Sunday, July 3, 2011

Charisma , does anything else matter ?

Leadership books, blogs, and websites are a dime a dozen, yes, I know what this implies about this humble site.  Each one purports to hold the keys to the kingdom, leadership secrets that can catapult the average Joe from manager to leader in a few steps.  So, can we really all be right, or do we resist discussing the fear that maybe leaders are born, maybe there is no formula, maybe personality and good genes trump all else. 
Personally, I'm still betting that leadership is an acquired skill that can be improved and honed with time and practice. But its hard to resist a good deal of evidence that may indicate otherwise.  Honestly, for every trait that is claimed to be critical, I can find an acknowledged, world class leader who lacks the desire skill and in fact may represent just the opposite.

Really, do you think George Patton thought "Patience" was a virtue? Did Samuel Adams make a habit of using "Listening" skills while terrorizing the British? Can anybody legitimately claim Napoleon as an example of the "Servant Leader"?  Peter Drucker, the 20th Century's greatest management thinker, once said, “Leadership is all hype. We’ve had three great leaders in this century – Hitler, Stalin, and Mao.” Where is the humble, consensus builder in that group?

My point is simple, in the universe of so called critical leadership skills, I can only find three that are hard to dismiss by counter-example; persistence, boldness, and charisma. Since I've covered the first two to some degree already, I wanna concentrate on the third, Charisma, and by this I mean that charming personal magnetism; or the lantern-jawed, cigar-chomping, power-radiating um pah.  The sort of feeling that makes followers willing to walk through a brick wall if called upon.  Its just not fashionable to speak much of this in the modern management world, but that doesn't make it go away.  Great leaders have it, always.

So what do you do if you are the up and coming manager, persistent, willing to work long hours, patient and team building with all, but you just don't project that image of the fire in the belly leader?  No matter what you try, your team leaves meetings meditative, ready to work, but just walking, not running out of the tunnel cheering.  Well, unfortunately I don't have a charisma magic bullet, but I can suggest two important attitudes that if embraced, can only help.

First, you just have to have a deep desire to connect with and lead people.  Great leader are not half-hearted types, all the great ones burned with the desire to lead.  Work on connecting with people, obsessively communicate about your desires for them and for your team.  Make sure that every person you touch knows you care about where the ship is going and that you care that all aboard succeed.

Next, put yourself "out there".  Meaning, shrinking violets need not apply, be willing to be seen, heard, examined, and cross-examined.  Charismatic people draw people to them, and a big part of that draw is the willingness to take a chance, and clearly let everyone know where we stand.

You can still be an excellent manager, and solid leader, without possessing the charm of a Sean Connery, or the commanding presense of Margaret Thatcher, but at least consider paying some attention to charisma.  It can only help, not only in your professional world, but in your private one as well.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Egypt's Second Revolution, Not a Democratic Leader in sight

As thousands of protesters return to Tahir Square and proclaim that the "Egyptian revolution is not over", it appears that the lack of a unifying leadership figure for the movement may doom the average Egyptians' hope for a truly democratic, liberty loving future.

The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's best organized political force, is opposing a renewal of protests, throwing in with the military and urging patience as plans for a September election proceed.  They stand to make major gains in this election as they are the most organized political group remaining.  The Brotherhood, with a huge network of social services and supporters, hopes to emerge from any parliamentary election with control of the country. 

Resisting this, four liberal and secular groups called for postponing the September elections, and drafting basic principles that guarantee that Egypt is a civil state and ending military tribunals. This reflects worries of many political groups that the Brotherhood is poised to win a big portion of any parliament.

As I said in my February blog, the military does have long to show a clear reformist agenda.  But, without clear leadership, the protesters leave a gaping hole that is just waiting to be filled.  My guess is this role will indeed be filled by the Brotherhood.  It is unfortunate because the Brotherhood will not provide the leadership that the protesters crave, but represent what is essentially a totalitarian organization with dreams of power.

