (I am not isolating SCOTUS) have me shaking my head. The irony I mentioned is the question of true independence and freedom now brought into question by the SCOTUS decisions. But before even that, we have been inundated with rhetoric, debates, accusations, and panels “trying to find the truth.”
Above it all, what I hear screaming at me is an absolute lack of true, genuine, old-fashioned Leadership (with a capital “L”) coming from the top of our government institutions; all of them. And before you get turned off thinking left or right, I am saying it’s EVERYWHERE.
Hey folks… we have a problem. It’s a leadership problem. So to redeem this moment and make it valuable for YOU, let’s revisit some important ideas about real leadership.
You can read any of the 160,000 books you’ll find on Amazon that has ‘leadership’ as the subject and you will see various attempts to define what it means to be a leader. Authors make lists of attributes to follow. Perhaps my list is no different. Yet as I talk to my coaching clients we inevitably land on a few key choices.
See, I always ask my clients to identify a few examples of leaders they admire not for a whole body of work, but for one particular attribute. I hear answers like:
- Winston Churchill – resolve and fortitude
- Barack Obama – communication and oratory
- Lincoln – decisive, resolute, inclusive
- Nick Saban – vision and planning
- And so on…
While the ‘popular’ ones are important, I have developed my own list of principles that I have found to be far more vital to building a core from which a leader can add others ‘soft skills’ to become effective and influential.
1. Always Be Honest – In a world plagued with situational morality and dog-eat-dog competition, it is rare to find a totally honest business person or neighbor. Honesty, or lack thereof, is soon found out. There is nothing so valuable as a leader who has a reputation for honesty.
Leaders who are honest earn far greater respect; they are sought out, and they create loyalty in their spheres of influence.
2. Forgive and Forget – People make mistakes, make poor choices, and sometimes just goof. As a leader, how do you handle those situations? Do you condemn and ridicule or can you forgive and forget? I’ve written about grace becoming one instrument in a leader’s toolbox. The ability to forgive and forget is the totality achieved with the ability to give grace.
3. Be Kind-Hearted – When you are dealing with people one-on-one and face-to-face, do you exhibit a personal warmth? Is there a kind heart that sparks that warmth that is palpable? This is a trait you can neither mask nor fake. Do you have the heart to be a leader?
In his book “The Heart of Leadership”, Mark Miller tells a story of a young businessman named Blake. Blake is struggling at work with his duties as a team leader. He seeks some counsel from a close family friend. I won’t tell all of the story, but the core value comes down to this simple acrostic.
The initials stand for:
- Hunger for wisdom – keep learning new and different things to improve yourself
- Expect the best – set a high standard and maintain your expectations for it
- Accept responsibility – stop the blame game, take your ownership seriously
- Respond with courage – be bold with your decisions
- Think others first – be willing to be more of a servant rather than a boss
4. Keep Your Promises – Expectations can make or break relationships. The promises we fulfill serve to grow trust, respect, and reliability. However, broken promises do the most harm. When you promise someone something and then fail to deliver, there is a damaging break in the relationship. The next time a situation arises and you must make a promise, the person with whom you broke the last promise will be very skeptical.
5. Work Hard – Every “overnight success” I have ever met or read about worked tirelessly to achieve their status. The equation is really that simple; work hard and achieve or don’t work and flounder.
Lessons from ants have been taught since time memorial. From the proverb instructing us:
“Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
which having no guide, overseer, or ruler,
provideth her meat in the summer,
and gathereth her food in the harvest”
Then again in Aesop’s fable of the Ant and the Grasshopper, ants have appeared throughout our life stories (and on our dining tables!). (1)
6. Be Thankful – Giving thanks can do so much to lighten anyone’s load. To your work team, give them thanks and praise for the efforts they show. Give recognition when it is in your power to do so. Also, being thankful helps sustain the kind heart in #3. After all, how can you have a kind heart if you never recognize the good things that might be going on around you?
Research has linked gratitude with an increase in self-esteem, resiliency and overall life satisfaction. It can also help you build new friendships and strengthen the relationships you already have. “There are two processes at play here,” Acacia Parks, Ph.D, chief scientist at Happify, a website and mobile app that provides games and activities geared towards improving mental wellbeing, told CBS News. “The person expressing the gratitude is thinking about their gratitude more, so they themselves feel better and their gratitude is stronger. And it’s also good for the person receiving the gratitude because they feel appreciated and it makes them want to express the gratitude back.” (2)
7. Never Give Up – Persistence usually wins the day. Similar to working hard, being willing and able to forge ahead when all things are not going your way signifies a leader. Turning back or giving up when the first sign of resistance occurs will never get you through. You must stay strong; persevere.
As Sir Winston Churchill said in 1941 (before he was “Sir”) – “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.” (3)
8. Love One Another – I find this principle to be the hardest. In our daily routines, it is easy to cross paths with people we find we just don’t like very much.
As a leader, you must seek to find ways to build love with those closest to you; the team, your tribe, your family, or your community. The power of love can overcome the worst of conditions. Great achievements come from the love and passion for being together, working on a cause, and knowing you are loved. (Thank you Garth Brooks)
Remember, having principle-based leadership is like setting a deep and strong foundation. The principles you choose to guide you will shape the character and substance of what you decide to do.
And as for the 4th of July. I want too close with some words from BG (Ret) Joe Ramirez, the Dean of Students at Texas A&M.
“In light of all that we are facing as a nation today, I offer just one piece of advice, regardless of which side of the aisle you sit on: Keep calm and pray for our country. As the Corps brass worn by cadets in the Texas A&M Corps of Cadets says, “Per Unitatem Vis,” which means “Through Unity, Strength.” Together, as “one nation, under God, indivisible,” we need to find common ground and come together as Americans, just as we have for the last 246 years. I pray that we can find the strength and courage to come together so that “united we stand, divided we fall” becomes more than just a bumper sticker for this country. I still firmly believe that we can, and I always will.”
God bless you all, and have a blessed week. Pray for our country and its citizens………