Leadership by Example

A short treatise for managers and others
By Julie Adamen

There is a spectrum of leadership ability, and most of us will be in the middle of that spectrum, between truly great and abysmally poor.  What does this have to do with you? Each one of you reading this is a leader, whether you want to be or not.

We are in the leadership business because leadership is influence and you must agree that as part of our job we continually influence people and events.1 Working in our industry means you are in a position of leadership on the front lines with staff, vendors, Boards, owners and peers. Boards of Directors are the leaders of their communities. Executives are in an even greater position of leadership, one that affects corporate culture, staff, vendors and the industry locally and nationally.

The question before us is: Are we good leaders? To know that answer, we must understand what constitutes good, effective leadership and what changes in leadership style are required to become a better leader.   Leadership is not an easy concept to many people; yet, to others it’s simple: Do the right thing and make it a way of life regardless of its popularity or political up- or downsides. In short, to become a better leader we must: Grow up, show up, stand up.

“The servant-leader is servant first It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead.” 

Grow up: Servant Leadership

It’s not about you 24/7. Many people feel they do not truly “grow up” until they have children. It’s not the act of procreation; it’s the fact that suddenly and forever – It’s not all about you.  Having children – being responsible for another human being – changes the way we think, the way we do things and the way we view life.  If only more of us let go of viewing every situation solely in terms of how it affects our turf or political position, because showing selflessness in conjunction with goal accomplishment does not go unnoticed by those with whom we work.  Working towards the good of the many, as opposed to the good of the few (or, the one) elevates you and your mission, moving the project or organization forward rapidly.  Altruism widens your sphere of influence, and encourages others to do the same. The result is dedicated people working towards the same goal, making any concept a reality much more quickly.

Release pettiness, bitterness and cronyism.  There are a lot of folks who are leaders first,meaning they enjoy a position of power for its own sake, and not servant leaders. Usually they obtain that position on a Board or elsewhere solely through political connection.   These people are the coercive dictator holding the organization hostage to their own limited vision, as opposed to the servant leader who asks, “What can I do to help you achieve our goals?  One begets short-term sycophants, the other, long-term respect and loyalty. Unfortunately, because their agenda of power and self-preservation can be ruthlessly politically effective, these posers may hold on to a position of power (not leadership) for some time. Leadership by persuasion and example, not coercion through positional authority, projects substance and character and gives others dignity in the process.    Leaders wishing to influence in a positive manner know that playing small-minded games with or against others for the diminutive purpose of making themselves look good or is the vanguard of a leader first, as opposed to a servant leader, who is ” sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need (of the leader first) to assuage an unusual power drive” 2.5

Utilize others with confidence.“Only secure leaders give power to others.”  True grownups see everyone as a spoke in the wheel of the larger accomplishment.  They aren’t threatened by others and their strengths; they see those strengths as something to be utilized in the greater goals of the organization.  You never see a true leader lacking self-confidence. Only those leaders of the smoke-and-mirrors variety are fearful that we may find them just the man behind the curtain and not the Great and Powerful Oz.  A particular example can be found every day in the lives of community managers: How many Boards of Directors refuse to listen to their (vendor) experts, thinking they know more about (Insert trade here)?  Or how many managers do you know who have to do everything themselves because they fear that those to whom they would delegate may perform better than they themselves?   The servant leader, one who is there to help for the larger good of the cause, who utilizes the strengths of others and is not in that position of power for power’s sake is the one others, will follow to the ends of the earth.  That leader engenders the respect of their people and for mission.  “A great leader’s courage to fulfill his vision comes from passion, not position.” 4

Show up

Be there when you say you will. Being chronically late or simply not showing up for something to which you are committed  shows disregard for the other folks affected.  This runs the gamut from not calling someone when you say you will to not following through on a scheduled performance review for a staff member.5  It says that you are important and they are not (see above).   It implies a certain condescension that offends people, and it’s a bad example to set for those around you.  Why should they push themselves when you don’t care? It’s a sign of very poor leadership.  “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.”6

