What is the most important leadership trait for surviving our tough-as-nails economy? Some leaders might guess intuition (for knowing where to take their company next) or persuasiveness (for getting others to go along with them) or resourcefulness (for getting more bang from very limited bucks). While those things are important, they are not the most important. The most critical leadership trait -- the one without which none of the others matter -- is something they're more likely to associate with four-star generals or firefighters than with leaders. It is courage.
Here's the thing about operating in a harsh business environment: There are serious consequences for making the wrong move. The safety net just isn't there. And because competition is so fierce and customers are so savvy, leaders might have to make some pretty risky choices to differentiate themselves. Otherwise they're a nonentity -- and their career and maybe even their company might fail.
Fortunately, there is some good news. Courage is not a quality that people are born with. It can be developed and nurtured. And if leaders commit to leading with courage, and consciously work toward that goal every day in every decision they make and every action they take, acting courageously will soon become an automatic response.
Courage is about clarity and mindfulness -- clarity as to what you believe and mindfulness in the execution of those beliefs in the culture. I would rather a leader stand up and say that he will adjust his values based on the circumstances and do whatever he feels like doing because he really doesn't care, than to have a leader espouse a set of values and then live out of alignment with them. People crave courageous leadership.
In my coaching work I measure the courage of a leader in several ways:
1. The level of clarity regarding the heart and soul of the leadership message
• Is your message clear and inspiring?
• Is it understood and actionable?
• Does it resonate throughout the culture?
• Is it relevant to the culture, the customer and the follower?
2. The degree to which the followers are engaged in the strategy
• Do the followers see how they fit in/contribute to the vision?
• Do you ask for input from your followers?
• Are you flexible in your strategy as long as the outcome is assured?
3. The degree of action orientation
• Does the leader work diligently to remove obstacles?
• Is the leader relentless about quickness in decision making and execution?
• Does the leader insist on accountability and results over effort?
There are two sides to leadership: scientific and artistic. The scientific side encompasses everything a leader has to do every day to execute the fundamental processes or systems of the business. The artistic side is all about answering questions like: What are my values and how do I communicate them to the culture? How do I connect what I believe with my company's mission? How do I create the right kind of culture for the people who follow me? What type of experience do I need to be creating for my followers so they have the greatest chances for success?
One more thought: Leaders are who they are, both at work and at home. If they are trying to live in two separate worlds -- being one person in their personal life and a different person in their professional life -- they're on the path to destruction. I help clients integrate what they actually believe with how they behave at work and how their culture behaves. Everything works together to create a life, their life.
Mike Staver is CEO of the Staver Group. Together with his colleagues, he provides keynote presentations, consulting programs, workshops and executive coaching sessions that help people lead with courage and authenticity. Staver presented the keynote address at Northstar’s Destination California hosted-buyer event at the Loews Coronado Bay Resort, provided by Goodman Speakers Bureau. To learn more about booking Staver, contact Diane Goodman at [email protected] or call (860) 580-7040.