Posts Tagged ‘trustworthiness’

Daddy as a little boyMy dad was the first quintessential leader I encountered in life. He wasn’t perfect – none of us are – but who he was and how he lived his life was anchored to the principles of quintessential leadership.

In the years since Daddy’s death in 1998, I’ve met and or reconnected with many people who knew my dad well and one of the things I’ve consistently heard about him was that he was a good man, a kind man, and a gentle man with an open heart ready to serve and open ears and time ready to listen. (more…)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.As today – January 16, 2017 – marks the United States’ federal observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday (Dr. King’s actual birth date was January 15, 1929), it is a good time to review some of the quintessential leadership traits that Dr. King possessed and that we should be looking for and developing in our own quintessential leadership journeys. (more…)

Quintessential leadership is absent without a consistently stellar reputationSeth Godin’s blog post today is about reputation. The points he makes are well-stated, accurate, and something that we who are striving to be quintessential leaders should be thinking about all the time in what we say, what we do and who and what we are.

We can never be reminded of this too often, though.

How are we doing?

Unquintessential leaders don't acknowledge their limitations and are chameleonsIt seems to be more and more difficult – if not impossible – for people to acknowledge their limitations in any area of life. Because of the ubiquitous influence of technology – and our exploding addiction to it – society in general seems to have been lulled into the deception that everyone’s an expert, everyone knows everything, and no one has any limitations.

Quintessential leaders stand out as the increasingly rare exceptions to this general trend. We know our areas of expertise, but equally important, we know our limitations even in those areas as well as our limitations in all the other areas where we are either not experts or truly don’t have clue. 

What does not acknowledging our limitations, which is what unquintessential leaders do, look like? What causes it? And what are the results?

Do you know people who seem to be chameleons? Are you a chameleon?

Chameleons – the reptiles – are notorious for adapting to whatever environment they are in by changing their skin color to match the environment around them. This is both a protective function (you can’t be eaten if you can’t be seen) and a predatory function (if your prey can’t see you, they’ll willingly stroll casually right into being your dinner). 

In many ways, human chameleons can have the same protective and predatory functions.

Not all human chameleons are even aware that they are chameleons. In this case, the chameleon function is protective.

Protective chameleonThe way it looks in humans as protective function is that they change completely to fit in whatever group they are in at a given time. They literally look like several different people in one body.

Perhaps these chameleons are unaware of the striking contradictions this presents in the big picture of their lives. Perhaps it doesn’t matter because the reward they receive is what matters most.

These protective chameleons are insecure with themselves and with their abilities. They are people-pleasers and they want everybody to like them and to accept them. They are consummate “yes” people to everybody. They’re always the first to agree, the first to raise their hands, and the first to say they’re on board with anything in any group they are in.

The results of being a protective chameleon bring about the exact opposite of what protective chameleons are trying to achieve.

Because they can’t possibly do everything they agree to do, they either just simply don’t do most of what they say they will do or they take so long to do it that someone else ends up having to get it done.

This often looks like procrastination, but in reality it’s the result of needing to be liked and accepted to such a great extent that protective chameleons overpromise and overcommit, knowing they can’t do – and perhaps not even intending to do – what they’ve promised and committed to do. 

Therefore, protective chameleons are undependable. They appear to be wishy-washy. And they destroy trust.

Predatory chameleonPredatory chameleons are consciously duplicitous and deceitful. They knowingly pretend to be an integral part of whatever group of people they are with. These people are often charming and engaging, and they will encourage full disclosure with assurances of confidentiality in each group they’re with.

Predatory chameleons are information brokers. Their sole intent is to get information and use that information for their own gain (money or power or both).

Predatory chameleons have played the game a long, long time and they know exactly what they are doing and they know the rewards it will bring them. In other words, they don’t care as long as they get what they want.

Like protective chameleons, predatory chameleons also destroy destroy trust. Unlike most protective chameleons, predatory chameleons also intentionally destroy lives. That is actually part of the reward for them.

No matter which type of chameleon these people are, one of the common characteristics they share is the inability and the unwillingness to ever acknowledge their limitations. In other words, they are fundamentally, whether its conscious or not, dishonest.

Quintessential leaders, on the other hand, value honesty and integrity as essential parts of their character.

Quintessential leaders are not going to pretend to be somebody they are not or to know something they don’t or to do something they either can’t do or don’t want to do.

