LeadershipIt is hard to find anyone who does not dream of being a great leader.Whether you consider a coach working with a girl in Little League, aprosecuting attorney triple-checking each detail of a case to ensure aconviction, or an Oscar-winning director reviewing every beat of ascreenplay to ensure she can provide guidance toward the best possibleproduction, the dream of excellence in leadership remains, underlying everymove. For many, though, the dream is no more than a vain, wispy fantasythat will never come true.What is the difference between a great leader and a vain daydreamer? Whatone single element turns a mediocre “anybody” into an outstanding success?Is there a secret that changes a plodding putz into a power player?Yes, of course there is. A combination of commitment, planning, motivation,dignity, and humility working together toward clear and well understoodgoals.Many people confuse leadership with bullying. It is vital to realize that thereis a world of difference. Anyone with power can swing their weight. Anyonewith an idea can be demanding and officious. A leader, however, serves as amoral north-star and as a role model, as well as providing vision, guidance,and oversight. A great leader demonstrates dignity, compassion,respectfulness, and wisdom, as well as giving orders and expectingobedience. It is amazing how few people understand that. The illusion thatleadership is about power and punishment, clout and command, the weakand the strong, leads to vast amounts of misery, and terrible wasted effortand failed hopes and plans.The great leader must, first and foremost, give himself or herself to the workat hand. The goal outweighs all else, and the job is the soul of leadership.Soldiers do not accept an officer’s leadership because of stars and bars onsleeves and collars: they accept it because they believe, over all, that theofficers of their service put the job first, even at their own expense, and thesoldiers are willing to follow because they, too, value the work that must bedone.“I lead” isn’t the same as “I demand.” In the difference between these twophrases you can find the secret power of motivation.
A Personal CommitmentI am a good leader. A highly motivated performer and often the corepersonality in my social groups, I have excelled in my professional careerand provided direction and guidance in both professional and amateurforums. When I have a goal I march toward it, quietly and steadily,regardless of set-backs, regardless of ridicule, regardless of obstacles thatrise up to block my progress – and in many cases, I am able to bring peoplewith me, and lead them into the work that must be done..I was not always a capable leader, though: it is a learned skill as much as itis a talent. Over time, I have had plenty of chances to observe better, moreexperienced leaders and learn from them, study the works of the greatleaders of history, and learn leadership through experience.Breaking down the process of leadership, and the elements that make thedifference between greatness and mediocrity can allow you to learn goodleadership skills, also. What are the distinctive attributes of good leadership?First, vision: a leader sees goals clearly, and sometimes sees goals no oneelse can see. Planning allies with vision: a great leader can formulate a pathto reach a goal – or knows who can. Which brings up the third trait of a greatleader: the ability to recognize and foster talent in others, and trustsubordinates to do their jobs well. That third is sometimes called delegation,which sounds like “making other people do the dull work,” but at heart,delegation is a complex and powerful combination of recognition, respect,and trust. A Man, A Plan, A Canal...Vision Moves MountainsFrom the earliest days of European exploration, there was enormous desirefor a canal to carry ships across the Central American isthmus. Before thecreation of the canal, ships sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific around theAmericas had no possible route except to pass far south, around Cape Horn,at the extreme southern tip of Chile.Governments and merchants alike realized that a canal between oceans,placed at the narrow neck of the isthmus, would cut over 8,000 miles off ofthe trip, and ensure not only safer, cheaper transport, but safer travel. Thejourney around the Cape was famously dangerous. Seasonal weather added
massive additional difficulty, presenting brutal winter storms and the dangerof ice to the tricky winds and currents the route offered. The savings in timeand money, the increase in possible trade, and the vast improvement insafety made a canal a much desired goal for centuries.Over five nations contemplated building a canal. Multiple compromise planswere put into effect. Then in 1880, the French made an attempt at excavatinga Panamanian Canal. Thousands of lives were lost – many to disease, asmalaria ripped through the labor force. Bad planning on all levels doomedthe attempt.Only when the U.S. took up the challenge did the plan succeed. Thedifference was not a matter of desire, or talent, or intelligence: prior nationshad demonstrated all three. The difference was in vision. From TheodoreRoosevelt at the very top of the command structure, through Joseph BucklinBishop who served as Roosevelt’s organizer, on-site observer, and PRadvocate, to the engineers who dreamed of the ultimate form of the canaland the methods needed to construct it, there was one driving vision. Thatvision