Sunday, February 27, 2011

Great Leadership In Troubled Times

When one reads the headlines of the day it is clear that we live in troubled times.  The Middle East and Africa are ablaze, pirates sail the seven seas, Central America is mired in drug wars, and here at home our national, state and local politicians struggle to balance fragile budgets teetering on the edge of bankruptcy.

Today, it becomes easy to believe that "desperate times call for desperate measures."  And, perhaps this is true.  The problem is that when leaders become desperate they often loose sight of what it is to be a leader, and what great leadership might look like.

Leaders are human, and subject to the same pressures that affect us all.  Public opinion is a powerful force.  It is tempting to take popular positions because by doing so leaders can feel supported, loved, and admired.  They may also believe that they have chosen a wise course of action. 

However, as the plaque posted in the Council Chamber of at least one Southern California city states:
What is right is not always popular.  What is popular is not always right.
Great leadership requires more than saying or doing things that make a large number of people happy.   Great leadership requires vision, a connection to reality, strong ethics, and sometimes, exceptional courage (Peter Koestenbaum) (One of the first blog posts in this series provides a quick overview of these attributes.)

Great leaders are those who will take the time to define "what we are trying to create as a result of our effort." (Peter Block Great leaders are those who understand that it is usually not the first answer that comes to mind that is the best answer.  Great leaders are those who will go deeper, beyond the obvious answers like "We are trying to balance our budget.", "We are against raising taxes.", "We are against cutting programs."  Great leaders are the ones who see, and can help other see, the connections between our vision for the future and our current reality, understand our ethical challenges, and expose their courage to act in a visible and transparent way.

If you are a leader, take time to reflect: 
  • What is your vision?  Does it go far enough to answer the question "what are we trying to create as a result of our efforts?" (Click here for more on the importance of vision.)
  • Are you connected to reality, and not just a point of view? (Click here... and here for more on Reality.)
  • Do you understand the ethics of the situation?  Remember, ethics is more than following the law. (Click here for more on Ethics) (Also, this article - Ethics and the Prince - may be of interest.)
  • Do you have the courage to do what is right?  What is right may actually be what is popular.  But it also may require opposing popular opinion.  Do you have the courage to act? (Click here and here for more on Courage and Free Will.)
  • Talk about each of these points with the people you trust and value.  Don't exclude those who disagree with you.  They may be the ones who can be of the most help in clarifying your thinking.
Finally, one of the biggest challenges of the world we live in is that great leaders are often not recognized until the danger has passed.  It is likely that your efforts won't be recognized until the smoke has cleared and history is being written by the survivors.

Leave your ego at the door.  Do your best.  Invite others in to help.  And, we will all get through these troubled times.