The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENTS FOR POWERFUL LEADERS: HUMILITY, HONESTY AND INTEGRITY


An election year is upon us and we hear endless political promises designed to say what we want to hear without concern as to the possibility of their ever coming to fruition. It seems that the days of “making a difference” are gone. We now focus more on making voters happy. Candidates once talked of what they would do if elected. Now they spend more time discussing what the other candidate failed to accomplish. We hear much about who is to blame but very little about solutions (and nothing about how much the “fix” will cost OR where sustainable funds will come from). Leadership seems to be an investment with diminishing returns today but ONLY because we allow our leaders to dodge the tough questions. Far too many fail to lead because they do not inspire anyone to follow them. Think about a leader that you have admired. I would bet that many possess the following qualities:

Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed in order to achieve greatness without really caring who gets the credit for the work as long as the results are achieved. If we accept this as an indicator of human success, it seems in conflict to what we see as being great qualities in the people we measure by “traditional standards” regarding their personal accomplishments. Seldom do we look at “process” because we focus more upon what great things were done than looking into how they were accomplished.

Ask most people who they feel are the true leaders and you will probably hear the name Steven Jobs, Jack Welch, a President of the United States or some outspoken champion of change. All have accomplished highly visible things. While these individuals may be change agents, they are not as effective as a humble leader able to foster “buy in” to process change such as a teacher you once had whom you still remember or a spiritual leader that truly helped transform your life. Max DePree, a great West Michigan leader, wrote that “Leaders don’t inflict pain; they bear pain.” In order to lead effectively, one must consistently demonstrate humility, honesty and integrity so that people want to follow (noting that “following” should never be done blindly – it MUST include independent thought, analysis and consciously directed efforts).

Humility is disciplined strength. Humble leaders are quick to give credit and slow to accept praise. While a leader must be competitive in order to grow an organization, the manager who takes all the credit will find him/herself without a team to enact change! Think about how different a sporting event would be if the coaches took all the credit for their team’s success. Some would call such an event a debate…but it surely would not be much of a game when played “one on one” without team participation!

Honesty is living, speaking and acting with a truthful sincerity that is free from deceit or fraud. Communicating honestly means to speak plainly and pointedly – stating all facts and assumptions considered before a decision was made – so that people know what you are saying AND (perhaps more importantly) why you are saying it. Respect is not purchased by cashing in an astounding vocabulary…it is earned by simply stating one’s position so that it can be clearly understood and acted upon. While we have the right to freely and openly express our beliefs (short of harming another), we ARE NOT given the right to be taken seriously in all that we say – unless we have earned it by consistently demonstrating a high level of integrity through our actions.

Integrity is the value one establishes when he or she adheres to moral and ethical principles as guiding factors in the decisions they make – when moral character and honesty is expressed within all their personal and business interactions. People respect individuals perceived as “having integrity,” trusting what they say and willingly following where they lead because they know “where they are coming from” in everything that is said or done. Saying what you mean – then doing what you say – are two of the greatest attributes a leader can possess. Nobody is perfect – we are all human, and humans make mistakes. The way we deal with those mistakes, however, will either insure our ascension within an organization or guarantee our fall. While leaders must provide a clear sense of direction, they must be honest in accepting the blame when efforts fail. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility within his or her organization…credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.

While charismatic leaders may produce “quick fix” solutions with lower risks (cutting costs and making splashy, quick change usually saves money in the short term), sustained success comes through leaders providing stability, long-term growth, and coordinated group effort. Perhaps more of us should learn how to balance ego with humility – to put corporate and employee growth before our own – so that we might reap the rewards of organizational success.

Now that the election hype is beginning anew, we should offer a bit of business-oriented advice to our soon-to-be-elected leaders. We expect more than promises – we expect honest actions to resolve the problems you have so aptly identified during your campaign rhetoric. We are frustrated with campaign promises not kept, with politicians quickly moving from “What do you need me to do?” to “What must I do to be re-elected?” We put our trust in the democratic process upon which this great country was founded (and has worked so hard to maintain) only to become “sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Humility, honesty and integrity are leadership characteristics we should all strive to achieve. They are also, however, the attributes that our elected officials must be held most accountable. As “the people” speak (shouting loudly for change), we must not allow our elected leaders to do “the same old thing” rather than what they are promising will be accomplished. Compromise is necessary within a fractionated political machine – but do not allow your leaders to compromise the honesty, integrity or values you seek as you prepare to vote this fall.