Do you have just about three minutes worth of time? Then please read my essay on the topic of leadership. Today more than any time in history are we in need of ethical leaders: At work, on the Internet, in our social networks, at school and of course at home. And each and every one of us can make a start. Like my granddad always told me: You have got to start with yourself?and do not expect others to go first.? Enjoy. Ralf
Our society has a skewed picture about ideal leadership. Rock star-type leaders with exuberant charisma dominate the media and people may believe that this is all it takes to be successful. Quite to the contrary, this showmanship cannot carry an organization infinitely, nor is it satisfying to work for individuals or companies with this leadership attribute. Long term and sustainable success come from leaders who think of others first and then themselves. They share self-awareness, humility and a fierce determination to make the company and its team members perpetually better. Good leaders treat the present moment as the only time they have to make a change instead of treating it as an obstacle or enemy to overcome. Who succeeds them is constantly on their mind they want their companies to be successful long after they are gone.
Research has found that organizations have been most successful with leaders that rose through the ranks of organizations. Some companies were found to have been in business for over 100 years. They owed their longevity to mostly quiet leaders that were determined to do what is right for the organizations. What made them great were in many cases the mistakes they had made first before making a breakthrough. By contrast, Lee Iacocca, Donald Trump and Richard Branson are stereo typical examples of charismatic leaders for most people. No one can argue that they did not have success in business. Though their type of egocentric leadership overlooks the power of teamwork and does not foster creativity of the individual worker. Once their leader leaves, often the business fails to sustain itself.
Bill Gates is undisputedly one of the most successful business leaders of all time. Instead of seeking the spot light he is the picture perfect example of corporate responsibility. He has a strong conviction that businesses should be able to do good whilst doing well financially. You can only do this if you will not let your ego in your way. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is one of the most recent examples of a leader realizing that money is merely the measurement but not the number one goal of an organization. Provide a vision that makes everyone better off and people and profits will follow. Influencing people only works if you earn their respect. There must be substance stemming from great core values and principles that take time to develop. Once they respect you can motivate by inspiring them without having to resort to micromanaging. Honesty, integrity, respect and caring for others are not simply empty phrases, but represent to me what I call a virtuous lifestyle. It helps you to become a better person and subsequently a better leader as well. It works in sales as well as in just about any social or work setting. Leaders are needed everywhere you do not have to be a rock star though.
In 2006, Eckhart Tolle authored a great book: “A New Earth – Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose”, in which he thoroughly discussed how our egos shroud us from seeing the real world. He argued that when our ego wins we all lose due to a lack of self-awareness and that of our surroundings. He drew a conclusion that this effect usually leads to unhappiness in our lives since our inner self is never happy with the current state. A person with an egocentric thinking pattern also finds ways to look superior by e.g. finding faults in others, working in absolute truth terms instead of relative ones, etc. The author was born in Germany and studied at the universities of London and Cambridge in Great Britain. Tolle’s own journey provided the impetus to write two bestsellers including the one mentioned above. He now lives in Canada.
In his 2001 book, “Good to Great,”? Jim Collins researched why some companies continues to be successful for decades, while others subsisted or completely fell by the wayside. Collins used to be a faculty member of Stanford University Graduate School of Business and now works from his own management research laboratory. Great companies were led by what he called Level 5? leaders. Most worked through the ranks of the same organization. They all worked on improving themselves as a person first, and then the company. Their high level of self-awareness kept their egos in the background, which fostered virtuous leadership based on modesty, honesty and integrity. This responsibility to self and the company lay the foundation for the resolve to do whatever it takes to do what is right no matter how difficult the decisions. He made a fabulous point about what poisons any organization: If you maintain good, you will never achieve great (2001).
Bill Gates is one of the most prolific business leaders of our time.?He founded Microsoft Corporation, which revolutionized how we use our computers today. in 2008?he wrote an article for Time magazine called, “How to Fix Capitalism” (2008). The article covers how creative capitalism can make money and save lives. He saw the creative part in corporations pursuing small profit markets and helping impoverished countries with new strategies. He provided multiple examples for instance micro lending money to very small businesses in third world countries. Gates furthermore explained how capitalism does not have to be the reason that underprivileged people exist, but that the creative capitalism model can share the wealth with people who have been left out thus far.
