Leadership character is often exposed during the difficult times we experience. When things go well for us it is far easier to maintain a balanced approach to situations and have a positive attitude towards others around us.
At Leadership Platform we have extensive contact with leadership conduct in both good as well as bad times. Adriaan Groenewald wrote an incisive article about the subject that was published in the Business Report a few days ago. The following extract from the article is inspirational for those of us who want to master the art of good leadership:
“During difficult times it is important for leaders to be aware of an inclination that most human beings possess: Under pressure we more often than not default back to current and even past weaknesses, negative behavior and even those actions that seemed to work for us or relieved stress during previous stressful situations.
If you had a propensity towards anger, then you will probably resort to it when pressure mounts. If your weakness is/was misappropriation of finances in some form (weakness for money), under pressure you may resort to unacceptable financial practices. If your past behavior consisted of sexual promiscuity, or even an addiction to pornography, under pressure you may resort to same behavior. The same goes for addictions like drugs or alcohol.
Your weakness or negative behavior may be as simple as being disorganized, having a low self-esteem, certain prejudices and even an unhealthy need to be liked, accepted. I can go on with examples. During good times these weaknesses and negative behaviors remain hidden, suppressed or under control.
The same goes for an organization, weaknesses in its system and offerings are hidden during times of plenty. When times are very tough, these often surface and become more amplified. This is a ‘normal’ human tendency that leaders are of course susceptible to, only they are often under more pressure and more visible than ordinary individuals and when these manifest it becomes headline news. While this condition has existed over the ages, today, with the immediacy of information and media it seems more prevalent.
What to do about it?
Leaders must work hard at knowing themselves – their weaknesses, past negative behavior, strengths, desires, deep seated values, and much more. Personal reflection is crucial. Understand your current and potential barriers to your full potential. Where possible eradicate weaknesses, but know you are vulnerable in those areas, especially during difficult times, which will become more frequent than ever before. In fact, it is the new reality.
Learn to absorb pressure: Part of getting to know yourself is knowing how best to absorb pressure; how best to re-energize. There was a time when it was sufficient to work hard and at the end of the year take a long holiday to re-energize, re-calibrate. Then some leaders caught the vision to somehow take more regular breaks, because pressure and pace increased. It seems even this approach is not enough as leaders come back to the same pace and pressure, with inboxes filled to capacity, and within a day they feel like they are back where they were. Because of the pace of our environment more decisions need to be made quicker than ever before. So, leaders decide to take technology with them so as to mitigate pressure upon their return. But this kind of defeats the purpose. It seems leaders will have to learn to re-energize weekly and even daily, over and above more regular breaks.
Find a way to remain balanced, happy, connected to who you are and what your actual purpose is. No human being can absorb extraordinary power, influence and affluence and keep their feet on the ground without conscious effort. If Vavi was really connected to who he was, his purpose of standing for honesty and integrity in all things, he would not have succumbed to cheating on his wife.
Become more confident and conscious about how you create successful movement. Far too many leaders depend on luck to create their movement. More than ever they need to be absolutely conscious about the process they implement to do it. There must be complete clarity in their minds regarding this function of leadership. When one is not absolutely clear and confident about any process, what happens is that under pressure your actions resort to very primitive behavior – basic instincts like pure survival.
Confidence is trust in processes that work. A seasoned martial artist will, under pressure of defending himself against an attacker act in a confident and composed manner, while someone that only recently learnt some tricks of martial arts will resort to very ineffective behavior like freezing, trying to run away or swinging wildly once or twice and being so tired as a result that the attacker can push them over with one hand.
If a leader is not absolutely confident in the processes that lead to successful movement, under pressure he will resort to ineffective behavior that those around him just can’t understand. The behavior will be totally contradictory to the intelligence of the leader. He will cut costs wildly, act aggressively towards those around him and even stop taking those universal steps that will and must result in effective movement forward.
The new reality is different. South Africa is different. Choices we make today determine the leadership culture we create. And, the leadership culture determines what leaders we develop in the future. We must get this one right. We owe it to our leadership legacy.”
It takes courage to develop good character that will respond positively and fearlessly under pressure. We have the privilege of having personal leadership conversations with leaders who respond positively to pressure situations. What a difference these people make to the fibre of our country at all levels of society!
May the reader learn to more fully appreciate and value his or her good character traits and work hard to eradicate those weaknesses that act as barriers to successful movement.
Remember that when we slip into a crisis management frame of mind we are in danger of losing the respect and performance of the very people that we depend on to turn the situation around.
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