Leaders to Leader

Lessons from the Great American Leaders & How They Apply Now

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You Are Judged By The Actions You Take

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Herb Kelleher - Southwest Airlines  (Alex Wong - Getty Images)

Herb Kelleher – Southwest Airlines (Alex Wong – Getty Images)

Of all the leaders surveyed, the great ones were individuals who consistently displayed their integrity and character. No matter what happened in their lives: adversity, controversies, failure and defeat, their character shined through. It established deep personal credibility with each of their constituencies, as well as all others that came into contact with them.

First and foremost, leaders are judged by the actions they take. Today’s high profile leaders are prominently visible to all of their key constituencies. They make speeches and presentations to employees, shareholders, financial analysts, and the public in general.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) exemplifies this. “He’s totally true to himself and totally consistent between his private life and his public life. He’s totally consistent between his public speeches and his private speeches. You could look at a speech that Herb gave to the annual shareholders meeting of 2002 and compare it to his message to the field in 1992 and compare it to a letter to employees in 1982 and find tremendous consistency in terms of adherence to core values. So the absolute adherence to extraordinarily high professional principles of ethical conduct and fair dealing, is just remarkable over time. So he built up a reservoir of credibility not only among employees but other people.”[1]

Many leaders may sound impressive, but simultaneously undermine their credibility since their actions fail to mirror their words. In some instances, leaders’ actions contradict their company’s mission statement, resulting in confusion within their organization. In either case, their personal actions become corrosive to the organizational culture, as well as their own individual credibility.

As a high profile leader, Carly Fiorina’s (Hewlett Packard) actions were highly scruntized and undermined her credibility. “Fiorina came in with a mandate of change, but didn’t make any effort to build trust between herself and the company. Indeed, she sullied her image by exalting herself without regard to her employees’ reactions. Buying a personal jet in front of a distrustful and alienated workforce is one example. Freezing employee salaries while giving herself and her executive ilk bonuses is another. Doing these things in light of nearly 18,000 employee dismissals (2003) is just plain callous.”[2]

Leaders’ actions set the tone for their organization, whether they realize it or not. They can either inspire or generate resentment in their employees. Fred Smith (FedEx) inspired his organization by setting a tone where all his employees felt they could share in the success of the company. He stated, “One of the biggest principles is that you’ve got to take action. Most large organizations reach a static point. They cannot take any action, because there are all types of barriers to doing so. There are institutionalized barriers that weren’t there when the company was considerably smaller. What changes is your knowledge and your appreciation of how to deal with those institutional barriers, to eliminate them or use them to your advantage in achieving those changes. There are myriad number of changes that have to take place in the management style for the company to continue growing.”[3]

“’Andy [Grove][Intel] has always been a teacher – often by example,’ says Ron Whittier, senior vice president in charge of content development… Yet I don’t think he wants to be remembered as a great visionary – but as someone who made things happen and created a great company.’”[4]

All constituencies expect leaders to be fair, just and consistent. Any perception of cronyism and the use of internal politics to develop an advantage for one individual or group generates unintended consequences, as these policies and actions are replicated at lower levels. Yet, for certain types of leaders, potential gains are too tempting not to employ these practices. Their focus on personal gain, however, becomes transparent to the rest of the organization. This destroys trust and channels of openness and honesty throughout the company. Fredrick Joseph (Drexel Burnham) created a dysfunctional culture when he ignored the unethical practices and securities violations of high-powered Michael Milken, and his creation of the junk bond business. The insider-trader scandals surrounding Milken ultimately led to the largest bankruptcy in Wall Street history at that time.

These actions hamper leaders’ abilities to instill their ideas, beliefs and values in others, and significantly hinder them when communicating sweeping strategies that are needed to move organizations forward. Rather than unite different factions, they splinter any existing unity, as different groups jockey for position. Leaders in this position typically tend to use their authority and power in a repressive rather than productive manner. It saps the company’s available resources and diminishes its productivity.

A notable and well-publicized example of this practice is Al Dunlap (Sunbeam). “In Dunlap’s presence, knees trembled and stomachs churned. Underlings feared the torrential harangue that Dunlap could unleash at any moment. At his worst, he became viciously profane, even violent. Executives said he would throw papers or furniture, bang his hands on his desk, and shout so ferociously that a manager’s hair would be blown back by the stream of air that rushed from Dunlap’s mouth. “Hair spray day” became a code phrase among execs, signifying a potential tantrum.”[5]

My research of some of the poorest performing leaders substantiated that many also made questionable and highly risky financial decisions that placed their companies at risk, and placed the well being of shareholders far above the interests of their customers.

