This week, our country finds itself sandwiched between two monumental events — Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, and the presidential election — that could define our personal and national success for the near future. One is a crisis of today, the other the foundation for the future. Both lead us to ask: What do you look for in a leader? People have different responses and priorities when they answer the question — sometimes shaped by the situation, sometimes shaped by their personal values.
The crisis of Sandy shines a bright light on our leaders, and we watch real-time as they cope with the effects of a natural disaster while understanding its impact. We judge them based on the timeliness of their decision-making, their cooperation and coordination across the various support systems, and their words to uplift us through dark and fearful times.
Yet, as we look forward to who will lead us for the next four years, we make decisions for the candidates based on snippets of information — sound bytes of speeches, an understanding of their past experience and character that is “spun” by those for and against them, and any chinks in their armor that are immediately magnified to illustrate and proclaim fundamental flaws.
How can we decide if the candidate is the leader we want?
Regardless of political affiliation, technical acumen, and a list of accomplishments, there are three fundamental qualities people seek in leaders. Leadership is not a cookbook — there are a variety of styles in how goals are achieved. But these three qualities are a start to understand who and how a person leads.
Inspiration. This quality may mean a variety of things, ranging from making followers want to reach a goal or vision (as John F. Kennedy with putting a man on the moon) to cheerleading us through rough times (Franklin Roosevelt's fireside chats during the Second World War) to reminding us who we are and what we stand for (George W. Bush following 9/11). Inspiration touches the audience, the team member, and creates a connection with the heart. Inspiration motivates people without coercion or negativity because it taps into their passions.
Great leaders inspire their followers through their charisma, vision, and approach. People want to follow them, instead of having to follow them. Ask yourself if you are inspiring your team to want to follow — or, are they doing what you say mainly because they believe they have to for money, policy or process?
Delegation. As an individual starts to lead, a key element is the ability to delegate. Without it, they will likely end up doing all the work themselves (The “if you want it done right, do it yourself” mentality). Delegation enables the leader to give or share some of the responsibility and authority with another team member — it is not just assigning work! This passing of responsibility enables leaders to expand their reach and impact.
Yet, how we delegate and the success that comes with it often defines our reputation. It relies on the quality and capability of those we empower to work for us. History is replete with successes and failures: ranging from the success of Roosevelt to delegate to the military in the Second World War to the failure of Lyndon Johnson to delegate to his military commanders in Vietnam.
Authenticity. Determining if a leader is genuine is one of the most difficult tasks — and the farther you are from the leader (as in the presidential election), the harder it becomes. What is the leader really like? Does he truly mean or believe what he says? Yet this attribute goes to the heart of what we look for in leadership — if he is not authentic in his values, beliefs, and words, then can we really trust him? Is he able to step outside of the political party lines and be true to himself? Recent surveys of the workforce repeatedly cite workers seeking leaders who “walk their talk” yet they find that most do not.
Authenticity is basic to trusting someone.
And trust is basic to leadership.
People often follow because they trust the leader — the direction they are headed, their ability to protect the team, the statements they make. When trust is broken, teams often implode, abandoning the leaders as quickly as possible. As a leader, ask yourself if you are living your values and principles. Are you talking about them with your team? How genuine do your team members think you are? Do they trust you? If your answers concern you, then think about how you can build trust with the team — and it usually starts first with you, your words, and your actions.
Your Business Coach is a regular column produced by The Persimmon Group, an Oklahoma-based consulting firm that offers practical, results-oriented advice for business professionals of all disciplines and business owners across industries. Today's column is by TPG Founder and CEO Bill Fournet. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.