On the heel of the election, this is not a political article. But I want to start with a book I just finished reading called Presidential Leadership compiled by James Taranto and Leonard Leo. So much has been written on leadership, probably because it is the #1 key driver for families, businesses and countries.
In Presidential Leadership each president was ranked from best to worst by scholars, historians, former politicians, and columnists. With no surprise, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were ranked as the best and Warren Harding and James Buchanan as the worst.
Regardless of where they ranked, each president brought unique experiences and skill sets. Some were great men before their election and were mediocre or even failures as presidents. Others were not considered substantial until they were elected president and then showed up in history as extraordinary.
In trying to determine if the good ones all shared similar characteristics, 4 themes emerged:
- Ability to handle stress internally and externally and display necessary courage.
- Willingness to seek and listen to counsel but be able to make decisions on their own.
- Ability to subjugate their ego for the welfare of others.
- Ability to create and sustain a vision for the future.
Those ranked at the bottom either did very little to influence the direction of the country, were embroiled in scandals, or had very few personal convictions.
Developing leaders in our businesses is probably the most important mandate that we have. Decisions made today will profoundly impact what our companies will look like 2, 5, 10 and 20 years from now. Mark Twain’s quote is a wake-up call for companies as well as individuals: “Plan for the future, because that is where you are going to spend the rest of your life.”
Whether you are making succession planning decisions or are in the line-up of high potentials ready for more responsibility, there are multiple influencers that determine who gets the nod and who doesn’t. Even in companies where there are seemingly anointed, perfectly resumed individuals aligned for the next step, when advancement decisions are made, there are always intangible factors that matter.
The first is the ability to handle stress and even be energized by problems. Business is all about solving problems and generally there will be a true crisis in most businesses about every 3 months. Stress-hardy professionals will experience failures and learn from them every time. They don’t stay down long, but develop the resilience to bounce back each time. As leaders we need to look at stress as normal, not abnormal, and take charge.
King Solomon is generally considered the wisest person who ever lived, but paradoxically, most scholars credit his ability to lead, with his ability and eagerness to seek outside counsel. Each of us needs our a personal board of advisors; intelligent, committed people who have the background, the perspective and the commitment to tell us the truth.
The worst leaders are those closely associated with their huge, blinding egos. As leaders in any company, they don’t engender support or new ideas because their actions are self-serving. They promote and protect themselves, not their teams, which leaves significant talent untapped and companies less able to meet the future. Confident leaders, who suppress their need to control and dominant, who don’t self-promote but team-promote, will have long runways and satisfying professional lives.
Creating a vision and getting others to buy into it is no easy matter. But individuals who only deal and react to what is right in front of them, who are willing to be average in their thinking, who don’t show others a better way, are not destined to be great leaders. Anyone employed in an organization is a leader if he or she engenders and motivates others to think larger and act on ideas that hold promise for a better future.
The single most important decision for you or your company to make is to actively create bench strength by developing the high potentials in your organization. While it is easier to react in crisis planning because there is no choice, people and companies are left scrambling because there isn’t strong leadership in place ready to take over.
Starting leadership development in relatively calm, stable times is more difficult because complacency sets in. However, it’s in these times that the best planning is done.
No matter what cycle your business or personal career is in, commit to identify opportunities, intentionally develop skills and capabilities, work with mentors and sponsors, and become the leader that you would want to follow.