was conveyed through all levels of the Army Corps of Engineers, andshowed particularly in the spirit and dedication of the primary commandingengineers, where there was a firm resolve to see the project through.No aspect of the process was left to chance, and vision was applied to allaspects of the process. From the mosquito-abatement program to eliminatethe tropical diseases, including malaria, to the revised plan for a lock-and-dam structure rather than a sea-level excavation, every aspect of the projectwas considered. Rather than simply dreaming of a goal, the men involvedwere determined to succeed, and left no element of their processunexamined or without alternate options.Their vision powered the entire process – a process that ultimatelydemonstrated the finest forms of leadership. The RoadmapAs we saw in the above, the inspired vision of President Roosevelt, hisadvisors, and the engineers in the Army Corp of Engineers was expressedthrough precise and well-developed planning. A leader must be a superb
planner – or must recognize great plans and great planners and support themvigorously.It is vital to realize that both options are signs of good leadership. It is evenmore important to understand that a great leader will choose to support thebest plan, even if it is not his or her own. Even if a leader is a brillianttactician and strategist with a good plan, if a better plan is put forward fromanother source, a leader will choose the optimal option.What is a “great plan?” One that wins the most necessary victories at themost endurable cost possible. I have thought about that often over the years– as a director, a community leader, and a professional manager. Manyleaders make the mistake of pursuing victories at any cost. Yet not allvictories are necessary, and not all costs are acceptable.Think about the parent who destroys a child’s confidence by demandingperfect and unending victories – in sports, or academics, or social life. Wehave all seen examples of the parent so involved in winning that he or sheloses all sense of whether a victory is really necessary, or if too high a priceis being paid. So many people have been hurt or destroyed to win objectivesthat were worth naught in the grand scheme of things. Truly great leadershave the courage to refuse those goals, and turn away from those victories.In other words, leaders need not only a practical vision, but a profoundmoral vision, and the courage and integrity to pursue that vision. Trust and OversightOne of the hardest things for me to master in leadership is the art andintegrity of delegation. Like many highly motivated, capable people, I knowI can do a job, and do it right. I also know by experience that many otherscannot. If I am not constantly aware that leadership is always empoweringother people to do the job, and providing them with what they need to dothat job as well or better than I can, I fall into the old, arrogant trap of thetalented. I push people aside, mutter, “I’ll do it myself,” and find that I amoverworked, underpaid, and leading no one at all; because my subordinateshave all wandered off to do something useful rather than stand aroundwatching me block them from doing their proper work.
Great leaders also find ways to support their workers. A good leader focuseson bringing out the best in his or her subordinates, bringing out the genius ofthose already promoted, and bringing forward and developing those not yetdiscovered.Leaders focus not on doing the job themselves, but in providing thecircumstances and resources to allow their subordinates to do the jobmarvelously. In addition, they give themselves to their people, inspiringthem through the trust, enthusiasm, and respect they feel for their ownworkers, and the efforts they are willing to make on their behalf.This does not mean a leader turns a blind eye to bad behavior or bad work –but a good leader treats these issues as problems to be resolved with as littlepain and as much progress as possible. Rather than demonstrating power and“making an example” of a poor worker though public humiliation or extremepunishment, a good leader makes clear to all why a mistake must becorrected, and proceeds to make that correction without unnecessary maliceor drama. A worker who behaves badly or fails to produce quality work ismoved aside, or dismissed without sentiment or dishonesty, but also withoutmean or petty disgrace. A worker who tries hard, but is ill-suited to aposition is placed in a more appropriate posting, or is helped to overcome hisor her disability.Leaders delegate, they make decisions that allow subordinates to shine, andthey provide oversight and guidance. They trust and admire their people, andthey know, deeply and profoundly, that their people must be able to trust andadmire them in return. Because of this, they leave their own followersstronger, more capable, and more able to function even without their leader,than they were before the leader arrived. The Virtue of a LeaderWe have all heard the phrase, “leadership by example.” Many people thinkthat this is simply a matter of performing a job themselves, so that theirsubordinates can then “monkey-see, monkey-do” mimic the leader. This isseldom the case. Leaders are infrequently trainers, and workers usually learntheir jobs from others – often from peers of the same status or of very closestatus. A teacher can be a leader, but a leader need not be a teacher – at leastnot in the most literal, practical sense.