Saying “no” is not taboo. In fact, it’s often the right thing to do. It is often the smart thing to do. It is often the sane thing to do. 

But we live in a society where saying “yes,” even if it’s a lie, to everything is not only accepted, but expected.

That’s a significant integrity problem that the entire human race is saddled with now. And, sadly, few people recognize it and even fewer people struggle against it to do the right thing.

Shame on us.

There is also a lot of integrity in saying “I don’t know,” which is what quintessential leaders do when they really don’t know something.

Of course, they always offer to find out if that “I don’t know” is just something they are unfamiliar with, but would be able to do with the right resources or if that “I don’t know” means they really aren’t able to do something.

So, quintessential leaders not only recognize their limitations, but they also acknowledge them. They believe in and practice full disclosure of what they are able do and what they aren’t able to do at all times.

It might cost them financially because they lose potential business and income to someone else who can do what they can’t.

It might cost them socially because they won’t conform to norms that violate their principles and beliefs.

But here is the one thing it won’t cost them: trust. Even if quintessential leaders lose potential customers (and income) or they lose social relationships because they acknowledge their limitations, they will have built trust.

The social relationships generally don’t come back and that, in the end, is just as well. But even those people will remember the quintessential leader as someone who had integrity and courage even if they vehemently disagree with them.

Potential customers, on the other hand, even though they may have chosen a different route, will remember the trustworthiness of quintessential leaders and they will come back in the future. That’s a guarantee.

Especially in a world where honesty and trust is in short supply and each passing day reveals more broken trust and dishonesty everywhere we look.

Once trust is broken, it is, seldom, if ever, possible to regain it and/or repair it. It is one of the most valuable things that each us has and it is heartbreaking to see how lightly and casually we treat it. 

So now is the time for you and me who are striving to become quintessential leaders to look into our own lives and see where we stand in the area of acknowledging our own limitations.

chameleon-unquintessential-leaderAre we chameleons? 

If we are chameleons, are we protective chameleons or are we predatory chameleons?

If we are chameleons, are we okay with being chameleons, no matter which type we are?

Are we consistently striving to be quintessential leaders in this area of our lives?

No matter what you and I answer to these questions, if we aren’t happy with the answer, there is a remedy.

The remedy is change. Change requires us to be rigorously honest with ourselves. Change requires us to be conscious of the things that we are doing and why. Change requires us to consciously replace the behavior we don’t want with the behavior we do want.

As always, change is a process and none of us change easily or perfectly or overnight. But we can’t change if we don’t commit to it and don’t take that first step and follow it up with every other step toward the right direction.

How are we doing?

 

Authenticity is Who and What Quintessential Leaders AreA discernible trait of quintessential leaders is that we are continually striving for authenticity in every part of who, what, and how we are. It is an easily-identifiable part of our character which is borne out by our behavior.

One of the easiest aspects of behavior that shows us what both unquintessential leadership and quintessential leadership looks like is in our verbal and written communication with others.

Whether we are authentic or unauthentic is plain to see by what words we say and write and how we say and write them. 

The words we choose and the method we use to convey those words provide vital insights into whether we are striving for authenticity or whether we are, at the heart, core, and soul of who we are, either struggling with inauthenticity or we are truly committed to being inauthentic as a matter of course.

I make the distinction between struggling with inauthenticity and being committed to it because it’s important for all of us to understand that quintessential leaders will struggle at times with inauthenticity, while unquintessential leaders don’t struggle at all with it because being inauthentic is a committed way of being for them.

So what makes the difference between struggling with inauthenticity and being committed to it?

Awareness is the difference.

Quintessential leaders who are being inauthentic are not aware of being inauthentic, but as soon as they become aware of the inauthenticity, they commit to changing it immediately.

Unquintessential leaders, on the other hand, are fully aware of being inauthentic and are determined to remain inauthentic.

How do I know this? Because I’ve struggled with inauthenticity at times and not even realized it. However, once it hit me between the eyes, opening my eyes to an area of inauthenticity, I immediately made and fulfilled the commitment to change it.

Not being aware of inauthenticity is a part of the growth cycle for humans and the mature development of quintessential leaders (if all of us were already perfect, we’d have absolutely nothing to do and no place to go and life would be interminably boring and meaningless). 

