Being a Good Leader: A Contrarian’s Perspective

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The world today seems obsessed with the topic of leadership. Specifically, what skills are necessary to rise through the business ranks to become a good, inspirational leader. The fact that there continues to be an insatiable appetite for material on this topic, strongly implies that the definitive answer to this riddle still remains elusively out of reach.

This year, I turned 63. Whether that labels me as being “over the hill” or “still in the prime of my life,” is a matter of perspective. What I know for sure however, is that the road that I have already trodden is much longer than the road that still lies ahead. Throughout this journey, I have experienced several unconventional truths and momentary flashes of enlightenment about leadership that are not often discussed in traditional business literature. That is what I would like to share with you today.

Let’s examine the topic of leadership from a different perspective. Consider this. What if 95% of all this talk about leadership is actually missing the mark? Instead of focusing on the techniques, strategies, and tactics surrounding leadership, maybe the actual ingredient needed to create a good leader is something totally different.

Perhaps the secret is much simpler and infinitely more personal. Maybe inspirational leadership is just the business application of living an inspirational life. What if all this leadership stuff simply boils down to constructing your personal life in a way that exhibits the positive outcomes you seek for your staff, your company, and your world?

Define yourself first

In today’s world, there is too much noise. Everybody is talking, blogging, posting; it’s mind numbing, isn’t it? In the midst of this torrent of words, how much meaningful action do you actually see? How many people do you encounter going beyond quantitative decision-making and offering more holistic solutions to business issues? How many managers do you see lobbying for better wages for their least paid employees? How many business leaders do you see making decisions based on enlightened self-interest, as opposed to pure profit maximization?

A leader does not hide in the shadows playing politics, hoping for the promotion that will magically empower them to start inspiring others. That is what bureaucrats do, not leaders.

That is the real leadership dilemma today. How can a person lead others when they don’t have the moral compass to know what path they are following? If you do not take stock of who you are, what you stand for, what you are willing to fight for, then how impactful can you actually be in influencing others?

If you think you are not in the proper hierarchical position to make such an impact, I would tell you that you are just rationalizing your fear of criticism and ridicule. Leaders lead from wherever they are. A leader does not hide in the shadows playing politics, hoping for the promotion that will magically empower them to start inspiring others. That is what bureaucrats do, not leaders.

I have learned the hard way that all difficult issues must be broken down to their lowest common denominator. Unless you can deconstruct complex topics to their core elements, permanent solutions can never be achieved. Otherwise, all fixes will be superficial and fleeting.

Want to be a good and inspiring leader? Then be a good and inspiring person. That is the lowest common denominator. Stand for something, do something, be something. Lead with your hands and your feet, not with your mouth.

Be intentional in making decisions

How does all this translate into the business world? Create business scenarios that not only make money, but also positively impact members, employees, and your community. These efforts are not mutually exclusive. In fact, this approach will actually generate cumulative benefits far beyond what traditional business tactics can produce!

Yes, it takes personal courage. Do you have it? Do you have what it takes to change your own thinking as to what your professional purpose actually is? Do you have the commitment to get up when you get knocked down? Are you prepared to be criticized by your board for taking a different path?

Stand for something, do something, be something. Lead with your hands and your feet, not with your mouth.

Consider those who have passed before you. In every case, those destined for inspiring leadership encountered and persevered through hardships and setbacks deeper and darker than their now-anonymous peers. You see, commitment and perseverance are the price of admission to becoming a good and inspiring leader.

What’s the risk?

I think you already know. For starters, how about lack of promotions, higher job turnover, and myriad other things deemed by conventional thinking to be professional failures. In short, all the risks you are taught to avoid in order to advance your career!

Looking at the topic of leadership with this perspective, does it now start to make sense why nothing ever seems to improve? The answer is obvious: it’s too risky. That is why true leadership is so hard to find, in spite of all the books, seminars, and blogs.

Once people actually understand what becoming a genuinely good and inspirational leader really means, most prefer just to talk about it. Being a Good Leader is a feel-good topic, like so many other things in our society today. Unless you are willing to think about leadership through the prism of how you live your own life and make fundamental improvements there, everything else will just be another feel-good exercise.

Whatever you decide, choose your path with your eyes wide open. Be honest with yourself as to what you wish to accomplish in your life and career. Not everyone has what it takes to be a good and inspiring leader. Only you can make the ultimate determination as to which path is right for you.

Author


  • President and CEO, Notre Dame Federal Credit Union

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