Leaders are, however, great teachers of virtue, and unlike many a preacher ina pulpit or philosopher lounging in a café, leaders teach more virtue throughtheir actions than through their words. A great leader provides the exampleof positive attitude, respect, diligent effort, and dedication that will bemirrored throughout his or her entire command structure.This example is seen both in ways the leader behaves toward those outsidethe organization, and those within. A great leader models honesty, integrity,and respect even when dealing with opponents. Even more, a leader modelsadmiration and respect for subordinates.Yes, some subordinates will fail to return the respect, or match the modeltheir leader offers. But a leader lacking in integrity and decency willencourage the same throughout the organization, while a virtuous leaderwill, by the very fact of position, be watched and copied.Never make the mistake of thinking that what you do as a leader is not asimportant as what you demand your followers do. We all know the saying,“do as I say, not as I do.” We all know, also, that the saying has never beenvery successful.A parent can tell a child repeatedly to expel the truth – but if the parent, timeafter time lies, the child will learn how little the parent values truth. Apolitician can demand justice for all – but it does not take long for a harriedintern to realize that the politician cares little about justice when it results inlittle to no votes. A commanding officer in a police force can demand thathis people not take bribes or abuse their authority – but if the officerregularly accepts little gifts, bullies his own people, and disrespects civilians,the rest of the department quickly realizes how shallow his commitment torighteous behavior really is. A dirty leader draws followers into dirtiness,regardless of what he or she says against it, or what orders are issued toprevent it.On the other hand, followers and subordinates take pride and satisfaction inworking under a virtuous leader, and will often go to amazing lengths tomatch that virtue. A respectful leader will, by the example of action,promote respect throughout an organization. A forgiving leader will promoteforgiveness. An honest leader will promote honesty. A leader with a sense ofhumor will, by example, encourage their subordinates to laugh. A generous
leader will draw their workers into patterns of generosity. A hard workingleader will model good, diligent work.Even more, a leader of great integrity and character commands respect andradiates authority. Followers know that their leader takes no shortcuts, andcheats no one. When the leader works and lives both graciously andrighteously, those who take orders from them recognize that the leader isdeserving of their own respect and cooperation.It is no accident that even great generals endorse personal virtue as thegreatest command attribute of all. Warriors learn in the heat of combat thatrespect and admiration build teams, and that disrespect and revulsion destroyteams. Developing Leadership SkillsI never especially wanted to be a leader. In many ways, I feel like leadershiphas been thrust upon me, no matter what. I do lead, however, and I amdetermined to lead well when I must. As a result, I have got a seriouscommitment to learning how to lead well.The truth is some people will not be great leaders – but almost anyone whomakes the effort can learn to be a fairly good leader. And while some claim,like Harold S. Geneen in the quote above, that leadership cannot be taught,learners can identify teachers and role models to pattern themselves after.Moreover, they can learn the principles of great leadership taught throughthe ages by the great leaders and wise men and women of history. To learn,though, you have to accept that leadership is learnableOur culture tends to assume that leadership is a magic process. Some folksthink leadership is a matter of talent, something hereditary, something likeblue eyes or freckles that came with you from conception. Others seem tobelieve it is a matter of position and power, rather than understanding andskill: the Authority Fairy, or the High Status Angel comes along, taps aselect few to wear the magic stars and bars, and the rest of us are just out ofluck. Other people think leadership is a matter of respect not for the leader,but for the title the leader holds: give a person a rank or title, and presto,they are leaders.
The truth is more complex. In great leaders, the person and the authoritymerge and improve with time and experience, eventually creating somethinggreater than either alone. Success in leadership is usually the result ofdedicated work, careful preparation, and most of all, an intense commitmentto learning the job. That means, before anything else, working to understandthe job – and that is a field of study in its own right.No two leadership positions are identical. Even two leaders heading thesame organization at different times, or in different capacities, experiencedifferent jobs. Learning the nature, demands, and limits of your very ownpersonal leadership position is the beginning of great leadership. Thatlearning depends on observational skills and analytical skills, so make surefirst and foremost that you are trained in those areas – in as many ways aspossible. Dedicate yourself to a lifetime of learning; the very act ofeducating yourself constantly hones the skills you need to lead. As John F.Kennedy said, "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."When you make a habit of learning, that habit carries into your dailyleadership ability. You are better able to determine the issues facing you, tocomprehend the resources available; you will be more deeply aware of theneeds and concerns of your followers. To learn to lead, dedicate yourself tolearning in all ways.Then, using those learning skills, determine what other skills you personallyneed to explore. While no wand or badge of rank can make a leader, manypeople are able to learn to be good leaders. When you set out to learn a set ofskills, the best approach is not to go in cold, and reinvent the wheel. It isbetter to learn from those who have already found the way. By studying therecord of winners, by learning from their teachings and writings, adetermined student of success can save hours of time and rounds of griefalong the way to excellence and the rewards of accomplishment.Choose your teachers well. If you want to be the best, emulate the best:those who are the best not just in worldly ways, but in deeply moral ways.From this moral integrity comes much of the strength needed to support yourmotivation over the long quest for success. It is not enough to want wealth,or fame, or glory. If these rewards are all you want, your motivation is likelyto be weak and poorly focused. To desire these things with a clearconscience and a great and noble heart, though, demands more, and indemanding more, it tightens your vision and intensifies your commitment.
