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Written by: Stephen Brandt
Rather than just think of what makes great leadership, let’s think in the reverse: What is it that creates loyal, devoted, engaged followership? Somebody might think they are a leader, but without committed followers, that person is really just somebody going for a stroll. I have had leaders I would follow to the ends of the earth, as well as leaders that inspired me to a new path just to separate myself from them.
There are essential attributes that have a disproportionate impact on influence: They are multipliers for engagement, effort, loyalty and leadership effectiveness rather than just being cumulative. These attributes are most important to inspire people, to establish credibility, and to gain alignment and commitment from the very heart of people. Transformational relationships and high-performing teams are created and built more on these character and value-oriented attributes (soft skills) more than many leadership competencies (hard skills).
The dictionary definitions of authenticity include “reliability, dependability, trustworthiness, credibility;
accuracy, truth, veracity, fidelity”. Authenticity is a foundational, essential element of leadership. The opposite of this can politely be described as incongruence, and more directly described as ‘phony’, an attribute that repels us. Neuroscience has proven that our brain is highly sensitive to seeking out things that are incongruent, unreliable and untrustworthy because they represent a threat.
When I deliver a conversations training program called “REAL TALK” based on the book “Overcoming FAKE TALK”, authenticity is emphasized and built into the model. I’ve seen inauthentic people manipulate other conversations models only to become a more articulate FAKE TALKers. If we communicate with authenticity our message will have much greater credibility and will stand up under scrutiny. If we lead with authenticity we need not fear being exposed, and we build upon a strong foundation.
We are the most sensitive to the authenticity and integrity related to our dearly held values. How much loyalty did you retain after you first felt an employer lied or cheated you? How stressed do you feel around mood-swing or crisis-mode leaders? Teams/Employees seek consistency because it creates and communicates safety on a neurological level. If you have ever had to keep questioning what kind of ‘mood’ a leader is in, or what crisis mode they might be in today, you know how stressful and challenging that is.
Enduring leadership is contingent upon sincerely caring for and about people. Genuine caring cannot be faked. We are tuned to detect the disingenuous. Our internal caring meters sound alarms when a standard of care is in violation of our expectations.
There is an old saying: “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. People feel a greater sense of mutual purpose and mutual respect when they know their leader truly cares and have difficulty committing their fullest contribution, creativity and effort without it.
Genuine care and respect must be modelled and aligned all the way through the organization. The leader is accountable for creating a culture where respect and caring are not just stated values, but expected of everyone in the organization. Any violation of respect must be defended by all leadership. If people experience anything different, this creates a belief bias that ’we don’t care’, and this bias will spread virally across the organization and quickly erode people’s commitment to followership.
In this economic downturn, the manner in which downsizing experiences are delivered will determine interpretation and the beliefs employees form about how the organization cares for their people. A trade-off of people for money is a turnoff of people for money. People will create their own beliefs based on how they feel valued and respected, and the manner in which we handle downsizing will create a belief bias that will impact engagement and loyalty of the people left on the bus. How we care for people and the dignity we afford people on the way out is direct evidence of how we care for people period.
One of the essential roles of leadership is to effectively cast a vision and a create a compelling mission. Notice that I did not merely say to write a vision and a mission statement. It is amazing how many of them are so vague that it is not possible for somebody to really know if they are winning, or whether their contribution is contributing to the organization winning.
The truly effective leader casts a vision, aligns people with purpose toward a greater cause and inspires motivation from within. They engage hearts and minds, eliciting truly extraordinary effort, commitment, and accomplishment. If all we have for motivation is moving towards pleasure (rewards, compensation) or away from pain (discipline, departure), this is indicative of an opportunity for much more effective leadership.
A really fast way for a Leader to lose influence with people and alienate their followers is to take personal credit for a team or organizational achievement, or suggest that their contribution was the greatest contribution to success. We call this arrogance and it is as off-putting and offensive as anything we can think of.
Humility on the other hand signals to us that this person will increase rather than diminish us. The universe makes it almost irresistible for us to be inclined to be gracious and generous to the humble, and to want to work against and even sabotage the arrogant.
Demanding accountability and ‘holding others accountable’ creates “The Accountability Paradox” – the more people are held accountable the wrong way, the less accountable they actually become. Catching bad guys, throwing people “under the bus”, penalizing the bad apples and finding people to blame are enforcement and compliance and a copout, not effective leadership. The recent Wells Fargo mass fraud fiasco is a really strong example of poor accountability of a Leader (CEO).
The effective leader models accountability – they will See, Own, Solve and Do everything needed to create accountability for the results and behaviour expected of them, their reports and the organization. They will step up to create greater and more positive influence to own and ensure expected outcome and behaviour.
Creating & Owning Culture
Culture cannot be delegated and it must not be left to chance or circumstance. We help leaders purposely craft a culture that ensures the organization achieves their key results and accelerates vision and mission. Effective leadership will purposely and skillfully model and institutionalize the cultural beliefs that accelerate culture change and alignment. Any misalignment then becomes the obvious outlier that can quickly and effectively be remediated.
Most people have heard the saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. At the end of the day culture is the way we actually experience life within an organization. All of the greatest competencies and all of the best characteristics are either strengthened and reinforced, or diminished and dissolved, by the culture that we experience. The importance and the significance of mastering and shaping culture correctly couldn’t possibly be understated. It is about organizational health – use proven rather than experimental practitioners and methodologies.
Human Resource Leadership
The above leadership attributes most influence a high-performance culture of accountability that produces extraordinary results, culture and engagement. These create competitive advantage at an order of magnitude that cannot be achieved with other resources or assets. A great organizational leader is best served and supported by a Leadership and trusted advisor in Human Resources that: a) Is focused on the Transformational rather than the transactional; b) Leverages multiplying characteristics more than cumulative competencies; and c) Brings solutions that contribute directly to, and have a line of sight to business results and organizational effectiveness.
I have had the privilege of following a leader who exhibited ALL of the above essential attributes and there was nothing that I would not do for them. As an HR Leader you are in a great position to help leaders increase their influence by supporting them in developing these essential attributes. Your insight, feedback and support will position you increasingly as a strategic and trusted advisor.
Stephan Brandt, Managing Director, Principal
Door Training & Consulting Canada