When it comes to revolutions, though they may snowball as movements of popular unrest, with grandiose goals and designs, strong leadership must assert itself if the ultimate aims of the revolutionaries are to be realized.  Leaders can unify the people and give a voice to their needs and concerns. Leaders can bring a cohesiveness to otherwise fractured groups and map a way forward that focuses the energy of the people.

For the average Egyptian I hope a real, Liberty loving leader emerges, but I suspect that the Muslim Brotherhood is to well organized and entrenched to be denied.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Competence ... Build your reputation

Leaders need to project an air of competence, their team must be able to have faith that the person running the show is a knowledgeable problem solver who won't run from a challenge and leave them holding the bag. 

Actually, as I write this, what I have said is not strong enough. Leaders need to BE competent. You don't have to be the smartest guy or gal in the room, but you have to know your stuff.  Your followers must be actively wanting your opinion, needing to hear your take on things, valuing what you have to say. 

Don't confuse "competence" and "expert".  You don't have to have encyclopedic knowledge, but you do need to demonstrate a grasp of the general knowledge of the things that help drive the team.  Patton was a good soldier before he became a great general.  But, he wasn't an expert at every weapon he wielded, he was, however, very knowledgeable at how to use them. 

The other thing about competence in a leader is that once you have earned the reputation for competence, people will give more heed to your opinion even in areas about which you know very little.  This isn't always a good thing, but it is a fact.  If you doubt it, just think about all the movie stars who have testified before congress as an expert in some topic, based on nothing more than their fame, competence as an actor, and a role they once played.

A reputation for competence is hard fought to win, but remarkably easy to loose.  Therefore it is vital that a leader be hungry for knowledge and learning.  And not just in a narrow area, the great leaders of history, had great areas of interest.  Easier said than done, absolutely, but not impossible.  While there are many ways to stay informed nothing beats reading.  You must be well read, well versed in the details of your business, or trade.  The good thing is that our modern world makes this easier than at anytime in history. If you find it hard to dig into a book, listen to one while you commute, try the ever growing  universe of podcasts, itunes U, or any of the other opportunities for e-learning.  It can be done, but you have to be dedicated and eager to learn.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Be Bold - Dare to Lead

If there is one fundamental responsibility common to all leadership situations, it is the requirement to make decisions. Without a doubt, if you are gonna be the head honcho, you gotta be willing to pull the trigger, shoulder the burden, and be the decision maker.  Leaders can't sit back and say Ready, aim, aim, aim, aim ... you must say FIRE !!!.

 The great leaders know that there is no second guessing, no looking back, no mulligans, when the times demand it, great leaders step to the fore and get on with it. 

Think about history's greatest moments, it's the story of great men and bold decisions.  Think what you will, but "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall" , embodied President Ronald Reagan's leadership in confronting the criminal dictatorial regimes of the world with truth.

General Douglas MacArthur, after retreating from a disastrous defeat in the Philippines, uttered the famous promise, "I shall return".  That bold statement encapsulated America's resolve in the Pacific, that we would succeed and emerge victorious.

Winston Churchill, perhaps the 20th Century's greatest leader, boldly decided that Britain would say no to the Germans...

"We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France,
we shall fight on the seas and oceans,
we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be,
we shall fight on the beaches,
we shall fight on the landing grounds,
we shall fight in the fields and in the streets,
we shall fight in the hills;
we shall never surrender"

Churchill decided for himself and the British people, that even in the face of one German victory after another, that there would be no negotiation, no half measures, nothing but victory would suffice.

This is the stuff of great leadership.  Nations, teams, people of all stripes, are capable of great things when they have a bold leader with a bold vision to follow.

