Leading is easy, the hard part is getting people to follow.
– Yogi Berra
I recently attended the International Leadership Associations’s wonderful 10th Annual Conference: “Portraits of the Past, Visions for the Future” that included some of the best international minds, scholars and resources. I resisted the temptation to buy several of the books with tantalizing titles displayed. I have yet to internalize—much less finish— the pile of books on that subject that I have purchased over the past year.
One of the main honorees at the conference was Warren Bennis. Warren is always on the short list, if not at the top, of authorities on leadership in the world. On a personal note, he is my mentor (as he has been to hundreds of other lucky mentees during his career). The most satisfying aspect of our relationship is not just to know him, but to feel known by him.
As he was being introduced and then when he spoke, it was clear that the audience deeply trusted, believed, had confidence in, enjoyed (if not adored) and respected him. As I left the conference it occurred to me that perhaps the key to effective leadership was evoking those experiences in followers.
How as a leader do you spawn those feelings in those you lead? Here are several tips that would do it for me and that would cause me to sign on as an enthusiastic follower:
a. Speak the truth – People will forgive an honest mistake, they won’t forgive you if you lie.
b. Do what you say you’re going to do – Follow through means never having to say you’re sorry.
c. Be transparent and candid along the way – As Louis Brandeis said, “Sunshine is the greatest disinfectant;” never be hesitant to let it shine on you.
d. Take full responsibility for the consequences of your actions and those of people working for you – The buck stops with you, don’t pass it.
a. Be clear and concise – as opposed to confused and confusing.
b. Be prepared to the best of your ability – Don’t shoot from the hip and don’t be afraid to say you’ll get back to us when you don’t know, but then get back to us.
c. Know how to get things done – By getting the right people in the right positions, doing the right things.
d. Have a track record of already getting done positive measurable results – And for the benefit of others (vs. your own ambitions) that you represent
a. Be comfortable in your own skin – Comfort and discomfort are contagious.
b. Put a smile on other’s faces – And cause others to feel that they put a smile on yours.
c. When you smile, have it touch your eyes (and when possible your heart) – The eyes are the royal road to the soul and not a bad lie detector.
d. Don’t take yourself too seriously – Laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you and not at you, and we could all use a good laugh.
a. Know what’s important and what isn’t – Have the wisdom to know the right the thing to do, the integrity to do it, the character to stand up to those who don’t, and the courage to stop people who won’t.
b. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should – When possible, have your personal house in order (you can still lead if people discover your having engaged in personal indiscretions that don’t substantively and negatively affect them, but their positive feelings for you will be sullied by wishing you hadn’t).
We need look no further than the campaign and election of President elect Barack Obama to see how true that is. Whether or not he can build a field for our dreams remains to be seen. We’re all hoping that he will.