It is no accident that wise men and women, great philosophers, andoutstanding saints have served as role models throughout history. Neither isit unusual that even the integrity of less renowned role models can serve as ashining beacon to those following in a hero’s footsteps – or that a moralfailure can crush the heart and spirit of those whose model fails along theway.You must pick the best models you can find, and you must be prepared to tryto exceed them, not merely match them. This ambition, this commitment toexcel over even your role model can armor you against a role model’s shortcomings, making it possible to accept a failure without breaking, or loweringyour own standards or goals. Choose great leaders to imitate, and forgivetheir humanity even as you try to improve your own attempts in light of theirerrors. Choosing Your Role ModelsSo, you know you need role models and teachers along your way to goodleadership skills. How do you choose them, what should you value, and howshould you proceed?Obviously, when you can you should prefer to choose people you think areboth great humans and brilliant leaders. Most of all, you should patternyourself after people whose success and excellence was accomplished as aresult of fortitude in the face of adversity and difficulty. These great guidescan provide you with perspective and proper grounding. How can you not beinspired by Helen Keller, who not only overcame her blindness anddeafness, but in later years served as a social leader, and a role model toothers – not just the blind and deaf, but the working laborers of her time? OrMartin Luther King, Jr. whose steady leadership and commitment to non-violent political action in the face of brutal and deadly opposition was rootedin his deep faith in the example he found in his religion?Great individuals like these can not only show us the long, slow, patientcommitment strong leadership demands, but can grant perspective,reminding us our own fears and pains are no greater than those faced bythousands, and our own followers neither dramatically better nor worse thantheirs. Great leaders are not given exceptional followers, they are givenordinary followers they help lead to exceptional performance.
Studying these great leaders can also remind us that even the great areflawed, fearful, sometimes foolish, just as you are, and their followerscontrary, difficult, argumentative, unpredictable and complex as your own.To learn from their failures and challenges as well as their victories providesa cautionary lesson, but also reassurance.Great role models, over their lives, felt fear, joy, hope, despair, anger, loss,and grief. Many died thinking they had failed. Many died doubting the valueof their own efforts. Still, they persevered, and have since become famousfor the great gifts they gave. How could they give, if they doubted, mourned,or believed they had failed? What allowed them to continue, when everythought and feeling indicated that the cause was lost, the goals unattainable?Motivation: motivation carried them, when feelings and desire could not.There is a tenacious moral fiber to motivation that carries on with calm,determined commitment even in the face of complete despair. Win-Win: Leadership Rewarding CooperationLeadership, by definition, is not a solitary endeavor. Leadership goals canonly be reached with the cooperation of others. No matter how much welove our lone-wolf heroes, or our solitary pioneer individualists, the leader’ssuccess grows out of communal soil. Leadership can only be considered asuccess if it results in many individuals working in synchronized harmony.How does a good leader develop this ideal state of cooperation? The key tothis little motivational gambit lies in the power of “win-win.”Rather than imagine leadership as a series of competitive victories againstyour own staff, you must realize that your ultimate success is the result ofsuccessful alliances, shared victories, and plentiful rewards for effort andresults. What valuable rewards do you offer the people around you as youwork to accomplish your organization’s goals? How can you make as manyinteractions as possible “victories” for your followers, rather than defeats?What services and benefits do your people need that you can not onlyprovide, but provide in ways that further your organization’s aims? Whathelp can you offer that can be turned into not one improved life, but many –including your own?
