Leadership is any influential relationship that brings about change – this can be a teacher/student relationship, a parent/child relationship, a politician/citizen relationship, a business owner/employee relationship, a community leader/volunteer relationship and peer/peer relationship. These ten guiding principles can support leaders in becoming trusted by their followers and for withstanding the challenges of today’s ever-changing world.
1. Leaders must be willing to be highly visible during crisis.
Enron, WorldCom and Martha Stewart… their greed and fraud have further eroded trust in people around the world, and as a result, corporations and business owners are now operating with a brand new set of rules. Building trust requires a special effort on behalf of the CEO or Business Owner to communicate openly, honestly, and often -especially during a crisis or tough times. During a crisis, the stakeholders want to hear from their leader. They don’t want to hear from his or her spokesperson. They not only want to hear from the person at they top, they want to engage in open communication that involves the sharing of information and ideas, and they want to know that their voice has been heard. During turbulent times, it is important to take advantage of all types of opportunities for communication, including open forums, task forces, breakfast meetings, the media, one on one meetings, and stakeholder surveys. More formal methods of communication strategies include feedback assessment or a full communications audit (which may take some months to complete). The goal is to communicate openly and often, and to continue assessing your communications program every day to ensure that a culture of trust is being maintained.
2. Leaders must be willing to take a stand based on their vision and their values.
This does not happen in a vacuum- leaders must be willing to admit that they need strong support from an executive coach or a strong mentor who can guide them to doing the tough internal work required to shift their thinking and to get off the ego trip that many leaders live. They must be willing to carefully explore their values and how they can move their companies in the direction of a vision that is unwavering. This takes boldness, and a leader’s stand must be nailed into the ground and secured with cement! The stand must be so strong that the leader does not become ‘wishy-washy’ during tough times and in the face of controversy. Consistency is key, and the leader must know and believe in his or her stand on a very deep level, from the heart and not because the public relations director told him or her what to do and say. This is a genuine stand that is driven by the leader’s authentic value system that never changes.
3. Leaders must be willing to be fully engaged with the four focus areas of their being: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
These areas of being must also be congruent with the leader’s environment. Leaders of today must be willing to be fully engaged, physically fit, emotionally balanced, mentally tough, and spiritually centred. Leading a strong life is a quest that many leaders run from because it can be tough, but it is crucial if he or she wants to engage followers in a way that is trusting. In addition to strengthening the four areas of being, leaders must be willing to create a strong environment – one that is congruent with leading a strong life. The environment must be clean, clutter-free and optimised for speed, efficiency, and effectiveness. The people and network surrounding the leader must be moving forward and fundamentally strong, and the activities leaders choose must point to a life that is built for change and is rock solid. If the environment is not congruent with the goals a leader seeks, her resources, energy, and effectiveness will become drained over time, and people will no longer be willing and loyal followers. They will seek a stronger leader to turn to for direction and hope.
4. Leaders must be willing to build deep pockets of social capital by designing a network based on diversity.
In the book ‘Achieving Success through Social Capital’, author Wayne Baker advocates the building of networks based on diversity. In chapter 2, he states: “Diversity provides the benefits of multiple perspectives on problems, protection against groupthink, and enhanced ability to collect, process, and digest information. Management teams with members from diverse functional background, for example, perform better than homogenous management teams.” Building a diverse network is a crucial step in leaders being able to build a strong business and personal life. It is not uncommon to see leaders develop homogenous networks, more commonly known as cliques. This is a dangerous approach because the network does not develop the arms and legs it needs to reach the four corners of the globe, to get the resources and knowledge it needs, and it can actually cave in on itself, pulling the company down with it. By reaching into different cultures, ages, geographical locations, educational backgrounds, and belief systems, leaders can build networks that will yield the biggest results and that will be sustainable over time.
5. Leaders must be willing to overcome the growing tide of cynicism in the business world and define an upbeat style of leadership.
In the article ‘A Prescription for Leading in Cynical Times’, authors James Kouzes and Barry Posner discuss this in detail. Cynics are evident in every company in the world. They usually believe that human conduct is motivated by self- interest, and they have a disbelief about the integrity of others. They have high expectations of the world, and they are continually disappointed when the people in their lives donít meet those expectations. To begin working with this challenge, leaders must be willing to drop their own cynical “The World Stinks” attitude and develop the qualities that others say are important to leadership such as integrity, competency, the ability to relate, visioning, inspiration and the drive the build a thriving and cohesive team.
