Attention must be paid! — Linda Loman (fictional wife of Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman)
It is not a stretch to point fingers at leaders these days. Missing leaders. Bad leaders. Toxic leaders. In every sphere of life. And, as Arthur Miller penned in his most famous work, someone needs to pay attention. So, today, we take up the challenge.
I offer these proofs from recent headlines and stories:
· Bad leadership has destroyed Nigeria, ‘land flowing with milk and honey’
· 2021 — The story of a year in 12 leaders (indicts leadership efforts of: President Biden, Turkey’s Erdogan, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon, China’s Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel from Germany, and of course, Vladimir Putin)
· Mark Driscoll disgraced leader of the Mars Hill Church
· Nancy Pelosi and the congressional machinations to remove her as Speaker of the House
· Fauci — the risks of being in the news everyday for the past 18 months: Hero or Headed to Jail?
· Former White House doctor predicts invoking the 25th Amendment or the resignation of President Biden
· AWOL Texas legislators
The list goes on and on. Books are written about corrupt and inept leaders. Movies. TV series. Rarely do we hear about healthy leaders and their work. Good doesn’t “bleed” so why should those stories “lead?” They don’t.
Even the briefest online search reveals article after article describing bad leaders. And, in almost all the lists, bad leaders hold these qualities in common:
· Conflict avoiders
· Poor communicators
· My-Way-Or-The-Highway mindsets
· Unethical behaviors
· Narcissistic behaviors
· Lack of vision
· Smartest person in the room dynamic
· No empathy or self-awareness
· Not focused
· Not caring or respectful of others
· Power-trippers who don’t empower others
· Don’t accept blame or are not accountable
· Terrible listeners
· Not adaptable
And worst of all,
· NO INTEGRITY
I don’t really feel a deep need to dig more deeply into any of the listed issues. Many of these have been addressed in previous blogs. Please visit my blog site at medium.com to find those should they hold a particular interest or relevance for you.
But I do want to address several important strategies to help you (or someone you know; pass this along if appropriate) become a better leader.
So why is this discussion important?
Our world is, in so many ways, spinning out of control: spiritually, financially, morally. The root causes of each of those is a discussion for book-length analysis. But from an organizational perspective, there is great value in identifying why, according to Gallup research, an astounding 70 percent of U.S. employees show up to work not fully committed to give their best. Add to those sad numbers, 52 percent of those workers are basically sleepwalking through their day, and 18 percent of them are busy acting out their unhappiness. Why has the church dropout rate risen to 64 percent? Toxic leadership leads to toxic work and worship environments. And since the pandemic, more and more are choosing NOT to return to the workplace or to church.
This truism hasn’t changed: A leader doesn’t mange people. You lead people. You manage the work.
So here is a How To list of strategies for the True North leader. These strategies are based on truths healthy leaders must face. Rate yourself on each of these. And then, let’s talk.
1. True North leaders don’t create fear. They exorcise it!
This list begins and ends with the Twins of Great Leadership. I John 4:18 summarizes this truth, There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. (NIV) And risking redundancy, I include The Message’s version, There is no room in love for fear. Well-formed love banishes fear. Since fear is crippling, a fearful life — fear of death, fear of judgment — is one not yet fully formed in love.
The healthy leader does everything possible to enunciate a vision. And then enlist everyone to participate in it. And that, without a hint of coercion. I recently heard a leader end his conversation with one of his most brilliant employees with, Just remember who signs your paycheck! Threats like that are not what True North leaders do to exorcise fear!
2. True North leaders do everything in their power to build and maintain TRUST.
Since you’ve been asked to rate yourself on how well you employ these concepts, (conceptually) look in the mirror and ask yourself, Is there anything I’m doing that will destroy trust? And then, am I doing everything I can to build and maintain trust?
In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen M.R. Covey highlights several trusting leadership behaviors great companies are known for, including:
· Creating transparency
· Confronting reality
· Practicing accountability
· Talking straight
· Righting wrongs
3. True North leaders are strong communicators. But even better LISTENERS.
We all know that listening is the first step to great communication. It’s not about how brilliantly you write or wordsmith your public speeches. The power of communication begins when you truly listen to others.
Too many leaders (for many of the reasons listed above) don’t take the time, or don’t care to attend to feedback from their teams. A leader who listens well, does so from a motivation of accountability and transparency — that leader wants to self-improve and thus, create an environment of growth and progress across the enterprise. Listening leaders are able to filter out criticism to find critique. They probe with questions that lead to clarification and new ideas. Their focus is on the future, not being mired in the past with its failures (or even successes).
Listening allows the True North leader to always challenge the process.
4. True North leaders find the good and positive even under dire circumstances.
What is required for this level of positivity? Emotional intelligence. These leaders view stressful situations from a more positive perspective. Life’s little “curve balls” always offer opportunities to pause, take stock of the situation, learn, grow and move forward with renewed energy and focus. And there’s an added benefit to being positive: less stress.
King Solomon wisely observed, I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. (Ecclesiastes 3:12). Or take it from his aging father, King David, Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
5. True North leaders know how to say “No!”
Boundaries. Since we’re self-assessing here, how well do you guard your time and energy? Warren Buffet warns, The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘no’ to almost everything.
It’s really about priorities, right? Knowing if you’re drifting from the mission. Avoiding distractions or negativity (and the people who introduce those into your day). Do you say “no” to overworking? To neglecting your health and self-care? Do you prioritize family and spiritual connections?
True North leaders who say, “no,” far more often are more able to say a resounding “yes!” to the really important matters.
6. True North leaders love and cherish their people.
Not the first time I’ve prescribed this one. But once true, always true in this case. What does this look like in real-time application?
· Love is an action. Not a feeling.
· Demonstration of valuing and caring.
· Clearing away obstacles to empower greater effort.
· Truly knowing your team members and caring about their life.
Many of you know of my great disdain for the Green Bay Packers (and how often they defeat my beloved Chicago Bears). But no one can ignore the genius of their greatest coach, Vince Lombardi. His explanation is clear, I don’t necessarily have to like my players and associates, but as their leader, I must love them. Love is loyalty, love is teamwork, love respects the dignity of the individual. This is the strength of any organization.
Please indulge this adaptation from the Declaration of Independence, we True North Leaders hold these six truths to be self-evident. And what the greatest True North leader requires of us is also quite evident, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22)
Dr. Mintle holds an earned Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership. He has served in executive positions across a broad range of media organizations and as a dean in two universities. This and previous blogs now provide conversation fodder for a group of True North Leaders online. Join us at True North Leadership on Facebook.