The ABC of leadership III

(Continued from last week)
N – Nerve
Fear is a major factor that draws people back from attaining the highest level possible. Fear stops men from living their value. Fear keeps people from taking the decision that could birth the change they need. Fear keeps chief executives from executing ideas and strategies that will give them phenomenal growth. Where fear holds sway, opportunities are not seized, status quos are not challenged, frontiers are not extended, innovations are not pioneered and average performance becomes the standard. Fear restrains people from doing the right thing. The antidote to fear is nerve or courage. Aspiration to a higher height is always countered by opposition; the only thing that overcomes such opposition is courage. Courage is doing the right thing irrespective of the consequences.

When leaders are not afraid of the backlash of their actions, they stretch themselves, prod their subordinates to seek new frontier and make their organizations outstanding. While other leaders are content with keeping the status quo, they pursue new possibilities. Courageous leaders are neither motivated by praise nor flattened by criticism. What keeps them going is the understanding that their decisions and actions are in the best interest of their organizations. So, they keep pushing until they get their desired outcome even if not many people believe in them.

Alan Mulally left his job as Executive Vice President at Boeing to join Ford Motors as Chief Executive Officer only to find out that the organization was in a dire strait. Ford was losing money on every car it produced and about $18billion yearly. The future looked bleak not just for Ford but for other vehicle manufacturing companies as well, especially after the 2008 global economic meltdown. The USA government offered to bail out the companies, others (General Motors and Chrysler) agreed but Mulally persuaded the board not to take the bailout but to allow him borrow money to reinvigorate the distressed company.


The board agreed and the Ford family also agreed to pledge its stocks as well as the company’s trademark, the Ford Blue Oval, as collateral. It was a daring move but Mulally was able to swing it off through his creative leadership and ‘cultural revolution’. The company regained its market share, became profitable and was able to avoid bankruptcy. So, while its competitors were taken over by the American government, Ford ownership remained unchanged.

Without courage, it will be difficult for leaders to leave a legacy.


O – Opportunity

A major advantage that great leaders have over others is their ability to identify and pursue opportunities. When opportunities are identified, a new vista of possibilities emerges, when opportunities are seized, a new window of revenue generation is created. While identifying and seizing opportunities improve the lot of some organizations and persons, many people miss opportunities because they do not want to soil their hands with the associated work.

Giuliani and September 11

Rudy Giuliani saw the opportunity to force his name into the consciousness of the world when terrorists attacked the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001 and seized it with both hands. Prior to the attack, he had spent seven uneventful years as the city’s Mayor and he was sliding into irrelevance. But by deciding to step into the scene and coordinating the response of various departments, while also organizing the support of state and federal governments for the affected site, his rating changed. His handling of the disaster became the defining moment of his public service career as it revived his sagging popularity among the city’s residents.

Giuliani had arrived the scene of the attack a few minutes after the second plane crash and immediately took charge of the rescue operations which resulted in saving no fewer than 20,000 lives. Rather than leaving the people despondent, the Mayor gave them hope. He had said, as his response to the debilitating attack on the city, “Tomorrow, New York is going to be here. And we’re going to rebuild, and we’re going to be stronger than we were before… I want the people of New York to be an example to the rest of the country, and the rest of the world, that terrorism can’t stop us.”

Giuliani was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2001, because of his handling of the September 11 attacks. He was also awarded an honorary knighthood in 2002 by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2008, he sought the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. He was regarded by many as a front runner until he withdrew to endorse John McCain, whio eventually emerged the candidate.

From a lack-lustre city Mayor, Giuliani later became known as the ‘America’s mayor’, all because he saw an opportunity and made the most of it.


P – Purpose

Leadership is of no essence without purpose. Purpose is the strength of leadership. It is the anchor that holds the leader steady during a storm. When a leader comes to the understanding of his purpose in leadership, he is able to stay focused. But when there is a knowledge gap, misbehavior becomes the norm and misadventure becomes inevitable. Purpose is the energy of productivity; it is the difference between efficiency and effectiveness. When purpose is understood, success becomes attainable, but until it is understood, success is nothing but an apparition.  As observed by Napoleon Hill, “There is one quality which one must possess to win, and that is definiteness of purpose, the knowledge of what one wants, and a burning desire to possess it.” Agreeing with him, Dennis Waitley says, “Winners are people with definite purpose in life.”

Purpose births priority. Without priority, resources are frittered, opportunities are mismanaged, and people are maltreated. Until purpose is understood every route holds an attraction, but when purpose is known, some erstwhile pursuits lose their appeal.


Checks for a purpose:

Am I doing the right thing?

Will what I am engaged in take me to my envisioned end?

Am I with the right person(s)?

Can my association with these persons facilitate the accomplishment of my purpose?

