Take me to your leader

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

The past twenty years or so has seen a flood of books, seminars and articles on leadership. Leadership, by definition is situational, cultural and perhaps subjective. Some of us may prefer a “strong” leader while others may flourish under a more flexible leadership style. Some situations may require a more firm hand while other situations might be more suited to a more “hands-off” approach.

The demands, effects and positive response to various styles of leadership can, and will, change constantly. The balancing act between facilitating and micro-managing can feel more like careening between fires, crises and catastrophes.

I’ve read far more book on leadership than anyone should, but one common theme is that a leader should have a deliberate, constant guiding principle.

No one – from customers, the stock market to your cat or dog, likes – or does well – under arbitrary inconsistency – in other words, under poor leadership.

Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.      - Albert Einstein

My experience has shown me that the problem with the worst “leaders” whether they be parents, CEOs, mid-managers, teachers or abusive pet owners, is that they think they are doing a great job. 

And they usually operate under the primary assumption that they are (or should be) accountable to no one.

From the house next door to the highest office in the land, this will only lead to disaster. Weak or poor leadership can be more damaging than no leadership at all.

Poor leaders almost always operate under one core misunderstanding – they confuse being a leader with being a ruler.

A “ruler” refuses to be questioned – a true leader listens. Leaders motivate and inspire, rulers threaten, blame and evade responsibility. Leaders correct, many times by example and without words. Rulers scold – usually publicly. Leaders are always learning – and always teaching. Rulers are convinced that they, and only they, are the holders of wisdom and authority.

"Off with their heads" is not the best leadership strategy.  Photo: Morf Morford

“Off with their heads” is not the best leadership strategy. Photo: Morf Morford

Leaders acknowledge and submit to standards of integrity, fairness and honesty. Rulers presume that they are exceptions to the rules that apply to others.

There is an old saying that a dysfunctional family cares about who is right. A healthy family cares about WHAT is right. This principle holds true in any business or organization.

A leader cares about loyalty to ethics and principle. A ruler cares about personal loyalty above all. Principles, integrity and character, to a ruler, are useful – though disposable – abstractions.

Effective leadership can mark the difference between success and failure.

Good leadership is the process of envisioning, defining and communicating goals for the team and finding a way for the team to meet those goals.

Effective leadership involves finding ways to motivate team members or employees to reach their own goals within the parameters of the direction and character of the organization.

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.     – William Arthur Ward

A good leader knows that each employee or person on his team may be motivated in a different way. “Reading” each team member or employee and helping them perform at their highest level is the job of a leader.

The old saying that  ”leaders are born, not made” is  not true. Leadership skills can – and need to be – learned.

Leaders learn skills as they progress through their career. Take notes of at least one positive trait you admire in each boss or supervisor you have during your career. Write down these attributes that you admire, and practice them even if your job is not a supervisory role. Supervisors are not the only ones who demonstrate leadership. Employees can show leadership in how they do their job every day and interact with their coworkers.

If you have ever worked under an exceptional leader, you will probably never forget the experience. These are the people most of us would literally follow anywhere. We would do anything for them, not because they demand or even expect it – but because they somehow draw it out of us.

You have to be burning with an idea, or a problem, or a wrong that you want to right. If you’re not passionate enough from the start, you’ll never stick it out.     - Steve Jobs

For those of us who have found a leader worth following, pay or time commitments are secondary, if that. Good leaders evoke our best without even trying (or at least that’s how it seems). 

Good leaders share credit, accept blame and make us proud to work with them. We feel safe, respected and valued in their presence.

They are as honest and transparent as they expect us to be.

The definition of leadership is by necessity fluid – but I am convinced that we all recognize it when we see it.

And we may not be able to put it into words, but we also know when we don’t see it.

Leadership is not just about giving energy… it’s unleashing other people’s energy.                         - Paul Polman

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.       - Maya Angelou

When it comes to books, anything by Stephen Covey or John Maxwell is good, but there are many others.

Journals like Inc. (https://www.inc.com/) continue to profile examples of exceptional (or terrible) leadership.

Here is how Forbes magazine portrays the eight essential qualities of great leadership – https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlyfries/2018/02/08/8-essential-qualities-that-define-great-leadership/#44bcc6593b63

Here is a series of articles on leadership from the journal Psychology Today – https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/leadership.

And here are five approaches to inspiring leadership from Entrepreneur – https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227012.

Perhaps above all, a true leader cares, listens and encourages. A poor leader pouts, blames and prevaricates.

One heals, restores and inspires, the other demoralizes and deceives.

An exceptional leader, old or young, male or female, will leave a legacy far beyond the next quarterly report.

When I see an influx of books and articles on any given topic, I often wonder if we see them because we care about them so much or if our need for them is so great.

As in all things perhaps, time will tell.

If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.       - Dolly Parton