Consider this statement:
“…the brain is a malleable organ. Every time you do an activity, or have a thought, you are changing a piece of yourself into something slightly different than it was before.
Every hour you spend with others, you become more like the people around you. Gradually, you become a different person. If there is a large gap between your daily conduct and your core commitment, you will become more like your daily activities and less attached to your original commitment.” David Brooks, political and cultural commentator
Two weeks ago I wrote about the landmarks one needs to look out for while walking their leadership journey. I didn’t make the statement then, but will make it now:
If you do not find yourself passing by the markers of
(1) Acceptance, (2) Credibility, and (3) Legacy
as set out in that article, you are in fact not a true leader or the leader that you may think you are.
This may seem to you to be too pointed a declaration or perhaps you may even consider them as fighting words, and if so, then perhaps my next statement needs to be: “If the shoe fits, wear it.”
Now before you decide you are going to run me down next time you see me crossing the street, let me explain what I am talking about:
The key phrase in my statement above is “as set out in that article”. More so than just highlighting the landmarks, I shared what is a proven process for gaining the highest and longest lasting form of Acceptance, Credibility, and Legacy. This process is entirely reliant on an underlying key moral and ethical code of conduct and commitment. It is based on the assumption that you are a good human being striving to be your very best.
Can one gain Acceptance without this commitment and following a different course? Absolutely. You can bully your way up the corporate ladder or in and out of situations and be Accepted as you do so, but that acceptance is based purely in and upon a follower’s fear motive.
Animals live in such a way – pack animals rely on a system of domination and subservience, where a dominant male or female is in charge for as long as he or she can remain the biggest and strongest. As a result, their leadership is constantly at risk and they will even resort to killing offspring to retain power for as long as possible. Ultimately though, there is always one bigger or stronger, or tired enough of being treated poorly.
So too, your role and title may be Accepted, but you are not.
Can one lie, cheat, steal and bully their way to Credibility? The key consideration here is Credibility in the eyes of whom? If all your energy is focused on trying to show your bosses (and we all have bosses) how good you are or at any cost how well you can make your team or division perform, you will gain a certain kind of Credibility. But this is far from the Leadership Credibility we are in fact talking about.
If in order to be a leader we must have followers, then the only Credibility that counts in that equation is the Credibility that instills confidence in one’s followers. And it doesn’t come through deception, intimidation, or theft.
Putting Legacy under the same microscope, we can come to this simple conclusion: As the basic instinct of the injured and defeated King of the Jungle is to slink off and die alone while his successor claims his prize, so too we, if we give into the base behaviours of lying, cheating, and stealing, will have a Legacy that is quickly forgotten as we also, alone, slink off and in the minds and hearts of our “followers” die.
Enough with the metaphors. What are we actually speaking about today? Let’s revisit the quote from David Brooks.
As a natural consequence of life, a leader, and any person for that matter, finds them self in a process where they are constantly changing, constantly becoming more or less.
We also see that the landmarks shared above seem to rely heavily on humility, consistency, and authenticity.
And so we must conclude that in order to become a leader, we must also become humble, consistent, and authentic in order to enjoy the constancy and fealty of a group of true followers.
But how does one become humble, consistent, and authentic?
This is where we speak of a moral and ethical code of conduct and commitment.
The definition of ethics as found in the Oxford Dictionary is: “moral principles that govern a person’s behaviour or the conducting of an activity”.
So when considering whether we want to become a leader, we need to identify the “moral principles that govern a [leader]’s behaviour” or in other words, the moral principles that will assist one to live a life of humility, consistency, and authenticity.
When put that way, becoming a leader suddenly seems a lot easier to do. It also helps us to understand that being a leader is not so much about the positions we hold as it is about the person we are.
In addition to this, if we were able to understand the correlation between the confidence a good leader instills within a follower and that follower’s subsequent willingness and eagerness to perform in his or her area of responsibility, we would be constantly engaged in a process of self assessment and correction with a goal to adhere to moral principles that lead to humility, consistency, and authenticity.
So let’s get back to wearing the shoe:
The origin of the words “lead”, “leader”, and “leadership” is found in the Old English word līthan. In Merriam-Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary we learn that this word līthan means: “to guide on a way: show by going with or in advance of.”
Are we doing this? Are we guiding on the way or showing by going with or in advance of?
I put to you that many of us are not and we need to wear that shoe and take responsibility for this failure if it is the case.
But we can change. If we focus our energy and time on doing the right things, we will “…gradually become a different person”.
All of us want to see growth and movement within our respective areas of influence, be it our family, a team, division, or organization. And I assure you that there are few, if any, people that wake up in the morning and say to themselves that they are going to deliberately ruin the chances of that movement taking place.
I believe that the decision to do more and be more, or do less and be less comes as a direct result of the leadership to which people are exposed.
“The task of the leader is to get his people from where they are to where they have not been.” Henry Kissinger
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