Time magazine writer Josh Quittner reviewed the personal CEO voyage of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg in his July 2008 article, “Facebook: Movement or Business?” CEO Mark Zuckerberg built a company that is backed by investors and has not made a profit. Zuckerberg seemed to not have thought about vision mission statement until he went on a trip to Turkey, where he generated the first one and started to implement it at the company right away. The author is a prolific writer for Time and Fortune Magazine and has co-authored five books with his wife.
Jeffrey Gitomer is currently one of the most experienced and prolific sales coaches in the U.S.A. He has authored five books on the subject of selling based on rock solid core values fostering customer loyalty. One of them is his 2006 book, “Little Black Book of Connections: 6.5 Assets for Networking Your Way to Rich Relationships.”? He holds?more than 100 presentations per year and his customer base includes many Fortune 500 companies. His syndicated column appears in almost 100 business related newspaper worldwide, which is read by literally millions of people. His selling and people philosophy is based on providing value first to people with whom you would like to form a long term relationship with. He asserted that wealth is the result of who knows you instead of whom you know.
The 2008 book, “100 Ways to Motivate Others: How Great Leaders Can Produce Insane Results Without Driving People Crazy,”? is one of 16 books leadership coach Steve Chandler has authored. His recommended that anyone desiring to lead others should invest a great deal of time in addressing your own weaknesses first. Many of his 100 strategies are based on self betterment and leading by example. He furthermore reviewed on all corner-stones of leadership: Early and honest communication, great listening skills, empathy for employees, provided a worthwhile purpose, providing a vision, motivation through inspiring others working off of their strengths and not their weaknesses. Chandler strongly felt that the era of the bossy superior is numbered. The chain of command style leadership covers the insecurities of most of such managers.
John Maxwell provides timeless how-to’s for leadership in his 1998 book, “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.”? One of his strongest points for managers to empower others is the case of Henry Ford, who almost caused the collapse of his own company by micro-managing people instead of empowering and inspiring his workers. Maxwell argues that managers should devote a significant amount of time in leaving a positive legacy behind. He concluded that succession planning is a successful tool in combating losing a whole company when the CEO leaves.? He also authored the book, “The 360-Degree Leader: Developing Your Influence From Anywhere in The Organization.” John Maxwell addresses common myths about leadership. He makes a strong point that you can become a top leader by leading up, across, and down. Such leaders are needed at any given level, ethnicity, etc.
What fascinates us so much about charismatic leaders? Charisma is related to the ego. That is why rock stars are rock stars: They are the epitome of highly charismatic and therefore ego driven individuals. The ego gets in a leader’s way though. For one it is assumed that charisma equals self confidence. Though we like people that exude this self confidence and tend to trust them because of it, that does necessarily meant they always know the answer to every business problem. Another way where the ego gets in a managers way is when it snuffs out everybody else’s creativity and willingness to experiment within the confines of their jobs. Leaders like this tend to be terrible micromanagers. Our ego is the opposite of self awareness, which looks for ways making you look better compared to others (Tolle, 2008). The good news is that the fix is easy, at least for anyone who seeks bettering himself: Reflect upon yourself and increase your self awareness. Any good leader does not strive to become the shining rock star, instead he must desire making rock star of his team members.
Unfortunately, charismatic and often unethical leaders like Enron’s Ken Lay have lowered our respect and expectation level for corporate leadership. Companies are in it only for the money, right? Wrong, they should not be. When good leaders show responsibility, they provide it for the employees, company and for themselves.
Providing a new direction and vision is often seen as the key responsibility of leaders. Companies destined to either become or stay mediocre, select new CEOs based on new directions they can pursue. Collins provides a myriad of examples where such leaders failed to see that the experience and knowledge of what works and what does not, comes from within (2001, p. 254). Good leaders tap into this powerful resource. They first worry about whom they have on the team. They get great people on and the wrong people off the team, then they worry about where they want to go with them. It is imperative to realize how little supervision employees need if they know where they harmoniously fit in and where they must make their contribution. Then employees can use their creativity fulfilling their own purpose all in the context of helping the company to be better. The emphasis lies on the CEO being a good individual with a great portion of self respect and values who is not afraid to amend a plan based on what is good for the organization even if it is not a grandiose sounding marketers dream come true.