In body and spirit.  Be attentive, listen, look alert, ask relevant questions, look into people’s eyes when speaking, take notes and be concerned of the outcome. “Being a good listener helps us to know people better, to learn what they have learned, and to show them that we value them as individuals.” Nothing says poor leadership like being there in body but not in spirit: It’s worse than not being there altogether. Again, it implies condescension; you are too important to be bothered with whatever triviality is in front of you, and the message to others is they – and the mission- don’t matter.  If you still want to accomplish whatever goals you have set, you’ll do it with a lackluster team that doesn’t care all that much, pretty much like you.  Be there.

When it’s not easy nor convenient. Business is rife with unpleasantness, especially the community management business.  If you have an issue you are avoiding handling in a forthright manner (albeit it with appropriate compassion), get over it (grow up) and do it (show up).    This is avoidance leadership and unfortunately, it’s a very common malady.  Unwilling or unable to face a particular person or situation, the “avoidance leader” disengages from the process in hopes that it will resolve itself; yet rarely does that happen.  What it surely does is breed resentment and foster a lack of respect for the abilities of that leader,causing a cancer in their leadership, disrupting or destroying the positive influence that leader may have had.” Candid conversations are a leader’s responsibility and must be done-but in the right way with the right attitude.” 

Showing up in mind, body and spirit tells others that you care about them, about the situation at hand, about yourself and your job. Being chronically remiss speaks volumes about your commitment level and undermines the positive things that you have done and want to do. It shows a lack care to the people and the mission.  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”10  Being there shows you care.

Stand up: Be consistent in application of ethics and values

Situational ethics. How many times have you watched someone proclaim a life of ethical wonder then proceed on a dubious path? If you follow national politics – it’s a daily occurrence. If you follow our industry, or are involved in a professional organization the “dubious path” can be a daily, disappointing occurrence.   This hypocritical leadership seems to me not based so much on well-plotted, nefarious schemes but simply because it’s politically expeditious to ‘talk the talk,’ but financially or personally expeditious not to ‘walk the walk.’  Case in point: Well-known industry leader publicly expounds on professionalism through appropriate pricing for management services for years now found to be undercutting pricing by – wait for it – giving away months of service and then pricing contracts well below market, even in this economy. The classic “do as I say, not as I do.” Though this person is still in a position of power, they are no longer a leader: They lost their moral authority through blatant hypocrisy. True leaders don’t have situational ethics.  They have a moral code that goes beyond today, this month or this year. And they stand up for and with that code.

“Ethics and values are the building blocks of an organization’s culture, and they require constant vigilance and commitment. The leader needs to keep a strong hold on what’s going on. This is hard work and doesn’t always make the leader popular, but it’s necessary. Even temporary lapses in ethics can destroy trust and bring an organization to its knees.”11

Standing up: Southwest Pilot Holds Plane for Murdered Toddler’s Grandfather

Mark Dickinson was in Los Angeles on business when he received the terrible news that his 3-year-old
grandson was on life-support after his daughter’s boyfriend had body slammed the toddler.  The child was to be removed from that life support at 9pm that evening, and Mr. Dickinson bought a plane ticket to Denver.

Mr. Dickinson made travel arrangements by phone with Southwest Airlines and arrived at LAX 2 hours before the flight departure time of 11:50am. The security lines were long and the passengers and TSA officials unimpressed or disbelieving of his pleas to allow him to get to his grandson’s bedside to pay his final respects.  So he waited in line, and finally, he was through.
It was now 12:02pm. He was late. As he ran from the security checkpoint in his stocking feet with shoes in hand, he hoped beyond hope that his plane was delayed and he would be able to see his grandson for the last time.  As he approached the gate, he was greeted by the pilot and ticketing agent with the words: “Are you Mark? We held the plane for you and we’re so sorry about the loss of your grandson.”
As they walked down the jet way, Mr. Dickinson told the pilot, “I can’t thank you enough for this.”  The pilot responded with “They can’t go anywhere without me and I wasn’t going anywhere without you. Now relax. We’ll get you there. And again, I’m so sorry.”
12

It’s a great story, but it’s also a stellar example of simple, daily leadership. That pilot could have easily left the gate on time; certainly it would have been expeditious and would have enhanced his “on time” record. But he chose to be of help, to serve, someone in need.  He valued that passenger, that client, enough to know his situation and to give him his attention. Lastly, he knew what was the right thing to do – and he did it, risking the ire of his employer.