However, it is often the case – to our shame and discredit – that as we who are striving to be quintessential leaders are unaware of our own areas of inauthenticity, we are eager to and constantly pointing, in public venues and in condemning language, out the areas of inauthenticity in other growing-into-quintessential-leaders who are unaware of their own areas of inauthenticity. 

This is unquintessential leadership behavior. Quintessential leaders examine themselves and they focus on changing what they need to change. They do not constantly exalt themselves as paragons of virtue and continually look around at everyone else and proclaim, for the whole world to see, their faults and shortcomings.

Instead, they work diligently to be an example, in every area of their lives, of what quintessential leadership looks like. They know that action – their own work on themselves – can be a powerful motivator and teacher for everyone with whom their lives intersect.

They also know that constant and public criticism and condemnation is not only a powerful demotivator, but a lousy example for anyone to follow and emulate (unfortunately, human nature tends toward this kind of behavior, so there are always plenty of admirers and supporters in criticism and condemnation of other people).

So before we look at what authenticity in communication looks like, let’s first look at what it doesn’t look like.

Vladimar Nabokov wrote, “Words without experience are meaningless.” I would clarify this to say that any words spoken or written without experience or empathy (literally the ability and choice to walk in the shoes of someone else’s experience and understand that experience from their perspective) and compassion are meaningless.

Inauthenticity in communication says and writes words that are empty and hollow because the person communicating them either has never experienced what they are communicating about or they lack empathy and compassion, choosing to assume they know something they don’t or choosing to pass judgment without facts, without understanding, and without knowledge.

This is unquintessential leadership because pride and arrogance are behind the communication as well as a total lack of kindness and gentleness. In other words, the communicator believes, even though they don’t have clue nor do they care what they’re talking about, that they are entitled to say or write the words as well as being harsh and condemning in the process.

Inauthenticity in communication is also evident in the common behavior of simply parroting cliches, “conventional wisdom,” and idioms because it seems like the right thing to say or write.

There is no thought or depth that goes into these utterances. In fact, this is the cheap and easy way out: we throw a well-worn phrase that sounds good and we’ve heard all our lives at someone else, check it off our list (while patting ourselves on the back for our generosity and benevolence toward the poor souls we communicated with), erase it permanently, and go blissfully on with our unimpacted lives without missing a beat.

Parroting as a method of communication is unquintessential leadership for a couple of reasons.

The first is motivation. We’re communicating something we’ve always heard – but most of the time have not had to put to the test of veracity through experience – because it makes us feel better, not because it will make the person we’re communicating with feel better.

The second reason parroting is unquintessential leadership is because we are not taking the person we’re communicating with into account at all. We don’t seek insight and understanding by taking the time to really listen to them – we may hear them, but there’s a world of difference between just hearing and really listening – nor do we take the time to think about the kind of communication we would want from someone if we were in the same or similar circumstances. 

By simply parroting something we’ve heard but have no evidence or proof of its value and/or truth, we effectively complete dismiss the person we’re communicating with and we tell them we don’t care about them and they are not important enough to us for us to waste our time with them.

So now that we know what it doesn’t look like, let’s discuss what authenticity in communication – quintessential leadership – does look like.

Unfortunately, as Nabokov stated, experience is often how we gain the ability to be authentic in our communication with other people. However, whether we have authenticity in our communication with others still comes down to us making the choice to be authentic.

Choosing authenticity in our communication with other people requires an investment from us. In them. In time. In effort. In carefulness.

In a society where unquintessential leadership abounds, as well as entitlement and “it’s all about me,” the selflessness required for this kind of investment has all but disappeared.

The difference between empathy and sympathyBut quintessential leaders know that they don’t have to have experienced something to be authentic in their communication with other people. And because of their commitment to developing unimpeachable character, two of the highly-developed traits they have are empathy and compassion for other people.

Empathy, like most of the other traits that make quintessential leaders trustworthy, is very rare and getting rarer. Most people believe that sympathy and empathy are the same thing and they are not.

Sympathy takes no long-term investment in another person: it tends to be a hands-off, “one-and-done” event.

Empathy, on the other hand, is a hands-on, long-term, hand-in-hand walk through the journey of – and with – another person. It is seeing through their eyes, understanding through their thoughts and emotions, and listening with interaction to know what is really behind their communication (often the words that are said or written have something else entirely behind them).