“In the service of a quick buck, he [Al Dunlap – Sunbeam] imposed brutal pressure on honest people, placing their careers, incomes, health insurance, and pensions at stake. He made impossible, irrational demands that were ruinous to the long-term prosperity of companies. The leadership style he practiced was inconsistent with good business, thoughtful management, a strong economy….”[6]

Jon Huntsman (Huntsman Chemical) observed. “People often offer as an excuse for lying, cheating, and fraud that they were pressured into it by high expectations or that “everyone does it.” Some claim that it is the only way they can keep up. Those excuses sound better than the real reasons they choose the improper course: arrogance, power trips, greed, and lack of backbone, all of which are equal-opportunity afflictions.”[7]

The great leaders were committed to others and demanded excellence from all. They forged building blocks of growth and were proactive as they mastered execution of their plans within all levels of their organization. They demanded accountability on all levels and did not delegate this responsibility. They held themselves equally accountable, and adhered to the same standards as were established for the lowest level employee. This typically appealed to their personal sense of fairness.

“More than anyone, leaders should welcome being held accountable. Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch. One might add that nothing builds a stronger case for holding employees to a high standard than a boss who holds himself to even higher ones.”[8]

These leaders were passionate, and demonstrated a high level of personal drive and resilience. These factors made it possible to build emotional connections with key constituencies, especially needed during difficult periods.

Finally, one of the most notable distinctions of great leaders was found in their restraint and self-control. It inspired confidence in all key constituencies. A key example of this trait was the composure and stature James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) displayed during the Tylenol scare. His actions are attributed to saving that brand and securing the company’s impeccable reputation.

[1] Yeh Raymond T. with Yeh Stephanie H., The Art of Business: In the Footsteps of Giants (Zero Time Publishing, 2004)
[2] Knufken, Drea, 10 Reasons People Hate Carly Fiorina (Business Pundit) June 18, 2008
[3] Hafner, Katie, Fred Smith: The Entrepreneur Redux (Inc. Magazine, June 1, 1984)
[4] Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
[5] Byrne, John A., Chainsaw (Harper Business, 1999, 2003) p 353-354
[6] Gallagher Bill, Once a Bum, Always a Bum (Niagara Falls Reporter, January 29, 2002)
[7] Huntsman, Jon M., Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2008) p 35
[8] Giuliani, Rudolph, Leadership (Hyperion, New York, 2002) p 70

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Five Ways to Establish Trust and Credibility

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smallgroup3

A manager’s entire position must be predicated on trust and credibility. When either are removed from the equation, they are unable to perform. Both are required when dealing with their individual unit or department members.

Some managers feel trust and respect come with the position, when in fact they must be earned through consistently ethical and professional behavior. Inconsistent behavior and an inability to fulfill promises and commitments will develop an atmosphere of mistrust with employees. Words and actions do have meaning and should be used and taken with great care.

Like everything else in life, there are consequences attached to most everything managers say and do. When trust and credibility are removed from the equation, managers will be unable to perform effectively, and they can also see their work undermined by a demotivated and angry team.

Trust and rapport with employees is something that takes time to develop. This is especially true if there have been problems in the past. In these instances, the manager must operate while experiencing open and unconcealed mistrust of his or her words and actions. However, trust and rapport can be established, and in certain cases reestablished, by using the guidelines below.

A manager’s behavior must be consistent. If they don’t want their motivations questioned, they must treat all of their people equally. Developing consistency can be achieved through:

Setting and Uniformly Applying Equitable Standards

Managers must establish consistent performance standards that apply to each individual member of their team. The standards must be applied equally to all without favoritism, and all must be evaluated without bias.

Communicating and Providing Feedback

Managers should be openly and frequently communicating with their employees, sharing insights and expertise and helping them achieve their goals. They must provide frequent feedback regarding their individual performance. Feedback should be based upon facts and free of subjective judgments regarding personal behaviors or attitudes.

Recognizing Performance

Managers should use the standards they have established as a benchmark and openly recognize the performance of the members of their unit or department. A simple word of acknowledgement and appreciation can go an extremely long way towards maintaining enthusiasm and motivation.

Keeping Commitments

When dealing with subordinates, it is easy to let commitments slide. While many managers feel there are no consequences to such actions, if they cannot be counted on to keep their commitments, they cannot be trusted. Their employees’ motivation will suffer, which will then foster a negative and unacceptable atmosphere. Managers creating these problems for themselves can use the following techniques to help overcome them:

  1. Managers should think very carefully about each commitment they intend to make. They should make sure adequate time and resources are available to meet the commitment.
  2. Once a commitment is made, managers should make sure it is completed both as and when promised.
  3. If a commitment cannot be completed when promised, the manager should not wait until the last minute but let their employee know as quickly as possible and revise the schedule accordingly.

Developing an Open Management Style

Developing an open and trusting management style might require a shift in thinking and attitude on the part of many managers. This includes:

Remaining Impartial

Before a manager deals with any employee or situation, they must avoid making rash judgments, eliminate all emotion and gather all pertinent facts.

Trusting Others

Managers must learn to take employees at their word until the facts prove otherwise. A manager who cannot trust either his people or customers will in turn fail to earn their trust.

Listening and Being Open

Managers must be able to listen—not only to gather facts and information, but to hear issues and concerns that may arise with their employees and customers. Listening includes empathizing and showing care and concern about their problems. Managers must be open to new ideas, concepts, feedback and criticism. Trust is earned when employees and customers understand that the manager is available and responsive to them.

