People Power - May 2007

By Scott Humphrey

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the value and importance of good sound leadership. In my current position, strong leadership is a must. Having spent the last several years of my career focused on leadership development, I’ve begun to realize that knowing about leadership and being a true leader are not one and the same. True leadership is rare. Where it’s evident, businesses and their employees flourish. Where it’s not, infighting, bickering, fear, lack of vision, and failure are often the norm.

Recently, I had the privilege of spending some time with Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway. Needless to say, his words and opinions hold great value, but it was one comment toward the end of our dialogue that continues to echo in my mind. I asked him to recount a story he had shared shortly after purchasing Shaw Industries, when a student at Dalton College asked him, “Do you consider yourself a rich man?” 

“I know people who have lots of money but are not rich, and I know others who are not wealthy monetarily, but are certainly rich in other ways,” Buffett said.

The same can be said of leadership. There are many people who have positions and titles, but they are not leaders. Still others do not possess a leadership position or title, but their leadership impacts the lives of others every day.

There are two prominent types of leadership: Positional and influential. I’m not a big fan of positional leadership. A title does not a leader make. If the title is essential for leadership, then what do you do with the scores of managers who are forced to face the challenge of “leadership without leverage”? 

Though I’ve worked alongside and observed people with impressive titles who obviously thought those titles qualified them to lead, the reality is that positional leaders seek to teach people through words, but true leadership must be taught through actions. The most powerful leader is the one who dares to influence. 

MSN Encarta defines leadership as “the ability to guide, direct, or influence people.” In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, John Maxwell states, “Leadership is influence—nothing more, nothing less.” 

In this column, I’d like to take a look at leadership that doesn’t work. You may find yourself in the following situations, maybe more than once. If that’s the case, this is your opportunity to change. Here are several reasons that leadership fails:

1. They forget where they came from.

I’ve shared some of my history with you before, but as a recap: I grew up in a ten foot wide trailer. My dad started HRH Rug when I was seven years old. I worked in the mill every day after school and all day during the summers until I was in my 20’s. At age 24 I began my career at Shaw Industries. 

I have great appreciation for the people who are the backbone of our industry. I’ll never forget what it was like to creel, work on an air table, cut rugs, serge and fringe, run a tufting machine, load trucks, etc., all for little or no pay. Those who forget the trials of their growth lose the ability to relate to those who have similar challenges. Our challenges should become fertile learning ground for those who follow. We must not forget where we came from.

2. They believe “what got them here will take them there.” 

It’s so easy to just rely on the tools that created our success. We begin to believe that our past success will carry us. There’s no doubt that high achievers have excelled in some area. It may be their knowledge, their work ethic, their people skills, or their perseverance. We often hear their strengths described when people discuss them (i.e. “Joe is so good with people”). A lady I’m blessed to work with has amazing phone and people skills. I’ve jokingly said to her, “If I were dying, I would want you to tell me. I’m confident you could make me feel good about it.” She’s wonderful with our customers, but if that were the only skill she had, I wouldn’t be real pleased with her performance. It’s very likely that her ability to speak with customers got her noticed and into the position she’s in today, but that skill alone won’t get her where she wants to go. Weak leaders have a tendency to build their careers on a single strength, but what got them here will not necessarily take them there.

3. They fail to plan.

Many people refer to this as “winging it.” As the old saying goes, “He who fails to plan, plans to fail.” Legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant said it well: “It’s not the will to win that matters—everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.” Others practice the philosophy of ready, fire, and aim. It sounds crazy, but often the road to success starts this way. Weak leaders often build their resumes around the skill that got them noticed, and then they pray that no one will discover their inadequacies. 

Ultimately, all of us have the same 24 hour days, the same 8,760 hours in a year. What you do with that time will shape who you become as a leader. Author Basil S. Walsh is quoted as saying, “An intelligent plan is the first step to success. The man who plans, who knows where he is going, knows what progress he is making and has a pretty good idea where he will arrive. Planning is the open road to your destination. If you don’t know where you are going, how can you expect to get there?”

4. They become undisciplined.

I’m amazed how many people in positions of leadership begin to believe that the rules don’t apply to them. If you want data to back this up, just go back and review the headlines over the last several years. Look at names like Kenneth Lay and Dick Morris and note how brilliant men at the top of their field can justify their actions while condemning others. In his groundbreaking book, The Road Less Traveled, Scott Peck talks about the four stages of discipline: delaying gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to the truth, and balancing. He goes further to say that without discipline we can solve nothing. With some discipline we can solve some problems. And with total discipline we can solve all problems.

5. They only own the wins.

We’ve all known this person. They take credit for other’s ideas. They take a good idea and change it ever so slightly, so they can claim it as their own. They blame the failures on others, but take credit for the successes. When Paul “Bear” Bryant was asked the key to his coaching success, he paused for a moment and then replied, “When we win I give them all the credit (referring to his players), and when we lose I take all the blame.”

Robin Crow, in his book Rock Solid Leadership, recounts a story about Colin Powell and Ronald Reagan. Apparently, in one of President Reagan’s cabinet meetings, General Powell presented an idea he was passionate about. This discussion went on for about an hour with Reagan asking tough questions because he felt the proposal had flaws. In the end, he told Colin Powell it was his call and promised his support. 

A few months later, Reagan was grilled at a news conference because the plan had failed miserably. Finally one reporter asked the question, “Whose idea was this; yours or someone else’s?” Reagan replied without hesitation, “I take full responsibility.” He then looked over at Powell, who was sitting in the front row with tears in his eyes. 

After the news conference, Powell was said to have walked over to a friend and said, “I’d do anything for that man.”

You want to gain loyalty from your team? Share the wins and own the failures.

I challenge you to look honestly at your leadership. Some are uncomfortable evaluating the impact their leadership is having on others, but I challenge you to be willing to question why you do what you do. Maintain your focus and sheer determination and you’ll be able to say, as the old Chinese proverb says so well, “Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.” 

Go forth and lead.

Copyright 2007 Floor Focus

Related Topics:Shaw Industries Group, Inc.