With all these dire events happening right now (COVID-19, the tragedy in Minneapolis, the continuing protests and riots) why would Executives ever fail to fulfill their leadership responsibilities? The answer is often quite simple. Either they think they have the option of not changing, or they know that change should take place but don’t know how.
The option to ignore the requirements of leadership, especially in crisis, is never available. Yet, daily we see leaders who think inaction is a viable choice (Minneapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Seattle, Virginia and on and on). They delude themselves. To the detriment of those they’re responsible to lead and protect, they believe they can continue to do what they like, or that they can implement changes at a rate or time that’s convenient.
These are dangerous illusions. They often stem from the an unhealthy sense of power and control that comes with a leadership position. The simple fact is that no one has control over anyone or anything unless they’re willing to submit. Unfortunately, it’s too many leaders that we’re seeing submit, not the other way around.
The consequences of a failure to lead vary with the severity of the situation. If conditions aren’t particularly demanding, leadership failures may not be that damaging. If, however, the environment is going through dramatic change (AS IN NOW!) , which demands equally dramatic change in response, failure to actively lead through those changes can be catastrophic.
The biggest risk of failed leadership is that as the environment changes significantly with the leader changing very little, the culture of the environment no longer aligns with everyone’s needs.
Unfortunately, by the time it’s clear that the survival of the culture is at stake, it’s often too late to do anything about it. For example, a culture of freedom based upon powerful commitments, beliefs and attitudes changes to one of control based upon mediocrity, complacency and entitlement.
The common denominator with all of the crisis and current events of the day that I see in overall leadership is the lack of mental toughness. The leadership exceptions you see today (and there are few) with that important trait of mental toughness have the following characteristics:
- They have a high degree of self worth. They emote confidence in voice, body language, non-verbal cues and overall consistency of behavior and response.
- They’re willing to hear unpleasant feedback. This is a very rare character trait with most leaders. Having it empowers those under their influence to be transparent.
- They’re able to tolerate ambiguity. There are a lot of people that can’t articulate themselves in a direct, confrontational manner. A leader with this trait has the patience to work through the paradox’s of communication.
- They’re able to tolerate uncertainty. This trait is embedded in one who has a positive mindset and a confidence that everything works to the good eventually.
- They’re able to maintain a logical thought process under pressure. This is a very rare trait indeed. This leader doesn’t bow to peer pressure or environmental pressure like we’re seeing everywhere daily.
- They know when to lead and when to follow. They are able to share their power and authority in a way that develops trust and empowerment in their followers.
- They pride themselves on having high standards. These kind of leaders hold themselves to a higher standard than their followers consistently without exception.
- They have a healthy sense of urgency. They not only have this trait, they’re able to generate it in others.
- They seek solutions and adjust accordingly. This leader has a low resistance to change and isn’t afraid to take calculated risks.
- They don’t have to be right all the time. Rare is this leader with a healthy sense of ego and humility.
Achieving mental toughness is easier by consciously shifting emphasis from one’s personal career-achievement objectives to the goals of the organization. Unrelenting focus on making the organization (and all its members) successful and unremitting attention to the realities of the environment will produce the mental toughness needed to make the changes required.
This is both the role and the definition of a leader who leads.