Leadership matters, especially in times of uncertainty. Leadership matters because people like certainty. Lack of certainty leads to stress, and stress results in poor decisions. Poor decisions can lead to catastrophic consequences.
Corporate leadership is typically measured by quarterly results, market share, and shareholder value. It can also be measured by employee engagement, social impact, and sustainability. Likewise, Political leadership can also be measured by stock market value, amount of fundraising, and the number of reelection votes; or the health, happiness, and economic future of the nation.
For over 20-years, I have been coaching corporate leaders and observing political leadership, and the key metric I have found to matter is – responsibility. Responsibility or response-ability is the ability to take ownership of a situation and respond in ways that provide an improved outcome and level of certainty for the people affected.
The opposite of responsibility is blaming or complaining. Blaming others or circumstances does not improve the situation or provide circumstances.
“You can’t complain that your car ran out of petrol because your spouse used it to go to the store for groceries and didn’t fill it up, and informed you the gas was low when handing you the keys.”
If you are driving the car, flying the plane, or on the bridge of the ship, you are responsible, you are the leader at that moment.
History likes to hold up these moments showing super-human effort, but each leader, like all of us, is fully human with flaws, mistakes, and doubts – what makes them ‘stand apart’ is that they took full responsibility and knew that leadership matters.
Think of Winston Churchill, a man guilty of many mistakes and misjudgments, but at the crucial moments of World War II, he took full ownership. Consider your favorite business leader or sports coach, is not the same true?
Once a leader has taken responsibility, they must be decisive and have clear communication with their followers. Clear, Direct, and Empathetic Communication.
The opposite is sugar-coating, over-optimism, or outright lying to your followers or constituents.
When Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, interviewed Admiral James Stockdale, he was surprised to discover that optimism is a killer in times of uncertainty. Stockdale was shot down over Vietnam in 1965 during the American-Vietnam conflict. He was the most senior officer in the ‘Hanoi Hilton’ prison camp and was tortured multiple times, over 8-years. Stockdale’s Paradox, as Jim Collins named it, is
“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be."
People can handle the truth if you deliver to them clearly, directly, and empathetically. This is what medical personal are trained to do. It is what corporate and political leaders should be doing.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel have distinguished themselves in handling the Covid-19 pandemic by using clear, direct empathetic communication. United States President, Donald Trump, and the United Kingdom’s, Boris Johnson will be judged more harshly in their early obfuscations of the threat to their populations.
Leadership matters. Taking responsibility, being decisive, and clearly, directly, and empathetically communicating will make the difference in corporate and political leadership.
Whilst leadership is rarely learned in the classroom, these skills can be developed, and it has been my great honor to support both corporate and government leaders to embrace their responsibility and decisiveness, whilst developing their clear, direct, and empathetic communication.
BEING HUMAN WHILST DELIVERING ACCELERATED RESULTS