People Power - October 2012
By Scott Humphrey
Probably no subject is more written about than that of leadership. There are likely more seminars and conferences focused around this topic than all others combined. More people’s lives are impacted positively and negatively by those trusted with the responsibility of leadership than can be numbered.
With an election facing us that will impact the future of our lives and the lives of generations to come, there is no more opportune time than now to approach this issue once again. I would like to challenge all of you to open your minds and think not about your position or party affiliation, but about true leadership and the power to influence this and future generations. I want to challenge you to look at the power of influence and this position of leader. In reality, what we need are not more politicians or power mongers. What we need are those willing to stand up and take on the responsibility and privilege of “True Leadership.”
For those of you who feel this is going to be an article on politics, I apologize for disappointing you. Influence can occur at multiple levels. There is no doubt that we often think of leadership in the world of politics, and the timing of this article would lead somewhat to that expectation. But my goal is to help you bridge the gap and see that the same qualities that identify great leadership on a national political level are essential in all realms of influence: politician, preacher, parent, and positional leaders throughout our society.
Since the launch of People Power, I have written on leadership more than any other topic. It would be an understatement to say that it is a topic I am passionate about. I have spent a great deal of my career focused on identifying leadership qualities in others and working to improve leadership in the corporate world. Since it is likely that most readers of this article are in leadership roles, it is my hope that these lessons will challenge you to realize the responsibility you share as you influence others. Further, I want to encourage you to evaluate your actions and, if necessary, make changes. Here are some key qualities of True Leadership:
True Leadership is less about learning it and more about living it. A true leader understands the power of their example. When I was six years old, my father left a very stable job with the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers and set out to make his fortune in the flooring industry. As I have noted in previous articles, it was a difficult time for my family. Financially we struggled, but as a family, we grew. During the next seven years, I learned many valuable lessons. One of the most valuable that still impacts my actions today was the importance of a strong work ethic.
I began working in our family business, HRH Rug, when I was seven years old. I went there every day after school unless I was involved in an organized sport, and every day during the summers. I worked hard… well, as hard as a 7 year old could work. But no matter how hard I or my brothers worked, we never worked as hard as my dad and his business partner, my uncle. The success of the business was important to them. It meant the wellbeing of our family.
As children working in our family business, I can assure you that my brothers and I were not impacted by what my dad and uncle studied. We were impacted by what they practiced. Likewise, it is your actions that make others identify you as a leader, not some book you read or seminar you attend.
Question: What are you living today that is impacting the lives of those around you and potentially generations to come?
True leadership is less about inspiration and more about influence. Yes, great leaders are often great orators. They have the ability to stir us emotionally and inspire us, but emotion fades. Influence has the ability to impact for generations. Allow me to illustrate my point.
New York Times Bestselling author Andy Andrews, in his book, How Do You Kill 11 Million People?, traces the inspiration and impact of one of the most infamous leaders of modern times. Adolf Hitler began as an average politician with great speaking skills. He was gifted with the rare ability to move throngs of people with nothing more than his words. His oratory skills stirred emotion and national pride in a downtrodden German people. In fact, if you follow the life of Adolf Hitler, you will see that he used his speeches to stir up an entire nation, and to reignite those same people when he felt he was losing his influence. Not all Germans agreed with his positions. In fact, only 10% of the German nation was officially part of the Nazi Party. Yet he used his skills as a speaker to mesmerize and hypnotize an entire nation into following his maniacal scheme.
You may be asking, “How does that relate?” It’s a great question. We are just on the backside of the Republican and Democratic conventions. As a political junkie, I, like many of you, watched a great deal of both conventions and heard some very inspiring speeches. The challenge for us is to base our decision and vote not on words and the emotion that often accompanies those words, but on the substance of those words and the ability to execute what is promised. Likewise, as a leader at home and at work, you must remember that your words may motivate, but your actions are what will truly impact performance both now and for generations to come.
Question: Besides your words, what are you doing to influence the lives of those around you?
True leadership is less about you and more about your team. There is no one running for local or national office that will solve all of our problems. In fact, sometimes personal strength as a leader can be a detriment. Many of those who function well on their own feel the need to be the smartest in the room. The reality is that your impact as a leader is much more predicated on the team that you surround yourself with than it is on your own personal abilities.
As you prepare to vote, I would challenge you to look not only to the person at the top of the ticket, but also to the team with whom they have chosen to surround themselves. Historically you will find that the weakest leaders were surrounded by the weakest teams. Likewise, if you as a leader are intimidated by having people around you who are smarter than you in areas that require expertise you don’t have, you will likely not come up with the best, most creative, most profitable solutions.
Your role as a leader is to remove the barriers to your team performing at their optimum. Your goal should be to “hire the best and train the rest.” You should strive to get them to a level of proficiency where you are able to step away without fearing what will happen in your absence.
Question: Do you have people on your team that are stronger than you in key areas that are pivotal to your success?
True leadership is less about the title and more about the job. Weak leaders spend an inordinate amount of time focused on themselves. They demand respect from others rather than seeking to earn it through their leadership. They are much more focused on the title than they are the position.
Look around you. At key areas of political leadership, we can all see people who won the election but haven’t performed well in the job. Many of these ran for the title, but not for the job. Once they were elected they struggled to keep their heads above water as they fought to raise their competence level. Some, when faced with this challenge, are able to “suck it up” and get the help necessary to perform at a high level, but that is the exception.
That is why, as voters, it is important that we look at a candidates’ record. The best predictor of future performance will always be past performance. One’s history does not lie. How we have performed will most likely predict how we will perform in the future.
Question: What have you done recently to let your spouse, children, employees know that their success matters to you more than your own?
We often think of voting as something that is primarily done to select leaders, and that can be true. There is no doubt that your people vote for or against you every day. How, you might ask?
When an employee chooses to meet your expectations, they are voting for you to remain as their leader.
When your children choose to come to you with the issues that challenge them, they are voting for you as the leader they trust.
When your spouse or significant other chooses to remain with you, even amid the failures that often accompany relationships, they have cast their vote for you.
But the reality is that we don’t just vote for leaders. You as a leader vote for those who work for and live with you multiple times every day.
When you choose to ignore issues that inhibit your people from performing at their best, you vote against them.
When you walk by the employee that is obviously distraught, your lack of caring is a vote against them.
When you give of your precious time to attend the graduation of an employee’s child or go to their ballgame, you have cast your vote for them.
The reality is that neither of our national parties can tout that they have a corner on True Leadership. There are weak and strong leaders in both parties. Unfortunately, both the weak and the strong ultimately impact the lives of their constituents. That is why it is so important that we never cast our vote lightly. The privilege of voting came at the sacrifice of many who were willing to give their lives so that we could freely choose the leaders who should serve us. This November, whoever you vote for, I challenge you to vote for True Leadership.
Copyright 2012 Floor Focus