Leading with dignity
Every office comes with a measure of prestige but it is the officeholder that brings dignity into that office. The combination of prestige and dignity creates an awe-like aura around the leader. This is what gives the leader presence. This is what makes others defer to him. This is what sets a leader apart from the rest.
While leadership can survive without the prestige of an office or a position, it hits the rock when it is devoid of dignity. Leaders who rely only on the prestige of the office to have their way often have to resort to legality to achieve their objectives and lose their influence once they are out of office. It is only those who lead without dignity that will have cause to complain of desertion by their people when they are out of office. Those who lead with dignity never lose their people even when they lose their position. It is the dignity of a leader that draws followership and binds followers to him. It is the dignity of a leader that inspires trust in him. It is the dignity of a leader that gives his word power. It is a leader’s dignity that makes him honourable. It is a leader’s dignity that wins him a space in the hearts of his followers.
Dignity is a leader’s understanding and appreciation of his worth as an individual (not just an office-holder) and the comprehension of others’ expectations of him as a person. An office does not confer dignity on the office-holder; it is the office-holder that confers dignity on his position. That is why the hood never makes the monk.
How leaders sustain dignity
Murphy’s Law says whatever can go wrong will go wrong. While this is true, whatever can go wrong can be prevented from going wrong by taking the right action. So, though dignity could be lost, taking the right steps can save a leader from the ignominy of losing his dignity.
Don’t make promises you cannot keep
A leader should be conscious of the promises he makes because while every promise kept enhances dignity, every broken promise ebbs away the dignity of a leader. It is better for a leader not to make a promise than for him to make one and later break it. Fewer things destroy a leader’s dignity more than a broken promise. One of the first lessons anyone in leadership must learn is how to refrain from making promises they have no intention of keeping. John Keynes, the famous economist, said when the facts change, I change my mind. A leader is at liberty to change his mind as occasions demand but he does not enjoy that latitude with the promises made to the people.
When George H.W. Bush was seeking election to the office of the United States president in 1988, he made a promise not to introduce new taxes. In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention in 1988, he said to the American electorate, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Many observers believe that this promise earned him the presidency. But the situation changed after his assumption of office as the country slid into recession and there was the need for the government to increase taxes. Remembering his promise to the people, he was reluctant to do it but he eventually signed a bill increasing taxes which the Congress had passed. The consensus of opinions is that the increase in taxes cost him the presidency in the 1992 election because Bill Clinton, his opponent, presented him as a leader who could not keep his promise to the American people.
Leaders should endeavour to keep their words irrespective of the cost. When leaders keep their words, they maintain their integrity and this boosts their dignity.
Don’t give a command that cannot be obeyed
It was General Douglas MacArthur who counseled leaders not to give a command that cannot be obeyed. Ordinarily, when a leader gives a directive, his followers should willingly and gladly carry it out. But when a command is neither right nor realistic, followers are left with the Hobson’s choice of disregarding it. Only leaders who are out of sync with reality give orders that cannot be obeyed. When a leader is too distant from his people, it will be difficult for him to share their concerns and could be tempted to give orders that cannot be executed. Such leaders set targets that cannot be realized and give deadlines that cannot be met. Great leaders stay in touch with the troop, consider all options before giving a directive. With this, buy-in is easy. Even when a great leader makes an unrealistic demand on his workforce, because he is available and accessible, the people go to him with their concerns and the grey areas are sorted out. But when a leader lives in his own world and does not take his people’s views and feelings into consideration before setting targets and giving commands, he will get to a point that the workforce will call his bluff and damn the consequences because head or tail they will lose. Once it gets to the point of followers calling the bluff of a leader, the bubble is burst, dignity is gone, the awe has evanesced and not much of leadership is left.
Don’t stop getting better
It is the calling of leaders to solve problems. When a group gets to a crossroads, all heads turn to the leader for direction. When an organization bottoms out, everyone looks up to the leader for solution. When finances are low and the bills are piling up, everyone runs to the leader. To be able to meet the expectations of his team members, a leader must keep updating his knowledge. If a leader cannot proffer solutions to the issues that ail those he leads, he is not better than the people. What gives a leader an edge over those he leads is the ability to show the way out of a quandary. If a leader is as confused as those he leads, he will lose his dignity because the awe around him will evaporate. The people will see him as not being different from them. So, it is incumbent on a leader to always improve himself so as to be able to meet the problem-solving demand of his office. As observed by General Collin Powel, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”
A leader does not always have to be the one to personally proffer solutions, but when a leader does not have the solution, he should know someone who would be able to solve the riddle.
Being committed to learning will also help a leader to see problems before they become apparent. This advanced knowledge will enable the leader to nip problems in the bud and prevent them from festering. Leaders who do this are always respected by the followers and their dignity remains intact.
Don’t stop opening doors for others
Leaders open doors for others by creating opportunities for them. Great leaders always want to see their followers get better. They do this by emptying themselves into their followers through grooming, mentoring and minding. Grooming, mentoring and minding are the processes through which leaders equip their followers but they don’t just stop at that. Great leaders go ahead to actually create opportunities for their followers to put into practice the learning they have acquired so that they can flourish. Great leaders don’t want to keep their followers as followers in perpetuity, they want them to grow and become leaders. So, great leaders create more leaders and not more followers. By empowering others and creating opportunities for them to thrive, the leader wins the admiration and adoration of such people. They hold the leader in high esteem and would be willing to stake all they have to ensure the leader’s success.
Followers love and respect leaders who are fair because fairness is actually a respect for all concerned. When a leader plays favouritism, he is being disrespectful to the people under him and they will eventually reciprocate. When a leader establishes different sets of rules for different categories of followers, not only does he create ill-will among the followers, he also destroys the basis of his leadership. A leader should be trusted by all and held in high esteem by everyone. The only way to enjoy this measure of dignity is to be fair to everyone and not regard some as sacred cows or untouchable. The truth is that when a leader is fair to all, even those who veer off the line and are sanctioned by the leader will still respect and love him because they know that his actions were not founded on any ill feeling but principles. However, when a leader is unfair, even those who he tries to favour will not respect him.
How dignity works
When a leader leads with dignity, not only does he understand and value his worth as a human being, and endeavours to keep same, he also refrains from trampling others’ worth. It takes a leader who honours and respects himself to honour and respect his followers. Only dignified leaders can dignify others. A happy leader spreads happiness while a hurt leader spreads pain. People cannot give others what they lack.
So those who lead with dignity build a strong team where human dignity is respected. This respect for human dignity is not restricted to just the workforce, it is also extended to the organization’s customers and clients. Customers are treated with utmost respect. Workers go the whole hog to give customers a sense of satisfaction by exceeding their expectations. This grows the customer base as the satisfied customers spread the gospel to others. This eventually impacts the bottom line and the health of the organization.
He who leads with dignity builds a wholesome team and a prosperous organization.