The ABC of leadership II

(Continued from last week)


H- Humility

Humility is critical to successful leadership. Hence the submission by Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, that every organization that transited from being good to becoming great was fortunate to have a leader who combined unflagging humility with unwavering professional will. Humility knocks the lid off a leader’s greatness.

Humility in leadership starts with the acknowledgement that you are just one of the many that are suitable for the role you are playing. This brings you down to earth, moderates your behaviour and perspective and puts you in a position to serve rather than lord it over others.

According to Dr. Robert Hogan, founder and president of Hogan Assessments, humility predicts effective leadership. Hogan adds that “humility is associated with minimizing status differences, listening to subordinates, soliciting input, admitting mistakes and being willing to change course when a plan seems not to work.”


Washington’s example

While travelling at a time, George Washington, America’s first president, chanced upon some soldiers who were trying to move a heavy log. But their efforts did not produce much result. Meanwhile, their leader, a corporal, was standing by watching as the men struggled. Washington asked the corporal why he did not help the soldiers in their task. The corporal replied: “I am the corporal. I give orders.”

Washington said nothing, he dismounted his horse, rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, joined the soldiers to lift the wood and, together, they were able to accomplish the task. He then faced the corporal and said, “When next your men need assistance send for the Commander-in-Chief,” and rode off. The dumbstruck corporal could not believe it was the President who joined his men to lift the log.

Humility does not take anything away from anyone.

Here are some humility checks:


Do you put others first?

Humble leaders put others first. They think less of themselves and think more of the organization and others. Their ambition is for the growth of the organization; their activities are geared towards empowering and enabling others; their thoughts are targeted at giving wings to others’ dreams. As opined by Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last, humble leaders understand that the true price of leadership is the willingness to place the needs of others above their own.


Are you willing to help even the most vulnerable?

Humble leaders are willing to offer assistance to those who are not in any position to reciprocate the gesture. They are willing to serve rather than be served. So, it does not matter who the recipient of their service is, what is critical to them is to offer service to those who require it.


Do you respect the worth of others?

A humble leader never looks down on anyone irrespective of their station in life. He makes it crystal clear all the time that he values them.


Are you open to criticisms?

A humble leader is not averse to criticism; he does not get angry or bitter when corrected, no matter where the correction is coming from. He is conscious of the fact that a leader who wants to keep developing never stops learning and learning comes from diverse quarters.


I – Industry

Industry comprises two components; hard work and innovation.

Hard work is the antidote to a hard life. It has been found out that the harder people work, the luckier they get. So, beating the average life and moving up in life requires hard work, sweating it out, enduring the grueling and putting up with the grind. Leaders have to imbibe the culture of hard work because their followers take a cue from them.

But hard work is insufficient to make anyone successful. It needs to be combined with innovation to guarantee sustainable success.

Innovation is the product of creative thinking. Thinking is action’s precursor. As a matter of fact, thinking determines actions. Unless the thinking changes, action does not change. According to Albert Einstein, a problem cannot be solved at the same level of thinking that produced it. The import of this is that unless the thinking changes new result does not surface. To succeed as a leader, one must deliberately engage in creative thinking.

Creative thinking is traveling into the future to get solutions to problems that have not arisen. When the television was invented there was no obvious need for it. But living without television is almost unimaginable now. When people are encouraged to think creatively, they may not come up with completely new ideas but they are sure to come up with ideas that will improve an organisation’s operations or products.

Thinking out of the box produces results that are not run of the mill. To think out of the box is to think differently without the limitations that others have subjected themselves to. When leaders think outside the box, they come up with innovative ideas, break records and shatter boundaries.


J – Justice

One trait that stands out great leaders is that they uphold justice; they are fair to all concerned. When leaders are fair, they win the trust of their followers.

Followers love and respect leaders who are fair because fairness is actually a respect to all concerned. When a leader plays favouritism, he is showing disrespect 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 him will still respect and love him because they know that his actions were not borne out of any ill feeling but principles. However, when a leader is unfair, even those who he tries to favour will not respect him.


K – Knowledge

According to John C. Maxwell, a renowned leadership expert, a leader is the one who knows the way goes the way, and shows the way. Hence, one of the criteria that qualify anyone for leadership is knowledge. Knowledge is critical to leadership because what an organization eventually turns out to be is directly proportional to the knowledge at the disposal of its leaders. Because no one can outperform his level of knowledge, a leader either takes an organization to his level or reduces it to his level.

Great leaders are cognizant of the fact that the quality of the leadership they provide is a function of the relevance of their knowledge, so they keep updating their knowledge through reading, training and acquisition of additional education to guard against shortchanging their organization. By regularly updating their knowledge, they are able to correctly interpret development in their industry and are positioned to take the right decisions that will not leave their organization holding the wrong end of the stick.