Compassion is always a by-product of and a companion of empathy. It is understanding, encouraging, invested, gentle, kind, and patient. It can be – and should be – the result of our own struggles, setbacks, and hard times in life. 

But because compassion and empathy are so interrelated, many people choose a lack of compassion because they offer only sympathy as a one-time-shot to other people.

These same people also, ironically, do everything in their power to evoke compassion toward themselves, including constant manipulation, self-exaltation, and telling everyone how they are not like all those other poor slobs in the world who don’t deserve anyone’s compassion.

This is the Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind) syndrome, because like Margaret Mitchell’s infamous anti-heroine, in the end, everything is all about them and they refuse to share the stage of life with anyone else.

Another area that demonstrates the authenticity of quintessential leaders in communication with other people is that quintessential leaders do not parrot cliches, “conventional wisdom,” or idioms. Instead, quintessential leaders consider carefully the impact of their words and how they use them.

Because quintessential leaders are invested in other people, they understand and are sensitive to the needs that exist.

Words have power and weightThey are also profoundly aware of the power of words, the impact of words, and the effect of words. 

They are not cavalier with words, simply letting whatever comes immediately to mind come out in their speech and writing. They always spend a considerable amount of time looking for ways to deeply and encouragingly communicate and avoiding hurt and offense. 

They know and understand that even words that may advocate a course correction should build up and not tear down. That can’t be done with parroting something someone else has said or something they’ve heard all their lives. It can only be done with original thought combined with empathy and compassion.

This is just one aspect of behavior that makes quintessential leaders rare in society today.

But each of us is striving to become a quintessential leader, so this must be a behavior we develop, grow, and exhibit everywhere in our lives and model for all the teams we lead in our lives. 

I say this often, but it cannot be repeated too much. If you breathe for a living, you lead at least one team in your life. Quintessential leadership is not confined to organizations, and can, therefore, be dismissed by everyone else. 

Somebody in your life is looking to you and depending on you to model leadership for them. It might be your children. It might be your students. It might be your family members. It might be your spouse. It might be your coworkers. It might be your friends. It might be the sports team you coach. It might be the volunteer groups you are involved with. It might be anybody.

So, as always, we must look in our own mirrors and conduct a thorough, extensive, comprehensive, and fearlessly honest evaluation of what our communication with other people looks like.

Are we inauthentic anywhere or everywhere in our communication with other people? 

If we are, is it because we lack awareness of our inauthenticity in our communication with other people?

Or is it because we’ve deliberately committed to a path of inauthenticity in our communication with other people?

If we find authenticity in our communication with other people, are we committed to preserving that and developing it to the point where it is literally a part of who and what we are all the time?

I can only answer these questions for myself. Each of you can answer them only for yourselves. Do we have the character and the courage to look, to see, to answer, and to change where and if we need to?

How are we doing?

Leaders Must Have Ethics and Morals - Strength Alone is Not EnoughIt seems to me that the term “leader” has now begun to ring hollow because it’s applied to anybody and everybody in the world who emerges in the top tier of the heap of any social, religious, academic, governmental, or organizational structure, regardless of how they got there.

The reality is that how they got to the top of the heap matters. A lot. Just because people end up in the top tier of any of these venues does not automatically mean they are leaders. Anymore, it often means just the opposite.

Why?

Because how people get to the top of the heap shows the kind of ethical-moral foundation they have. Or don’t have.

While we seem to routinely disconnect how people behave from their intellect, knowledge, and skills, we do ourselves a huge disservice when we don’t consider the whole person, especially when they’re begging us to unconditionally (which, by the way, is unquintessential leadership) follow them.

The presence or absence of an ethical-moral foundation in a person is directly proportional to whether they build trust and are trustworthy or they destroy trust and are not trustworthy.

The reality is that there is very little trust and trustworthiness in the world today. Time and again, most of us prove, often in what we believe are “little things,” that we cannot be trusted and we are not trustworthy. 

Little things,” it turns out, are symptomatic of big things and those big things show whether we have an ethical-moral foundation or not. How is this translated practically? In a word, character. Character embodies these elements: who we are, what we are, our motives, our attitudes, our thoughts, our words, and our actions.

If one or more of those elements doesn’t sync up with the rest, or what we claim to be, then we have a problem with our ethical-moral foundation and we are deficient in character.

