A couple of months ago I received a call from a big-time pastor in my area doing sabbatical research on the subject of Leadership. I honestly don’t consider myself a leadership expert by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I think the whole subject of leadership has been quite sufficiently covered to the point of nauseating over-saturation, such that it has practically lost all substance of meaning (Everyone’s a Leader!).
Besides, I already wrote the defining summary of business leadership with my scorching post, How To Not Suck as a Leader. What else was there left to say?
Nevertheless, someone gave my name to someone else, who called someone who called someone who blah blah blah and eventually this pastor contacted me, insisting that I be interviewed as part of his research project.
On the appointed day, the pastor arrived at my office to conduct the interview.
It’s funny - we business and working professionals faithfully visit our pastor’s place of work week after week every Sunday morning, but when was the last time your pastor has returned the favor and visited you at your office? But there he was, sitting in the front pew of my office with pen and pad in hand, eagerly waiting to receive my Message.
After a bit of small-talk, the pastor got right down to business and started the interview by blurting out this question:
An hour later into the conversation, I had identified three compelling leadership principles that have guided my career. Here’s what I told him.
1. Be Real
The idea of Authentic Leadership is getting thrown around quite a bit lately, and for good reason. There is something to be said for a leader having the self-awareness and integrity of being true to one’s self, knowing your weaknesses, and being comfortable in your own skin.
The only way to reach this is by being open to the experiences that you get, making the most of them. And not all of them will be good. Just the same, getting beat up once in a while allows you to learn and grow and mature. The key is being able to be reflective and learn from those experiences, and apply those lessons right away.
For me, authenticity ultimately means that I have a sincere connection to my work, that I truly care for the good of the company and the people I am working with and for. Also, I believe authenticity plays itself out in managing people – the ability to be real, honest, not playing games, and telling the truth.
2. Be Comfortable with Ambiguity
The ability to deal positively with the uncertain and the unknown has been a cornerstone for growth in my leadership capacity. I love process and controls in an organization, but there are so many unpredictable variables and factors beyond our control that will impact our decisions, where we can not see or control the outcome, and we will not know the answers.
In spite of this, I have learned to make the commitment to dive in, get fully engage in what I am doing, and have faith that eventually things will work out. Without really knowing. Leadership requires patience, faith, and persistance.
Accepting this reality improves my attitude and optimism, which ultimately impacts the people around me. I find myself saying things like,
“We’ll get through. We’ll figure it out. Let’s roll up our sleeves and just give it some time.”
I like Woody Allen’s quote that says, “80% of success is just showing up every day.” Just keep showing up every day and keep at it, and the results will prove out.
3. You’ve Got to Have Some Conviction
It can be difficult dealing with ambiguity, but at some point someone has to put a stake in the ground and make a decision about what to do next. This is where it comes in handy to have an opinion and make a decision. Right or wrong, for better or worse, whether everyone agrees with you or not, this is the ultimate test of being a leader.
Knowing when to take initiative and which direction to go is generally a result of the sum total of whatever experiences I’ve had so far. Gut instinct combined with asking the right questions often gets me to the point where I can eventually make that decision. The act of taking charge over the future will then mobilize and motivate people to march with me towards that end-point, regardless of the obstacles.
So, there you have it. The three princples of leadership, off the top of my head.
Oh, and there is one more thing that I would have added if he had allowed for a fourth principle:
Be nice to people.