As Warren Buffett commented on the recession, “You know who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.”
And so it is with leadership – lip service abounds when defining the characteristics of leadership. Much of it is from well-intended people who can craft eloquent messages but have never been in the trenches actually leading people. Leadership is defined by crisis; without adversity how do you know who is a leader?
The Chinese character for “crisis” is a combination of “danger” and “opportunity.” Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in war, where on an individual level it becomes the defining moment of leadership: the opportunity is life and the danger is death. There is no escaping the experience of battle – if only we could train people on leadership through combat without the inherent risks. Actually we attempt to do so in many areas.
Finding What’s Really There
- Pilots are not trained on how to fly in clear skies. The flight simulator creates situations of great risk with adverse conditions and equipment failure. A pilot is only as good as his ability to successfully handle crisis.
- As a former college basketball coach, we would create adverse scenarios in practice, using overly aggressive techniques with insane drills, pushing players to the point of exhaustion and fatigue in order to determine which players would crack under pressure and who would rise above the situation. (It’s why you never let parents attend practice; they don’t understand the benefits of adversity when it involves their little Johnny).
- The police practice with target shooting, but the real training comes from the video simulation rooms that are used for hostage situations, school invasions, drug busts, etc.
This type of training is designed to expose “impression management” artists – the individuals who look good, say all the right things, and are so concerned with their reputation that when faced with adversity they freeze or falter from the fear. Be very cautious of the “reputation defenders.” The definition of reputation tells you that it is an unobtainable objective that can lead to duplicity. Reputation is defined as “what someone perceives or thinks of you.” Since you have no ability to control what others think, the illusionary goal or pursuit of a “good reputation” creates a false and pretentious life.
Leadership is Defined by Character
Too many times, people try to define character through personality traits. Personality consists of behavioral tendencies, not the character of a person. An examination of Lincoln, Kennedy, King, Reagan or Churchill will demonstrate a wide variety of personality traits and even social and moral differences. What they all had in common was the true character of a real leader. The virtues of a real leader are timeless and mandatory:
Loyalty / Persistence / Emotional Intelligence / Humility / Passion/ Faith / Vision / Common Sense/ Soundness of Mind / and the sum of all the virtues: Courage.
The separating factor of leadership is action in spite of fear, which is courage. Leaders have an inherent understanding of fear; they recognize that faith and fear have the exact same meaning – the things unseen in the future. Leaders recognize the fear but act with faith, and it is not a spoken faith, but more of an internal drive and belief. There is no such thing as leadership without action.
In athletics, it is the person who wants the ball last and can produce the results needed. Michael Jordan was probably the single greatest example of athletic leadership; he was so good that he even knew when not to be that person at the end of the game. Instead, he elevated those around him to the accomplishment – like Steve Kerr’s 3-pointer at the buzzer from a pass delivered by Jordan to win the 1997 NBA Championship.
What Is It?
So how do you define that hidden, but all so powerful, ingredient? I find it best described as the fine balance of “it is never about you, but it is always up to you.” That provides a compass to know the difference.
In closing, John Maxwell defines leadership as “influence.” This is too shallow of a definition and I do not believe he means to limit it that literally. Though influence is a characteristic of leadership, it is not the central virtue of leadership. The best definition of leadership is offered by Richard Barrett: “The passion to courageously pursue a vision in such a way that it resonates with the souls of people.” This definition encompasses all of the character traits of a true leader; read them again and make your own judgment.
Jeff Piersall is the CEO of SCB Marketing, which publishes i4 Business magazine.
Contact him at (321) 537-4941 or firstname.lastname@example.org