6. Leaders must be willing to push the edges of innovation.
I want to begin by talking about the difference between innovation and creativity. William Coyne, senior vice president for R&D at 3M, once described the difference: “Creativity is thinking of new and appropriate ideas whereas innovation is the successful implementation of those ideas within an organisation. In other words, creativity is the concept and innovation is the process.” Innovation always involves treading into uncertain waters, and entering a new territory can be challenging, even for the most creative of thinkers. Yet falling behind can be a great deal worse than taking the risk to stretch and grow into new markets with new ventures. If companies are to move into the future, leaders must be willing to push the edges of innovation each and every day. Executing an experimental venture requires planning, and it requires revisiting ideas that your company may have put on the shelf years ago, and whose time has now come. It is about zeroing in on the best possible strategy, discovering what systems are needed and what processes will be required to get the job done and to come out on the profit side of the venture. Your new offering should meet the demands of your customers and should be an improvement over the way things are currently being done. As Nike says, ‘Just Do It’! Start today to begin the process of innovation, and see what comes about for the future of your company – you may just be surprised!
7. Leaders must be willing to show their employees that they love and care for them.
There is one truth in life that I firmly believe: with the showing of love and concern, people begin to feel wonderful and more worthy, and their productivity will triple in an environment that is loving. The book ‘Love is the Killer App’ by Tim Sanders focuses on what it takes to create a true ‘Love Biz’ by the giving and showing of compassion, resources, and knowledge without the expectation of anything in return. People will do business with people they like, and this ‘Love Cat’ way of doing business often strikes an uncomfortable chord with leaders who are insecure about their own abilities, or who view a show of love, empathy, and compassion as a sign of weakness. People have to know on a very deep level that their leaders care about them, their future, and their growth. With this loving approach to leading, the talent in organizations will grow, and a sense of self-confidence and commitment will inspire individuals at every level of the company.
8. Leaders must be willing to listen to the grapevine and then build a sense of community based on what he/she hears in the grapevine.
Every company has a grapevine, and it is not uncommon for companies to have a grapevine that spreads negative messages, complaints, and rumors. These messages and rumors can seriously undermine the morale of any company. Leaders must be willing to listen to the grapevine, and use it as a feedback mechanism to highlight key issues that customers and employees consider relevant enough to whisper about at the water fountain and in the community. Leaders can also use the grapevine to monitor which employees and customers are more likely to pass information along, so that the impact of the grapevine can be reduced.
9. Leaders must be devoted to continuous improvement.
Leadership development is mandatory for CEOs and Executive Team, but it is also a necessary part of training for every person in the organisation. So many business leaders of today see leadership development as ‘fluff’ and ‘soft’ but the truth of the matter is that leadership development can improve bottom line profits and productivity. By listening to an employee who is on the front line, and acknowledging her value, a leader can create loyal internal customers and can bring innovative ideas to the table, which can grow a company by leaps and bounds. By strengthening team communication, a leader can create a sense of purpose, loyalty, and long-term commitment to the organisation. One thing to know about leadership development is this: Leaders must not ask her followers to do what she is not willing to do. Many leaders will hire training for their company and will then refuse to attend the training because they don’t need it or think they are beyond it. This is completely out of integrity. The leader must first be a model of what is expected in the area of training, development, and improvement, and must be willing to fully participate in a training that the front line is asked to attend. The leader must develop a culture that sends the message that leadership development is not another undesirable task but a new and fresh way to go about work.
10. Leaders must have a plan.
The late Christopher Reeve once said, ‘If you don’t have a vision, nothing happens’. Strategic planning is about the future impact of decisions made today, and leaders must have a plan that examines the necessities of today and tomorrow in light of the organisation’s vision, mission, values and goals. It is not uncommon to find organisations that either don’t have a strong strategic plan, or they have a plan that is sitting on a shelf collecting dust. This makes absolutely no sense! Leaders must realise that to fully implement change, to satisfy customers, and to promote teamwork from the top to the bottom of the organisation, strategic changes must be made that are driven by a clearly articulated vision, mission, and purpose. Once the strategic plan is written, leaders can then take the steps necessary to ensure that all stakeholders are in alignment with the strategic plan and that they are moving cohesively in the direction of fulfilling the vision and mission of the company.