Is this the right time to do what I am doing?

If what I am doing is right, is this the best time to do it? Will I get maximum value for my effort at this time?

Is this the best place for this activity?

Can I get the highest value for what I am doing if I continue where I am?

Is this the best way to deploy my resources?

Am I making the most appropriate use of my resources?


Q – Question

Great leaders never stop asking questions. They are never satisfied with the status quo so they keep asking questions, probing to get better and go higher. They make use of questions to improve themselves, bring out the best in their team members and put their organizations on the path of real growth. By asking the right questions, the leaders get new information and many things that were hitherto hazy become clear. Through the instrumentality of questioning, the leader is able to chart a new course for his organization and a struggling organization is transformed into a thriving one.  Questions hold the key to endless possibilities.

Leading through questioning is a concept that was developed by Socrates, the ancient Greek philosopher, who used it extensively to improve himself, his leadership as well as his associates. He premised this style on the assumption that his understanding could be exponentially enhanced if he managed to ask the right questions. He was wont to say “All I know is that I know nothing.” With that he sought to know more by asking questions and the more he knew the better he became and the more effective those around him also turned out to be.

These are some of the questions leaders ask.


How can I get better?

A leader that wants to go far never stops working on himself, he never stops probing himself. This is for both the neophyte as well as the veteran leader. The assumption is that there is nothing so good that cannot be made better, so the leader asks himself this question with a view to becoming better as an individual. This creates a deliberate thirst for continuous improvement in him and he takes conscious steps to satisfy this urge.


What are we doing right?

The sustainable success of an organization is linked to its understanding of its strength. No organization excels in everything; every organization has an area where it has an edge (or can have an advantage) over others. But unless this is understood it is of little or no advantage to the organization. It is not enough to just assume that the organization’s strength is in one particular area, the leader and his team must be on the same page concerning what this is. Hence, the leader must consistently ask his team as well as the organization’s other publics what the organization is good at. He needs to ask his team members what the group is doing right. He needs to find out the area or areas in which the organization has recorded success repeatedly and find out what brought about the feat. Knowing this will help the organization to keep repeating successes in these areas.


What do we need to improve upon?

The journey to building a great organization involves finding out areas of operation and activities of the organization that require improvement. This is a continuous exercise that does not end even after the organization has attained appreciable level of greatness because any organization that does not consistently improve will not remain successful for long. The leader and his team need to constantly answer the question of what the organization needs to improve upon. This can be in the area of process, operation, marketing, human resource management or any other aspect. By probing into these areas, the organization is able to get invaluable information that, when utilized, positions it for improved performance.


What do we need to change?

Success can lead to a false sense of fulfillment which may not only kill innovation and cripple creativity but also has the capacity of shutting the leader’s eye to areas of grave weakness. But great leaders never allow themselves to get caught in that web because they always ask the question, ‘what do we need to change?’ They know that change is inevitable so they are not goaded by the mantra ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ They ask probing questions that can reveal areas that require change and when these are discovered, they leave no stone unturned to effect the required change.


Are we making the right decisions?

One major thing that shapes an organization is its decisions. Therefore, a leader must always ask questions to find out if the organization is making the right decisions. Before taking actions on the answer to each of the questions above, he must ask and answer the question; ‘Are we making the right decision?’ This is critical because one wrong decision can bring down a hundred year-old organization. Therefore, the leader must always go the extra mile and take extra care to avoid making wrong decisions.


R – Resourcefulness

Without being resourceful, there is a ceiling to what a leader can hope to achieve with the resources at his beck and call. Without resourcefulness, leadership could be frustrating because resources are often inadequate to achieve determined goals, but it takes a resourceful leader to stretch available resources to get desired results. Therefore, perhaps the most important resource a leader needs is resourcefulness.

Resourcefulness is the ability to optimize available resources to achieve set objectives. Resourcefulness is coming to the realization that the leader and his team are capable of doing more than they initially thought possible. It is looking inwards and outwards to get a problem solved. Being resourceful has less to do with insufficient personnel, tools or funding but more to do with deploying available resources into finding a way out of a labyrinth. Hence, every complaint about inadequate resource is an admission of deficiency in resourcefulness. Resourceful leaders can always get any resource they need by making use of the available ones.

To demonstrate resourcefulness, leaders must always redefine possibility. No leader who aspires to greatness can afford to have his mind confined to a way of thinking. The only permanent thing in life is change; therefore, those who are unwilling to change will lose their relevance. Leaders must always be open to new possibilities because that is where the future resides.

Then leaders have to be creative to boost their resourcefulness. Creativity is bringing about new things or improving on what already exists. Since resourcefulness is stretching available resources to get desired results, this cannot be achieved without creativity.


Last line    

In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock. – Thomas Jefferson


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