Great leaders tend to display a fierce resolve to do whatever is needed in order to accomplish their stated objectives 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 success, it conflicts with what we see as great qualities in the people we hold up in our traditional definition of leaders - those who "make a name for themselves" as they accomplish much (personally) while making significant changes in industry, education or society. While one person may be able to catalyze change, no one person can cause change to happen unless others are motivated to engage in and implement a change in behavior that will lead to a new result.
Most people identify great leaders as being people like Steven Jobs, Jack Welch, perhaps a President or two of the United States – identifying “leadership” with an outspoken champion of change whom has accomplished visible things through his or her actions. While these individuals may be change agents, they often use their position of power to “dictate” change rather than being an effective and humble leader able to facilitate change. Individuals able to encourage “buy in” to from others to implement change – leveraging the momentum of the whole to accomplish more than any one person could have cone – leave a truly inspirational legacy. 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. While chess may allow for one-on-one activity, there would not be much of a game when played if the abilities of each individual contributor were not melded into a functional unit having one purpose, mission and objective.
Honesty is living, speaking and acting with a truthful sincerity free from deceit or fraud. Communicating honestly means to speak plainly and pointedly – stating all facts and assumptions considered before making a decision – 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. Unless (and until) we are seen as being dependable, credible and honest by others, we might be able to impose our will upon individuals but we will not be able to motivate, inspire or lead them towards greatness.
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.
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 is delivered 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.
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 humble in accepting credit and honest in accepting blame when efforts fail. An individual able to do so will have gained immense credibility through his or her integrity – credibility that will translate exponentially into positive results.