Thursday, June 12, 2008

Wanted: Leaders who lead.

Everyone wants to be a leader these days. And why not. Leaders have the power to make things happen - to change people's lives, and possibly the world. Real leaders make a difference to others, not themselves. And yes, "leaders" usually make more money.

So when it comes to measuring leadership acumen, how do you know you are being a good leader? Well, let's paraphrase what the good leadership books say.

You are the kind of person who needs to understand where you are going, where you have been, and how you are going to get there. You can see the big picture and 5 feet in front of you at all times. You find yourself talking about the future, and what you are planning to do next. You get excited about making things happen. Wandering is not your style; you work with purpose, and do things on purpose. You like the sound of success and better yet, you know it when you see it and feel it. You are proud of your accomplishments, and even prouder of your team’s accomplishments.

Yep, that's what all the leadership books say about successful leadership. Who can argue with selfless visionary determination, spiked with inspiration and passion? However, none of the above is measurable. It is all subjective.

I measure a good leader in more tangible ways. Do I want to work for that person? Does my leader make me want to be better and do better? Is he silent about his own success, but celebrates mine and others' successes? When he fails, does he shout it from the rooftop and asks for forgiveness, letting me know that being human is OK? When I fail, does he support me and help me to recover? Does she see my strengths before I do? Does he bring out the best in me? Do I ask myself, what would he or she do in this situation? Have I grown as a result of this person's encouragement and teaching?

If I could ask all the aspiring leaders in the world one question, it would be this: What do you do when you fail? This is a critical question because failure is eminent and it's what you do when you fail that shows the character of the person. As human beings, we all fail eventually at something, yet we are not socialized or taught to accept and celebrate failure. For example, in sports, everyone cheers when the team scores. And why not? It is a victorious moment and it allows us to celebrate the skill, stealth and athletic prowess of the player to scores the goal. We try and placate the losers by recognizing that they tried hard and it was just an off night. We celebrate wins and make excuses for losses. We are doomed to be unsuccessful perfectionists by the way we have been raised, praised and promoted. Going from the school play ground to the corporate play ground, we promote people based on technical skill and prowess, using their own scorecard to quantify and celebrate their achievements. Truthfully, I never want to work for one of these "manufactured leaders".

The reality is we are all human, and none of us are super human stars to never fail or miss? We all screw up from time to time, and that's the way it is. It's just a matter of time. So why do we persecute the ones who screw up from time to time, now that we are adults and have supposedly grown past the adolescent game playing? Don't we realize that the way we treat others is how we in the end are treated?

I admire people who try to do good things, regardless of whether they make mistakes along the way or not. Sometimes when you take risks, or go out on the limb for something important, mistakes can happen. Even more, I admire the person can make mistakes and admit them to others. Loudly. These are the people that I know I can trust. And I would happily call them my leaders.