Thursday, October 29, 2009

Truth, Lies, and Leadership

‘It’s so good to see you.’

I read an article the other day about the ‘lies’ we all tell every day. The gist of the article was that we see someone in the hall and ask how they are, and the mutual lie takes place: we don’t really want to know how they are, and the other person knows we don’t want to know. So, everyone is ‘fine’ and we continue on our way. The author’s point was that there are lies we tell every day that are part of the grease of society.

Maybe that is what’s wrong with mankind; a theologian might suggest that this is the real manifestation of original sin on our every day lives. Because we should be glad to see people. If we really were good people we would be happy to see folks, and we would want to know how Mrs. Sullivan’s nephew is doing. We really would want to know the state of health of those around us and we would really be concerned if they weren’t well.

In short, we would care.

There is an old – and cynical - saying that sincerity is the hardest thing, once you can fake that you can fake anything.

So what does all this have to do with leadership?

Easy: to be a great leader you DO have to care. You must want to see all those people every morning. You must be sincere, truly sincere, not just faking it. And the reason for that is simple: you and the people you lead are inextricably woven together – your dream has – if you are a great leader – becomes their dream as well; for your dream to be fulfilled, they must also succeed. Great leaders care more about their dream then they do about themselves. And the people you lead are now part of that dream. Caring about them and caring about your dream quickly becomes essentially the same thing.

General George Patton said that the coward who wears the mask of a hero soon takes on the characteristics of the latter. What he meant is that you can become what you aren’t, if you live it every day. The leader must live his role every day; he must communicate it every day. (And Patton had great leadership skills; he knew what he was talking about.) And at the core of that communication is sincerity. Great leaders are truly sincere. And since they care about their vision, they care about each and every one of their people. They intrinsically understand that the people who believe the vision ‘become’ the vision. So, great leaders must care about every single person.

But, you will respond, how can I care about 100 different people? It’s too tasking. I hardly know all their names. Next you’ll tell me I should care about their wives or husbands, about their kids, about their grand parents. I can’t do that.

Of course, most people can’t do that. But you must do what you can. In short, you have to care and simply do the best you can. Learn and remember what you can. Write it down. You don’t remember all of your brothers’ and sisters’ birthdays and anniversaries. But you can write them down. The same applies to the people who work with you and ‘for’ you.

In the end, great leadership requires a personal commitment from the leader to the vision and to the people who have adopted the vision, and a personal commitment from each of the people who follow the leader. That commitment is rarely given to an individual they don’t like and trust. And that means that you must engender that trust. Trust is the opposite side of the coin from sincerity: you can’t have one without the other.

Think about that the next time someone in the office asks you how you are feeling.


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