Collins’ research project focused on leaders that were able to confront the brutal facts,? (2001, p. 88). They are determined toward achieving long range goals, so long as they are a derivative of a culture of truthfulness. They do not go with ideas that may be popular, but not realistic. Adversity was found to be the vehicle of finding better ways to do things. This is where a strong leader and charisma was found to be quite a detriment to a company’s progress. Such leaders had a much harder time for employees to bring the hard facts to the table in fear of retribution or even ridicule. In working as a manager I learned this the hard way. It is much better to lead by asking questions rather then telling people what to do. Allowing for the inconvenient facts to be voiced is instrumental for any leader. Once you know the truth, any manager can reflect upon it and provide a new direction, together with the people that helped create it.
According to Collins, this inquisitive mind set is best utilized in finding what the one thing is that your company can do well, that people can be passionate about and what also can provide the funds to continue working (2001). This takes dedicated managers and who possess the discipline driving all involved personnel to make that happen. That also means that it requires a hefty amount of knowledge and company specific experience that needs to build up for a longer period of time. When less than stellar companies try to fix their problems by hiring flashy outsider CEO’s, they cut themselves short. Such managers may achieve results at first, but rarely sustain a company in the long run. That is really simple to figure out. A rock star type leader is mainly driven and motivated by his ego. What happens though when the leader goes away and the ego goes with it? The rest of the company immediately suffers as there is no one who can fill the larger than shoes of the old manager. Good old-fashioned discipline is also necessary after the main company direction has been generated. The routine fosters trust and commitment management. Results are achieved, measured, communicated and perpetuated.
Bill Gates may be well known, but he does not fit the profile of charismatic, chest beating leader. In his recent Time magazine article, “How to Fix Capitalism,” he reviewed how overall life on this planet has gotten better for people, but billions of people have not been able to ascend from poverty (2008). In essence he pleads the case for more companies and their CEOs to explore ways to prosper whilst elevating more people into better lives. Though markets conventionally thought of as depressed, can be tapped into if entrepreneurs are willing to review and adapt their rich world business philosophies to make them work in such areas. What struck me here were two things: On one hand Bill Gates provides ingenious thoughts on how make capitalism work better for more people. Second, he has been more of a quite type leader who puts the needs of an even priority level with everyone else. Some may say that he does no longer need to worry about earning a living and that he thus can devote much more time and money to good causes. Concededly it does help him to not having to worry about money as much, but he seems to genuinely believe in doing good deeds for people who can barely make it through the day.
A Time article about Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg provides an insight of a work-in-progress leader (2008). Zuckerberg fits the profile of charismatic leader. He built a company that is backed by investors that have trusted him enough even though it has not made a profit yet. While the rock star has been fed by media and Facebook fans looking at its rising usage as sign of a movement rather than a steady revenue stream, the investors look at it strictly as a business model. Mark’s journey is now at the verge where charisma and fans alone will no longer guarantee financial success. Since his trip to Turkey he appears to be on a path of self discovery, awareness, in which the business goal is not only money (Tolle, 2008). He realized that he was lacking a proper vision and mission for his organization. Simply put: Build up an organization on sound core values and customers will come supporting your organization with revenue. Money is not pursued, it is attracted. I take great comfort that amongst many bad examples of bad egomaniacs, there seem to be cases where top managers are still capable to do the right thing.
Sales positions are often filled with rock stars, but the most successful ones are the one who leave their egos at the door. Salesmen are leaders of sorts; they must be trustworthy enough such that customers will consider their proposals over others if they are less risky. They must not only lead the whole sales process, but also represent the order fulfillment cycle. Leadership skills are necessary to have the courage facing new prospects. Sure dressing to the nine’s and being able to show off has never hurt during the sales contact. This is not a very effective sales strategy though. It is much better if you connect with people by providing value first without a background agenda. You make yourself deserving to be contacted by the prospects since you enjoy their respect based on what you were willing to do for them without them ever asking for anything in return it – not because of your persona. This is not about whom you know, but who knows you (Gitomer, 2006).
