The True Measure of a Leader
Warren Buffett once said, “You don’t know who is swimming naked until the tide goes out.” He was referring to individuals and their financial stability during tough times, but you can also make the same reference to people who are “impression management” artists, whose real character shows up during adversity.
Leadership is all about adversity – you do not need leadership during easy times. A leader is quite transparent because who they are is on display for all to see. The impression manager is quite different – like the chameleon, they change according to the situation and circumstances. These people tell whoever they are meeting exactly what they want to hear. They are excellent at avoiding meetings with groups of people because accountability occurs in groups. As adversity increases, they will manipulate and enter the “blame game” because there is always someone else who has caused the problem.
The impression management artists are people who never seem to be wrong. They have great justification for their positions, they inflate themselves while deflating others, and they will literally create their own reality. They live in a state of self-deception. David McKay, general manager of GE Transportation, calls it “self-awareness.” Each day before heading out, take a moment in the mirror to check your gauge for “self-awareness.” Get a reality check.
Real leadership is defined by many experts, most of whom are self-proclaimed, but there are five consistent areas of leadership that separate the real from the impression management group. I would call this the “measure of a leader.”
A real leader is passionate but not emotional. Pat Williams, GM of the Orlando Magic, describes it beautifully when he defines maturity: “We expect the five-year-old to throw a fit when denied ice cream in the store; maturity is the ability to control one’s emotional state with consistency.” A person’s reaction to circumstances tells you more about the person than their words or daily actions. How do they handle adversity? When you witness a person who has to use threats, obsessive language, verbal abuse or anger to communicate a point, you know instantly that their true leadership ability cannot be trusted. Their emotional maturity is still that of a child.
A real leader embraces change because they realize that it cannot be stopped. Change is continually happening and will never cease. John Maxwell said, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” Leaders are constantly in motion for improvement. They are adapting to their circumstances and making things happen. Movement toward a target or goal is critical for the success of any organization. There is no position of “constant being.” You are either moving forward or backward, because change is happening all around you.
A real leader provides positive contribution to a situation. An individual in every circumstance is either in a state of “contribution” or “demolition.” You are looking for leaders who are a part of the solution. They are contributing to the results. If you are not a part of the solution, then you are providing demolition to the situation.
A leader knows it is always about the people. Be careful and watch closely the values of the person – it comes out in action more than words. There are many impression management artists that use the rhetoric of “it’s for the people.” Here is the true test of measure – doing wrong for the purpose of right is still wrong. Watch closely as these people justify their actions because they believe the purpose is greater than the actions. The real leaders are full of sincere praise; they are constantly never afraid of accountability. They never let the stuff own them; it is always about the people.
5. Competitive Greatness
The final area is the goal UCLA Coach John Wooden set for us all – competitive greatness. Show up with your best when your best is needed and engage in the process of developing the best YOU. There are no shortcuts and real leaders understand it is a marathon full of mini sprints, while the impression artists are always looking for the shortcut to success, constantly manipulating things in order to create their own perceived value instead of delivering true results. Remember, winning is not the goal, it is the byproduct of achieving your best.
In closing and in recognition of Mother’s Day, the man behind the mask can be measured in pinpoint accuracy with one standard. Great leaders always have an unconditional respect and love for their mothers. Look closely and you will be amazed at what you find.
Jeff Piersall is the co-founder and CEO of SCB Marketing. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (321) 537-4941.