Today I watched a broadcast of The Charlie Rose Show on PBS. He was interviewing two leaders who have written books about their lives: Bill George, former CEO of Medtronic and now professor of management at Harvard Business School; and John Whitehead, former co-Chairman of Goldman Sachs, and former Under Secretary of State for the Reagan administration. They reminded me of some of the great qualities of leadership that make the difference in our effectiveness.
When asked what makes great leaders both reflected that it wasn’t about people projecting some form of idealized perfection. They respectively admired men like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill. Neither man was flawless, but each was an unforgettable leader. They both were decisive, able to go against conventional wisdom of their times, and were masters at creating consensus and empowering the people around them.
An amazing feat of Lincoln’s was that he pulled together a team of his own adversaries to create a cabinet that would actually serve the country. Those same people grew to respect him and were able to follow him with integrity. Churchill was actually ostracized by his peers for his views until the challenges of World War II made it necessary for them to utilize his expertise.
Both Lincoln and Churchill failed and rose again, which is an attribute that makes leaders stronger. They learned from their experiences, were patient, and listened, but made the decisions that they knew were right.
“People support things they help create.” When Bill George tried to sell others on his creations, he failed. When he learned to listen to others and include them in the creation of the direction, they were willing to follow him. He says that the key business leaders he has seen fail did so because they didn’t lead themselves. They got caught up in compensation, reaching goals, or some other external form and stopped listening, to themselves and others, and didn’t lead from within, so failed.
George and Whitehead agreed that without the challenge of failure leaders cannot grow into greatness. This is something I firmly believe: the difficulties, the challenges, the nay-sayers of your life fuel your fire, inform your growth, and give you the opportunity to find your strength.
Another client moaned this week about how it would be so great if the challenges were somehow easier. Would that really help? Is it possible that the very thing you believe is insurmountable, yet right in front of you, is your ticket to greatness? Is the price of that ticket your willingness to face yourself, look inside and find the strength and character it takes to move through that impossible difficulty?
Great leaders today are able to align people around principles and values then empower those people to play a role in creating solutions for the challenges they face. Are you spending more time bemoaning how hard it is or being grateful you have been given a blessing of difficulty so you can grow through it and find your greatness? Are you carefully building a team of powerful, self-confident people around you that will work with you to achieve your objectives? Are you in self-denial or are you seeking the honest opinion of others to find out what they can teach you about yourself?
If you haven’t ever hit the wall and failed, been unable to truly move through a challenge, do you actually know yourself? To me, it is the humbling factor that opens up the possibility to ask for help, learn from what didn’t work, and regroup with what you now know and get up and go again.
My beloved father used to say, “Good judgement comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgement.” Can you really trust yourself to work with a leader who hasn’t failed and learned from it? Would you want to work for someone who not only doesn’t recognize the value of those around him/her but doesn’t bring out the best in people?
Is that the kind of leader you are?