Most people get one crack at leadership, don't waste yours with half measures and timid goals.  Push the envelope, push yourself and your team to give their best, and you'll be amazed at what can be accomplished.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Persistence Pays

Make no mistake about it, being good a great leader is hard work.  You can't let your guard down, you can't get discouraged, you can't give up, and you can't let them see you sweat.  It all comes down to persistence.  Great leaders expect their team to push hard to succeed, and great teams expect a leader who demonstrates dogged determination in even the most trying circumstances.

Persistence is the willingness to maintain focus and purse your goals in spite of obstacles, the ability to keep reaching for the next rung on the ladder no matter how worn out you are, the realization that success is not always the express elevator or the rose petaled path.  The leader who can remain resolute fuels the fire that drives the team.  Determination is contagious and teams will strive for great heights as long as they know their leader is there with them, ready to offer a hand up when the going gets tough.

Perhaps the best leaders are those who master the "Anyways" from "The Paradoxical Commandments" by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honestry and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, It is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway.

Master the Anyways and your team will follow you through thick and thin.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Vision Thing

Without a doubt the "vision" thing is one of the most mentioned leadership characteristics.  This is for good reason since I have yet to meet the successful leader who doesn't possess a strong idea of where he's going,and how he'll get there.  This picture of the future is typically somewhat simplistic, easy to communicate, and something that transcends just numbers, but rather envisions greater and perhaps even nobler goals.

For the best leaders the vision is a part of them, a connection to how they view the organization, themselves, and the world around them. This internalization allows them to be communicating the vision not just by words, but by deeds, and in their daily interactions with the team.  The vision compels them to act and provides a guidepost to measure all of their actions and the teams actions against.  When clearly communicated, it can give the team confidence to take the reins and push forward.

Similarly, poorly communicated visions, or visions that are more lip service than heart felt, can damage a team's effectiveness.  The disingenuous leader not only fails to inspire but can generate a debilatating lack of trust that holds the team back.

Therefore, as the leader, make sure you are comfortable about your own true intentions, your own vision.  Then communicate, communicate, communicate! Talk the vision, use the vision to guide your decisions, and take every opportunity you can to reinforce the vision with your team.  Most of all, recognize and praise those who get it, the ones who act on the vision and use it to steer their actions.  This more than anything else will prove you are "real" and will emergize the team to action and high performance.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Egypt's Revolution without a Leader

The demands for political reform sweeping across the Middle East are characterized by a lack of centralized command and control.  The protests appear to have spontaneously erupted from a background of simmering unrest but lack the organizing influence of a clearly identifiable  leader.

Therefore it is not surprising that numerous groups are suddenly jockeying for position in Egypt hoping to emerge with the reigns of power firmly in their hands. It is also not surprising that the Egyptian Army has, for the moment at least, consolidated the functions of governing under its authority.

Despite being strongly anti-reformist the generals who now run Egypt positioned the military as friends of the people.  They took immediate steps to curb abuses by the police state authorities and had military personnel mingling with the throngs of protesters even as they monitored them.  Thus the army established itself the sole governing agency with the people's best interests at heart.  And as with all groups, leaders are selected or emerge because they are viewed as having views, desires, wishes, and dreams that identify and connect well with the group.  Deposing Hosni Mubarak made the military instant heroes of the people.

But the next trick will be much harder.  The revolutionary's didn't pour into the streets fighting to displace one dictator with another. And now, with each passing day, opposition groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, continue to build a case showing that the people's best interests lay somewhere other than with Field Marshal Mohamad Tantawi, the head of the Egyptian Higher Military Council. It is an easy bet that although the army insists it will hand power to civilians soon, it won't be until they are sure they can hang on to the lucrative privileges and wealth they have amassed after decades of authoritarian rule.

Thus, absent a popular leadership figure, don't count on a long honeymoon for the military.  As time wears on, expect more and more friction to grow between protesters and soldiers and if the generals feel threatened enough, expect a fresh outbreak of violence much worse than anything seen thus far.

In fact, absent a leader who can assure that the needs of each side can be met, its hard to envision a calm and peaceful end to this historic event.