How does this apply to leadership? It provides the motivation and strongmorale to keep your people passionately committed, proud of their work,and dedicated to your organization. It also changes your entire focus fromnegative forms of discipline, control, and punishment to positive forms ofdiscipline, willing responsibility, and reward. While some people delight incompetition, few of us delight in conflict or persecution. Learning to think interms of providing rewards and increasing justified pride, rather than metingout punishment and shame lets you perform a sort of mental jiu-jitsu, tossingyour worst instincts on their head, and using the momentum to improve yoursituation.Almost all of us want, and at some time in our lives need, mutual supportand cooperation. Looking out for number one is often a way of thinking thatcloses the door to help and hope – and when hope is gone and help isunobtainable, motivation withers. A good leader realizes that this is true ofstaff and employees, as well as it is of anyone else, and uses it to strengthenthe organization. When a leader focuses on helping followers reach a goal inthe comfort of mutual satisfaction, shared respect, and confidentsupportiveness, morale is high and motivation becomes easy to maintain.How do you know you are making progress in your quest for leadershipsuccess? When your people begin to come to you, rather than when, overand over, you have to go find them. That is not intended to suggest thatanyone should ever stop reaching out – it is a comment on the nature ofleadership. You are succeeding when your workers start seeing you as apowerful and admired resource, not a dreaded problem.I have always known when my leadership skills were in tune and in synchwith my community when people start approaching me for advice. I know,then, that the people around me know I will respect them, listen to them, andprovide them with insights they might have missed, and approaches that willserve them well. They come to me for leadership, and follow my leadbecause they believe it will be to their benefit. Recognizing Dignity: Yours and TheirsIf you wish to motivate yourself and others, providing strong leadershipthrough positive encouragement, what one virtue do you need? Whatleadership quality other than integrity trumps the rest? Some would say
authority: the ability to coerce workers into cooperation, even when they arereluctant. That, however, is poor leadership, not good leadership. The trueleader has willing followers; only the poor leader drives people from behind,with a whip.Coercion is the vice that opposes the best motivating characteristic you canlearn. To coerce a follower, you must first deny both his dignity, and yourown, treating him as a brute to be bullied, and yourself as a lout: gracelessand brutal. Good leaders respect and support a constant state of dignity –their own, and that of their followers.“Dignity” is often a misunderstood word. People think it means stuffy,pompous, and even arrogant. Instead, human dignity is the sense of one’sown value and worth, and the certainty of others’ worth. Dignity offers threethings: the certain conviction that you are deserving of your own best efforts– that your goals, dreams, hopes and fears, skills and insights are worthy ofyour workers’ attention and respect. Second, dignity dictates that yourworkers are likewise worthy of your best efforts – each with gifts to give,and precious contributions to make, fully deserving of the respect andadmiration of their peers and their superiors. Finally, dignity suggests that, ifthe worth of the individuals of an organization is enormous, the worth of thatorganization as a living, breathing community is close to infinite.Dignity allows us to give ourselves fully to our shared goals because indoing so, we serve both ourselves and others. Think again of the greatdignity of a Helen Keller, or a Martin Luther King: each in different waysaccepted the primary conviction that they and those they led were worthy oftheir goals. Helen Keller, in the face of common conviction that herblindness and deafness made her something less than human, was willing tobelieve she was fully human, and capable of becoming an exceptionalhuman. She accepted the premise of her own worth even when she was notyet victorious. Accepting that she was worthy from the beginning, she alsoaccepted that it was worth her effort to become more worthy.Martin Luther King, in a time when his race was considered inherentlyinferior, refused to believe he was less inherently valuable than any otherperson. He chose, instead, to recognize that he and his people were as deeplyand profoundly precious and carried as much potential as anyone – and,from that, he recognized that they were worth the struggle to be givensimilar respect and recognition from the world around them. For King, much