Polaroid’s tragedy

Polaroid pioneered the instant photography business; its cameras produced finished photographs in two minutes. Founded in 1937 by Edwin Land, the company dominated the instant photography business from the 1940s to the 1980s. Polaroid was one of the first companies to invest money in the development of electronic imaging. In 1981, the company set up a group to develop an instant camera that would produce a film-based print from a digital image. So much was the company into the development of digital camera that by the 1990s it was a major force in digital camera marketing.

However, when digital camera became big business, Polaroid was left behind; it was unable to build on its earlier success. As sales of films declined, Polaroid had to file for bankruptcy in October 2001 having been completely shut out of the digital camera market.

Why couldn’t Polaroid latch on to its earlier success in electronic imaging? The problem was knowledge gap. While the world was transiting to the digital age fast, the leaders at Polaroid held on to the belief that the customers would always want the hard copy, so the company kept doing more of what brought it to prominence but had been rejected by the market.

One of its CEOs, MacAllister Booth, said, “As electronic imaging becomes more prevalent, there remains a basic human need for a permanent visual record. Whether that record fulfills an emotional requisite in the visual diaries of amateur photography or provides practical data in an industrial or scientific setting, the universal insatiable appetite for visual communication and portable information will be constant, reflecting a continuing need for instantly available, high-quality print media.”

How wrong he was! But with that prevalent mindset holding the company hostage, Polaroid arrogantly held on to its past when its customers were looking forward to something different.

When leaders are arrogantly ignorant, they force their organizations to eat the humble pie of insolvency.


L – Love

Love is the ultimate leadership tool. The reason is simple; there is a nexus between love and leadership. The objective of love is to make its object better. Hence, love is never passive but rather passionate; it never takes a rest until its purpose is accomplished. Similarly, true leadership is focused on bringing out the best in people and situations. As observed by Harvey S. Firestone, founder of the Firestone Tyre and Rubber Company, the growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership. So, love-driven leadership is result-oriented because it is mutually beneficial. It is not aimed at using people to achieve an end but improving the lot of the people as a prerequisite for achieving predetermined corporate goals. So, a leader that is determined to make his people better can only achieve that if he has love as his foundation.

How leaders demonstrate love:

Do you tell them the truth?

The sustaining power of love is candour. Without candour, love will end up in tatters. Lovers must tell each other the home truth. Relationships are jeopardized when the truth is hidden. Leaders who evade speaking the truth to avoid hurting the people concerned always cause far greater hurt to their organizations and the ones they are trying to shield from the truth.

However, while telling subordinates the truth about their performance, the leader should avoid condemning them. Condemnation always results in loss of confidence. So, telling the truth should be done with a view to bringing the attention of the person concerned to the issue without bringing him down.


Do you mentor?

The easiest way to grow is to learn from the masters. People do what they learn and become what they practice. The leader must be willing to sacrifice his time to pour himself into his people. A great leader does not hold back from his people information that can improve their lives.


Do you create opportunity for them?

Leaders open the door for others. As a way of demonstrating your love for your subordinates, you must be willing to allow them ride on your shoulders to achieve their aspirations.


Do you have their back?

Are you willing to defend them and give them another chance when they make mistakes or do you kick them when they are down?


M – Mindset

A mindset is a belief system, an attitude which shapes perception and behaviours. Mindset determines what is done and how it is done. The mindset eventually determines the kind of person we become.

The major difference between those who are successful and those who are not is the mindset. While successful people start out with the belief that nothing will stop them from achieving their target, those who end up failing start with doubts in their mind. So, when they encounter difficulties rather than strive to overcome them, they quake under such and rationalize their failure. As put by Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can or you think you cannot, you are right.”

To achieve greatness, a leader must ensure that he has the right mindset or attitude at all times.


Between the donkey and the elephant

A farmer’s donkey fell into a dry well. The farmer tried all he could to rescue his animal but to no avail. Wanting to help the donkey to a quick death, he decided to fill the well with dirt. He invited others to join him in the task. So started the task of filling the well with dirt. The donkey brayed when the first set of dirt got on him. Then after a while it stopped the noise. The farmer was surprised, so he peered down into the well. The farmer found out that the donkey shook off every shovel of dirt that hit him and took a step up. Seeing this, the farmer was encouraged to continue until the donkey finally stepped out of the well.

A man saw some elephants held down by a small rope tied to their front legs. The rope was so tiny that the man wondered why the elephants did not free themselves. He saw a trainer nearby and asked him why he took the risk of tying down the huge animals with just a tiny rope. The trainer explained that when they were still very young and much smaller, the same size of rope, which was strong enough to hold them then, was used to tie them. As they grew up, the animals had conditioned their minds to believe that they could not break away. So, they did not even bother to make an attempt.

The donkey was able to liberate itself from a very difficult situation because of its mindset, but the elephants were held bound by a simple problem because of their mindsets. To be a successful leader, you have to mind your mindset.


Last line

We are a product of the choices we make, not the circumstances that we face – Roger Crawford