What’s wrong with this picture?
The picture above of the Leaning Tower of Pisa reveals the normally bent-over tower shown to be standing up straight (well, almost…) This classic icon, known for centuries to be erected on a weak foundation, is posing in this slightly twisted picture as a strong monument that is built to last.
This altered image intimates that the strong tower is built on a strong foundation that will not yield over time. But we ALL know the truth… It’s failing for all to see.
A Firm Foundation
Unfortunately, the image of an over-correcting pillar that is trying to compensate for a weak foundation is the very image of many leaders today.
They manipulate their image to make it seem like they are standing tall on a foundation that will last.
But in reality, they are nothing more than a pile of rocks standing on a weak and collapsing foundation.
They spend a lot of time shaping their reputation as their entire world is falling over.
Building That Foundation
In over 3 decades of leadership, I’ve hit on one quote and eleven “premises” on which I have based my approach for being an authentic leader who does so from a firm and stable foundation. While we don’t have room here for all eleven, I wanted to list my Top 3 Premises on which the best foundations are created
The quote that sticks with me as the defining one on leadership comes from the author Rick Brookhiser:
“One hundred percent of leadership is showing up, and doing the right thing – and doing it again, and again, and again.”
That’s about as simple a definition as I’ve ever seen.
Top 3 Premises
The Top 3 Premises that build the strongest elements in a leadership foundation are these:
1. Who you are is more important than what you do.
This says character trumps everything else. Try as you might, massage it all you can, you can’t escape basic character. You can do all the “right things” as a leader — and it’s good to do the right things — but who you truly are (under the skin, so to speak) is, eventually, who your people will come to know.
Good News & Bad
- So the bad news is you can’t “fake” (at least not for very long) who you are.
- The good news is you can change your character based upon the choices you make.
It’s not easy, and it’s not quick. Breaking habits never is; but it can be done.
Don’t believe it? Talk to the people in AA.
Therefore, as a leader, the options are stark: choose character first.
2. Leadership is about influence, and influence starts with connecting emotionally with others.
As John Maxwell says, a good definition for leadership is that “Leadership is influence, nothing more, nothing less.”
And while it’s a cliché, it is true that “people don’t really care how much you know until they know how much you care,” about them and their situation.
And this brings us to the litmus test of leadership: Getting people to do what you want them to do, because they WANT to do it.
How is that possible without an emotional connection?
People have to realize that you know something about them, see that you’re invested in them, understand that you care about your relationship with them, and believe that your relationship has meaning beyond the utility of the work and achievement of the goals.
In other words, it can’t just be about the work, or achieving the goals. People exist in spheres outside of the job, and your connection to them must extend out there as well.
3. Ultimately, all motivation is self-motivation.
In any field where people are on their own to do things on your behalf, they have to WANT to do things right, not just know how to do things right.
- Besides a gun to someone’s head, why do people carry out mundane, deadly, disagreeable, or unpleasant things that they’d rather not have to do?
- Why do soldiers attack an enemy position when death is all but certain?
- Why do condemned prisoners walk into the execution chamber, rather than be carried or dragged?
They do it because – for some reason, at some level – they choose to do it.
People cannot be coerced to do a good job or to do the right thing. At some point, coercion breeds backlash, leading to micromanagement, and attrition.
This is not a good way to go through life…
Therefore, I believe this is clear: A leader cannot motivate people, They can only create an atmosphere where people want to motivate themselves.
Is there any doubt this is true?
There are LOTs of good resources out there. Like you, I’ve read a bunch of them, and in addition to Maxwell, the author who really put it together for me was Ron Willingham, whose 1997 book The People Principle, was the foundation and touchstone for a leadership seminar I taught for almost ten years.
So who are you as a leader? On what premises have you used to construct your foundation? Are you an authentic person who leads others, or are you twisting the truth for appearances? What principles guide your leadership philosophy and actions? How important is it to have a consistent set of principles worked out and available? I would love to hear your thoughts!
Image Sources: roadlesstravelled.com.au, ameliastrauss.com, blog.classicist.org
- Leadership According to Leroy Jethro Gibbs (linked2leadership.com)
- It’s not always about leadership (empwaynek.wordpress.com)
- Leadership Courage: Your Formula For Success (linked2leadership.com)