of this conviction grew out of his belief in God, and his understanding of allpeople as God’s equal and beloved children. Others, though, have foundsimilar conviction regarding the nature of human dignity in other traditionsand philosophies.The point is that only if you allow yourself to believe in your own worth,and in the worth of your followers, can you marshal your energy andresources and lead your teams to success in their goals. It is truth, it is theleader who already thinks the worst of himself and who fails to believe inthe value of his own subordinates who is least likely to succeed. As cliché asit seems, in leadership, low self-esteem and lowered expectations lead tofailure. HumilityIt may seem odd to jump from dignity to humility. Again, in our culturethere is a tendency to consider humility a matter of low self-esteem. Humbleis seen as self-hatred.In fact, it is quite different. Humility is the ability to honestly assess yourorganizations’ and your own shortcomings, and equally honestly recognizethat, while perfection is generally out of our reach, improvement is not.No one ever led their forces to great victory without profound humility.Humility is the courage and honesty to recognize where you can change forthe better. Without this calm, quiet capacity for precise judgment uncloudedby anger, ego, affection, resentment – and without self-loathing or disrespectfor others – no one can progress.If low self-esteem cripples many leaders, to an equal degree, unjustifiablyhigh self-esteem unbalanced by humility cripples others. Consider the manyshallow, vain, immature bosses you have encountered, convinced of theirown preciousness, sullen and useless in their sense of entitlement. These“leaders” are too proud to improve, because to improve depends onaccepting they were not perfect to begin with.No one is perfect: not leaders, not followers, and not the communities theyform. The more completely you can get past that, the quicker you canprogress in developing your leadership skills and goals. A long, agonizedstruggle with pride and shame makes for good drama, but terrible progress in
life. There is almost no single surrender better for your ability thansurrendering your vanity to honest laughter, and getting over it.By making that choice it becomes possible to weave humility intoleadership, allowing you to change course, give way, praise others, andrecognize better plans than your own. As a humble leader, you realize youronly role is to empower your people to become the very best, rather thandemanding they empower you to pretend you are the very best. A successfulleader is known for the excellence of his or her team, not for personalexcellence. A great leader does not boast about his own accomplishments,but the accomplishments of his people.For this, you must have both dignity and humility: the dignity to believe youand your followers are worthy, but the humility to accept that worthiness isnot the same thing as being perfect from the very start. If you have bothhumility and dignity, you can grow and change without feeling constantshame that you had to. PatienceLeadership also draws on patience. Those who are defeated by the process ofleadership are often tripped up by the inability to accept and prepare for thetime and effort leadership demands.Great leaders may have no tolerance for dawdling and slacking, but theymust have infinite patience with processes and people. Some things are onlydone when they are done, and no amount of pushing, pulling, goading,whipping, motivating, manipulating, and mangling will change things for thebetter. Any effort to speed things up may change circumstances for theworse. An ideal human pregnancy takes approximately nine months, and anyattempt to hurry the process is bad for all concerned. Likewise, thedevelopment of successful strategies, and the effective implementation ofgood plans, demands the right amount of time.Leadership cannot succeed if you lack a realistic understanding of the timeand effort involved in achieving a goal, and the many steps yoursubordinates will have to climb along the way. Success is a matter of hardwork, steady progress, perseverance, more perseverance, and patience – andthe leader must be the most patient of all. The old tale rings true: “Hey,mister, how do I get to Carnegie Hall … Practice, practice, practice!” While
your subordinates do the practice work to succeed at projects that you face,you will have to practice the patience to accept the extraneous hours of laborand frustration that it entails. Developing patience demands the humilitysuggested in the last section – and along with it the realism that humilitydemands.A huge part of strong leadership is the ability to plan for patience by alsoplanning for incremental rewards as you and your team progress. Yourgreatest goal may be your entire team playing the violin at Carnegie Hall, ina bravura group performance of a Tchaikovsky concerto, applauded bythousands. But along the way, you are going to have to allow yourself andyour violin orchestra to take real, honest delight in the first occasion theysuccessfully play a recognizable version of “Three Blind Mice.” Patienceendures best when it is fed a constant diet of little victories, and celebrationsand delight to go with those victories.Plan for that. Build it into your basic leadership assumptions. See your goalsas a process of little steps, each bringing you a bit closer to a final victory.See each of those steps as a very real accomplishment – and allow yourselfto rejoice when you gain those victories. In building this leadership attitude,you strengthen your team’s self-confidence and morale, and your ownmotivation and resolve. Of course, it would be great if you and they were“so motivated” that you could work for eighty years to accomplish onebrilliant victory with no joys or successes along the way. That would be avery tough-love kind of motivation – and it would be a totally unrealisticleadership expectation.By planning for small and manageable steps, frequent rewards, constantcelebration of improvements, you are doing basic motivational maintenance:a necessary skill in a good leader. Just as you would expect to get oilchanges, new belts, fill the gas tank, and have regular tune-ups done on a carfor it to work well, motivation takes regular attention and feeding. You feedit on dignity and hope, on little victories you know will add up over time;you feed it with the knowledge that you are giving good value to respectedcustomers; you take pride in the contributions you make to your world andfield, even when they are just beginner’s contributions. You take joy in thecommunity of others you meet along the way.It is this combination of joys that gives you high-power, armor-plated, grandmotivation and resolve, and carries you through the negative moments, the