In the context of leadership there is the misconception that controlling people and being decisive means leadership. This could not be farther from the reality. In controlling others you may look like the shaker and maker of people and profits when in fact all you do is making your direct reports miserable and you cannot control anyone 24/7 anyway. This has much more to do with yourself rather than the one whom you would like to manage. Being bossy stems from lacking self confidence. You should possess the self awareness enabling you to lead yourself first. Then you can also lead others, because they want to follow you and not because you control their every move (Chandler, 2008). By contrast it is a great motivational tool if others see you grow. As you better your own leadership skills, you will help inspire the desire to do better and personally grow as well (Chandler, 2008).
Empowering people whom you want to manage is the key to long term success in business and contributes to your mental health. A bad example of a brilliant and charismatic leader that failed to realize the potency of empowerment was Henry Ford. The stages of his ego based leadership style are classic. He was a brilliant inventor and entrepreneur that led the Ford Company to become a dominant car manufacturer. During his later tenure at Ford, he neither worried about succession planning, nor did he believe in coaching managers to become leaders (Maxwell, 1998). All this did was that he became the bottleneck and therefore the hindrance for his organization’s growth due to him having to sign off on anything requiring a managerial input. While it may feel great to be needed sometimes, it is only fun for a while and only for very few individuals. This is very egotistical and there are plenty of companies that are no longer around because of the effects of this leadership style.
Leaders are needed everywhere. You lead your own life, your family, in our social networks, your company, and many more places. Leadership in a nutshell is all about being able to influence people. Occupying an important position is worthless when you want to lead people; they will follow leaders who genuinely care about them. Now just remember Princess Diana. Prince Charles enjoys all the privileges a charismatic leader could dream possessing: Money, wealthy friends, privileges and the possibility to still become King of England one day. We remember more about the good things Diana did. The whole world was in awe over what this woman was capable of doing. It was not because of her status that she managed to influence so many people. She genuinely cared about people. Her good core values and empathy made her the person whom we shall remember for a long time to come.
Time will tell if our societies will ever adopt a different view about ideal leadership. Currently dazzling manager personalities rein our imagination when we picture ideal leaders. It is really sad when you consider how many great managers we hear nothing about since they are living in the shadow of the few high roller managers. Great leaders learn to lead themselves first before they attempt to influence people. Solid core values and principles are the foundation to long term success in business and especially life in general. Frequent self-reflection and meditation are part of the journey tackling our egos. When we let our egos win, we all lose. It is so much better to inspire people. It lets us tap into their human potential instead of wasting our energy in trying to control processes and people. Once self-awareness kicks in we can serve others, provide value to society, have empathy for others and pave the way to becoming great managers. Charisma alone is to leaders what a one-hit wonder is to a rock star -?a flash in a pan.
Chandler, S., & Richardson, S. (2008.) 100 ways to motivate others: How great leaders can produce insane results without driving people crazy. Franklin Lakes, NJ: Career Press.
Collins, J. (2001.) Good to great: Why some companies make the leap … and others don’t. New York, NY: HarperCollins.
Gates, B. (2008.) How to fix capitalism. Time. 172. 40.
Gitomer, J. (2006.) Little black book of connections: 6.5 assets for networking your way to rich relationships. Austin, TX: Bard Press.
Maxwell, J. (1998.) The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership: Follow them and people will follow you. Nashville, TN: Nelson Business.
Maxwell, J. (2005.) The 360-degree leader: Developing your influence from anywhere in the organization. Nashville, TN: Nelson Business.
Quittner, J. (2008.) Facebook: movement or business? Time. Retrieved 08/09/2008 from http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1826081,00.html
Tolle, E. (2006.) A new earth – Awakening to your life’s purpose. New York, NY: Plume.