There are certain external behaviors that reveal more than others whether we have an ethical-moral foundation. They are:

  1. A pattern of questionable and surreptitious actions that have built-in plausible deniability;
  2. A history of deflecting responsibility and/or changing the subject (avoiding the subject altogether) when confronted with substantiated actions and words;
  3. A prevailing sense of anger and outrage each time these kinds of actions and words occur and we are called on it;
  4. A history of twisting, spinning, angling, deception, and dishonesty that threads through our entire lives;
  5. An overarching pride and arrogance that literally oozes from our pores continually;
  6. An inability to ever admit we are wrong, we’ve done something wrong, and we need to make amends and change those wrongs in a demonstrable way.

I am very rarely completely on the same page as New York Times columnist David Brooks (I find him to be myopic, elitist, and without an objective view of the big picture most of the time, and that leads him to conclusions that are generally lopsided and not entirely accurate), but in his April 28, 2015 op-ed piece, “Goodness and Power,” Brooks nails the integrated relationship between quintessential leadership and an ethical-moral foundation.

Hillary Clinton Dishonest and UntrustworthyBrooks began the piece with the results of a Quinnipiac Poll that showed that 60% of independent voters rated Hillary Clinton as a strong leader. But 61% of those same voters said that Hillary Clinton is not honest and is not trustworthy (here’s the disconnect I referred to before between behavior and intellect, knowledge, and skills).

Then Brooks moves out to the long view that the real ability to lead is directly tied to honesty and trustworthiness by asking the right question: “Can you be a bad person but a strong leader?”

As those of us who are striving to be quintessential leaders know already, the answer is “no.” To paraphrase Brooks, putting “…someone with bad private morals [in a leadership position] is like setting off on a battleship with awesome guns and a rotting hull. There’s a good chance you’re going to sink before the voyage is over.”

Why?

As Brooks notes, people who have no ethical-moral foundation are Machiavellian in their behavior and the end always justifies the means, and in the end what we get is not leadership, but tyranny and despotism.

The lust for power and control is the driving force behind these unquintessential leaders. The dishonesty is that they obscure their real motives with platitudes that sound like they are selfless, sacrificing, giving, and doing this for the good of the people that they actually want power over and want to control.

And here’s the proof. They’ll talk a good talk until they get what they want, but there are always shadows of impropriety, of shadiness, of manipulation, and of deception hanging around them. Nobody trusts them, even if they manage to get a leadership position.

Once they do get a leadership position, these unquintessential leaders reveal their total lack of an ethical-moral foundation in everything they are, they say, and they do.

What does that look like in practice? As we strive to become quintessential leaders, we must be able to not only know what quintessential leadership looks like, but also what it doesn’t look like and we need to make sure we’re always monitoring ourselves to make sure we’re on the right path and haven’t veered off onto the wrong one.

When people without an ethical-moral foundation get into leadership positions, these are the tell-tale signs:

  • Tightened control over everything and everyone (it will be loose during their campaign to be in charge and promises of egalitarianism will abound)
  • A closed inner circle that is an existing network and that is severely limited with very specific criteria so that only those who are already in it can meet them
  • All-or-nothing demands for loyalty and allegiance
  • Big Brother Lack of Ethical-Moral FoundationConstrictive and restrictive rules and regulations
  • Continual threats of retribution and adverse actions if rules and regulations are believed to be broken
  • Constant assertion of authority and superiority to everyone else
  • Constant devaluing of others in attempts to promote and enhance their own value
  • Mistrust and suspicion of everyone else

Look around in your life and see if this looks familiar. It does in my life, because, unfortunately, this is the general tenor of the kind of people in leadership positions in every area of our lives.

It’s become acceptable to not have an ethical-moral foundation and be in a leadership position. Not only is it acceptable, but it is, indeed, preferred.

But as we strive to become quintessential leaders, we can’t just follow the crowd. We can’t use the excuse that everybody else is doing it. We can’t allow ourselves, even if it means we end up being the only person on the planet doing the right thing because we have and we hold on to the right foundation, to ever lose sight of what makes us quintessential leaders.

We are rare for a reason. But there are people, those whom we serve on every team in our lives, who count on the rarity of us having, continuing to fortify, and adhering to an unshakeable ethical-moral foundation.

How are we doing?