losses, the set-backs, and the obstacles that you will inevitably face – andyou will be faced with plenty. The Buck Stops Here: Accepting AccountabilityThere is perhaps no leadership skill more vital than the skill of takingresponsibility, and accepting accountability. If you accept the power andauthority of leadership, you must be willing to pay the price. That meansmany things, but most of all it means knowing you have made the finalchoices, and as a result you are the sole person to take any final blame.Unfortunately, that does not mean you also get to dominate the praise whencircumstances go well. In victory it is vital to give each player their due, andrecognize their contributions. That is right and proper, and the least you cando – you may have had the vision, but they made that vision possible in athousand ways, and often paid a price for their contribution. The praise isshared, forever and always.Blame, however, is yours, forever and always. In taking on the power andauthority to make the final decisions, you also take on the ultimateresponsibility for the outcome, for you are the one who has coordinated allthose many contributions, decisions, plans, processes, and possibilities.That is a hard and weighty truth, and many leaders have broken trying toaccept it. As many have collapsed under the weight of a failure theyaccepted, but could not recover from. But moral accountability is what getsyou through the bad times. That is why it is so important you feed yourleader’s spirit well and heartily on positive skills and attitudes: dignity, win-win mutual victory, patience and tiny rewards, good planning, flexibleapproaches, laughter and humility. You need all that, and more, to keep yourresolve strong and brawny in the face of a disaster.Most of us have run into the old inspirational serenity prayer, by ReinholdNiebuhr: “Grant to us the serenity of mind to accept that which cannot bechanged; courage to change that which can be changed, and wisdom to knowthe one from the other.” When faced with catastrophe, leadership works bestwith a calm, cool pragmatic hope like that at its core. With this sort ofrealism you can accept the responsibility for the most overwhelmingobstacles with grace and courage, and proceed to get up and determine what
can then be overcome – and what must be endured. The very certainty thatsome obstacles will defeat you, but others will not – but may demand greatcourage from you – can strengthen your resolve when difficulty interfereswith your progress toward a goal.When you accept accountability, you will need to stand strong in the face ofdefeatists who will be quick to imply that you can never get back up – youcannot, your team cannot, and your organization cannot. It is after defeat thatyou must be most profoundly the living avatar of leadership. We livesurrounded by men and women who will knock us down with all the vigorand verve of the passionate self-righteous. As you accept the failure, takeresponsibility for it, and prepare to get back under way again, they will laughat you and your team’s pride in small victories, scorn your win-winphilosophy, despise your humility, loathe your dignity, and leave noopportunity to revile you and reproach you go unused.How do you deal with such a perfect storm of defeatist drivel? It is hardduring losing streaks, when set-backs seem to have swept you off your path,obstacles crop up at every turn, plans require repair and reconsideration, andgoals must be adjusted to recognize new information and understanding. Butas a leader, you must believe, with all your heart, that a single failure neednot destroy all hope of future success – and rather than lying down andquitting in despair and angst, your job as a leader is to provide the exampleand encouragement to get your people back up again. Sometimescircumstance will demand you find a way to do that from the grave, or fromexile, other times you will remain at the head of your organization and retaincontrol. Whatever the outcome, a great leader convinces his people and theworld that it is worth living, to try again.A great leader refuses to allow a defeat – even a string of defeats – to definehim or her team.Failure happens. You can treat failure as the end of your progress, or youcan treat it as a necessary and inevitable step along the way. You may notsucceed the first time, or the second, or the third. No surprise, no deepshock: if you have a big goal, and a great dream, and you intend to reach it –you are going to fail at least once along the way. It will happen, and there isno shame in it. Failure does not have to send you crawling off in defeat, andit does not have to end the dream.
What do you do about it? Get up, take a deep breath, dust off your shoulders,and start over. Did you choose your goal poorly, or define it too broadly?You will have to fix it. Did your plan fail to take certain truths or conditionsinto account? Try again. Did you get too competitive and too focused onyour own victories, and forget the principle of win-win? It happens.