The next level of this story is that the airline is Southwest, known for breeding a corporate culture that would foster such an action. From James Parker, CEO of Southwest from 2001 – 2004: “We really looked for was, people who had the right attitudes, who were “other-oriented,” who were not self-absorbed, who wanted to accomplish something they could be proud of.” 13 Thus the question is: Which came first? A pilot who would take such an action, or the culture which would embrace such an action? Would be that we all had to ponder such subjects within our own organizations.

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I’ve been in this industry for 23 years. We talk a lot about leadership, but we really don’t do much about promoting real leadership skills. Most of our organizations are vested in just getting through the day and not developing their human capital to full potential.

We shoot ourselves in the foot for such negligence.

John Maxwell states that 85% of successful leaders were driven to success by the “influence of another leader.”14 We need to mentor, encourage, and teach how to influence well.  And we need to do so by example.  It’s our challenge to breed tomorrow’s industry leaders. Real leadership takes courage, is moral, is relevant, is evident and is without ulterior motive or for the purpose of political expediency.
Taking hold, being a leader is not easy. It can wear you down. It’s so, so easy to give up, lie down and let the bulldozers of agenda-driven mediocrity drive over you. Believe me, they count on it. Wearing you down, day by day, drip by drip until you throw up your hands and in the towel.  “Why bother?!”  Because your position of leadership demands that you do.  Grow up, show up and stand up. Be proud that you do.
The best example of leadership is leadership by example.15 – Jerry McClain

Footnotes:
1.     The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell © 1998 by Maxwell Motivation, Inc.  Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
2.     Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership http://www.greenleaf.org/whatissl/
2.5   Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership http://www.greenleaf.org/whatissl/
3.     The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell © 1998 by Maxwell Motivation, Inc.  Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
4.     John Maxwell Quotes on thinkexist.com http://thinkexist.com/quotation/a-great-leader-s-courage-to-fulfill-his-vision/761530.html
5.     Julie Adamen
6.     Josephson Institute Quotations: Business and management ethics: http://josephsoninstitute.org/quotes/business-management.html
7.     John C. Maxwell, John Maxwell on Leadership: http://johnmaxwellonleadership.com/
8.     Graham Moore Leadership & People Development http://www.mooresuccessme.com/
9.     John C. Maxwell, John Maxwell on Leadership: http://johnmaxwellonleadership.com/2010/12/20/for-leaders-balancing-care-with-candor/
10.   John C. Maxwell Quotes by John Maxwell: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/show/34690
11.   Executive Education Ethics and values in leadership, by Lisa Murton Beets Dec. 2006 Quote of Jerry Hoag, executive director of The Leadership Center at UTD.  http://www.sbnonline.com/Local/Article/10258/71/44/Ethics_and_values_in_leadership.aspx
12.   All Headline News 1/13/11 by Ayinde O. Chase: http://www.allheadlinenews.com/briefs/articles/90030716#ixzz1Cw4QNuzz
13.   Consumer Traveler: http://www.consumertraveler.com/forum/showthread.php?t=20213
14.   The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John C. Maxwell © 1998 by Maxwell Motivation, Inc.  Published by Thomas Nelson, Inc. p. 253
15.   About.com, Leadership Quotes: Lead From the Front With These Leadership Quotes by Simran Khurana: http://quotations.about.com/od/inspirationquotes/a/leadership.htm

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