What are the qualities and characteristics that help create successful leaders? Consider this four-point plan. With business leaders’ public—and private—behavior coming under increasing scrutiny, it’s becoming nearly impossible to avoid getting caught in a lie. Few things detract more from your credibility and the respect of your colleagues and peers than being called on the carpet to deflect accusations and defend an untruth. Can leaders who lapse learn how to be truthful in words and honorable in deeds? Of course they can.
If you’re fortunate, you’ll meet people over the course of your career who exceed your expectations in every way. When you work or spend time with them, you find yourself wanting to be a better person. You put a lid on your neuroses (which might cause you to coax others to go easy on you because you are wracked with worry) and on your sense of entitlement (which can drive you to manipulate others into doing what you want through intimidation). And you work well. Why do we try to be the best that we can be with such people? Given the choice between instant gratification and the lasting satisfaction of earning the esteem of someone you respect and admire, all but the most myopic of us would choose the latter.
What would happen to your leadership effectiveness if you became more like the people from whom others actively seek acceptance and support? How productive would your teammates and peers become if they all felt that having you as a leader represented the rare opportunity to work with someone that people inside and outside the company admire? How much harder would people work if they were inspired and motivated by the privilege of your adamant faith in their skills? If you answered anything less than an enthusiastically positive response to those questions, imagine the effect on people if you acted in a manner that was the polar opposite of this. How motivated would your colleagues be if you attacked, blamed, demeaned, and embarrassed them and yourself? Perhaps they’d work hard in the short run because of fear or even resentment. Your organization might squeeze a winning quarter out of intimidation, but without inspiration you will never build a winning company. What are the qualities that leaders should aspire to in order to earn, deserve, and command respect? Look no further than a mentor whose belief in you made you want to give your best shot in your professional and personal life. Chances are they possessed the following four attributes:
» The judgment to know the right thing to do.
» The integrity to do it.
» The character to stand up to those who don’t.
» The courage to stop those who won’t.
If you consistently practice and develop these qualities in your professional and personal life, you will accrue an additional benefit beyond getting the best out of your peers and colleagues, as well as your family. You will develop wisdom. With that you will be able to distinguish what’s important in life, what’s worth fighting for—even dying for—and what makes up a life that’s worth living. In the next few columns, I’ll further explore each leadership attribute, highlighting new ways you can incorporate the qualities into your work life.
WHAT WOULD MY MENTOR DO?
Good judgment is one of the four characteristics of successful leaders. But how do you know what the
right thing to do is—and when to do it? [Second in a series] Even with Sarbanes-Oxley and the pressure for leaders and boards to be, well, above board, we still live in ethically and morally challenged times. Nice guys may not finish last, but until there is clear evidence that some of them are finishing first and doing so because of their honesty, the needle is not going to move very far toward taking the high road instead of the low road. Can you do the right thing before you know what the right thing is? Where does knowing the right thing come from? Is it instinctual and in our genes? Or is it learned and in how we were raised? Why do the right thing, when doing the wrong thing is sometimes so much easier, quicker, harder to detect—and something everyone else is doing, too? Why bother making your life hard when you can make it easy?
Taking the time to learn the right thing to do in various circumstances—and then do it—is a matter of values more than anything else.
Momentarily taken aback by this question, he pointed to a couple of chairs at a nearby table and said, "C’mon, let’s sit down." Other people waiting for their audience with Mike may have been a little miffed, but I wasn’t about to refuse such an invitation from this successful revitalizer of the rust belt.
We sat down and Mike shared the following: "Some of the best advice I ever received came from my dad. There was the time when I told him about a business I was about to buy that was clearly a win for me and a lose for everyone else who had any connection with the company. He looked at me and said, Why would you do a deal that helped you and hurt everyone else?"
“It was as if he were saying, Mike, because you know how to take advantage of opportunities, you don’t have to take advantage of people. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my father had so much confidence in my ability to be successful by knowing and doing the right thing, that I didn’t want to dishonor his belief in me by being any less than he thought I could be. And I didn’t. Like Jack Nicholson’s famous line from the movie, As Good As It Gets, my dad made me want to be a better man. And I like to think I have.”
That sense of judgment is a guiding principle that Mike tries to follow in his business and his life. Not betraying the trust of those less powerful than you is one of the best ways to inform you about what the right thing to do is. Knowing the right thing—and then doing it—is what causes not just success, but also the peace of mind that comes from a well-lived life.
One of the reasons Mike exercises his judgment with care is to honor his dad. You, too, can use your mentors, role models, and those authority figures that were more authoritative than authoritarian as your guides to knowing the right thing to do. Every time you are faced with a decision in which there appears to be a right and a wrong response, just ask yourself in your mind’s eye: "What would my mentor say?" If you have the least bit of hesitation in running it by them even if only in your mind, there’s a good chance that you’re being tempted to do the wrong thing.
By Mark Goulston