Excerpt: Ethics and Integrity: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 17.95 USD

Related:

You Are Judged by the Actions You Take

Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility

 Can You Be Trusted? The Answer May Surprise You

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Seven Ways to Lead by Example

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peopleinteracting

A developmental milestone is reached when the leader is able to build trust and motivation with their employees to the degree that they are willing to openly follow their direction regardless of circumstances. This is not achieved until a leader is able to demonstrate—through personal example—that they have earned their employee’s respect and admiration.

The practice of interactive leadership provides leaders with a distinct set of advantages that cannot be realized without their active presence. This enables them to establish trust, credibility and respect. These are all elements that buttress a leader’s ability to personally lead their organization and motivate his or her employees to follow.

It is one thing to lead an organization and quite another to motivate individuals to follow. The practice of interactive leadership demonstrates the character, ability and integrity of a leader and motivates individual employees to follow.

The practice of interactive leadership spotlights the individual leader and gives them the platform to shine by motivating their employees and effectively moving the organization forward. Interactive leadership is also the practice of leadership by example, and places all a leader says or does under the close scrutiny of their employees. Effective leaders use this to their advantage by practicing the following techniques:

Sell the Vision

In the storms of change and transformation, the leader’s compass is his or her personal vision of the organization, its goals and potential accomplishments. Interactive leadership provides leaders with ample opportunities to “proselytize,” or sell their vision to their employees every time the opportunity arises. This often means leaders are constantly talking about their vision and the positive changes that will take place when it is achieved.

The importance of a leader selling his or her vision cannot be overemphasized. As a leader, the goal is to motivate and lead employees. An essential part of motivation is selling employees on the vision and getting them to individually accept and “buy into” that vision as their own. Since organizational transformation in the face of change is normally a lengthy process, leaders must take every opportunity to remind their employees of the direction in which they are headed, and motivate them to continually work toward the accomplishment of their shared vision.

Walk the Talk

Interactive leadership places leaders under the microscope of employees who are continually assessing integrity and credibility. The practice of interactive management allows leaders to demonstrate their true character and build trust and loyalty with their employees. This is accomplished by a consistency in words and actions—the measure employees use to gauge a leader.

Consequently it is crucial for leaders to make certain they follow through on what they promise. If this is not possible, they have a good reason and take the time to explain why their promise cannot be kept.

Trust, credibility and loyalty are established when employees, associates and superiors know they can take what a leader says “to the bank,” and that what he or she promises will be done. This trust is strengthened and a strong bond created when a leader clearly demonstrates by actions that he or she places their employee’s interests above their own personal agenda.

Empower and Delegate

The practice of interactive leadership strengthens trust between leaders and employees when leaders actively empower employees and delegate tasks and assignments as needed. Empowering employees, groups and teams “on the fly” and delegating assignments when feasible allows leaders to swiftly respond to the rapid pace of change—as well as resolve problems and frustrations as or even before they occur.

Create Urgency

The rapid pace of change creates its own sense of urgency, but as transformation often takes time, leaders must motivate employees by further instilling this sense in them. This is best accomplished when leaders introduce new ideas and concepts, test them quickly, learn from the failures and move on to the next idea. It is through this process of continual adaptation and refinement of ideas and concepts that a sense of urgency is developed that keeps the organization moving forward toward transformation. In the absence of this sense of urgency it is easy for employees to fall into complacency.

Openly Communicating

Interactive leadership is built upon open communication and the ability of leaders to actively listen and respond to feedback and ideas offered by subordinates. This allows leaders to use all of their physical senses to observe and learn firsthand what is happening within their organization and to minimize the distortion of information.

Removing Obstacles

When leaders are ever-present and openly and actively interacting with their employees, they are able to identify and remove frustrations and barriers impeding forward movement.

Leaders openly empower their employees to overcome barriers and delegate the creation and implementation of the solution to them. Often these barriers come in the form of minor problems and issues that can be handled by frontline employees without the direct intervention of the leader. This enables the organization to be more responsive and productive.

Celebrate the Little Successes

The open presence of the leader among his or her employees allows them to plan for short-term wins and successes. These are important since the lengthy term of transformation can cause employees to lose sight of their goals and motivation. The celebration of short-term and minor successes maintains employee focus and keeps them motivated to continue to work toward the long-term success of the organization.

Excerpt: Improving Workplace Interaction: Pinpoint Leadership Skill Development Training Series (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) $ 16.95 USD

Related:

The Challenge of Handling Conflict

“Dissent, Even Conflict Is Necessary, Indeed Desirable”

Handling Workplace Complaints, Concerns and Issues

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Have You Earned Permission to Lead?

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legitimacyprincipleschart

The fundamental essence of leadership is legitimacy, whose substance is based upon authority and validity. While authority is conferred, validity is earned through the development of credibility, trust and a balance of emotional standing and connections, with all key constituencies.

Legitimacy is a cornerstone of effective leadership. All of the great leaders have it. However, legitimacy is seldom discussed, if even mentioned in most leadership books. This leads to confusion as to what defines legitimacy. Its definition needs to be clarified and placed within the proper context.

Legitimacy is derived from two separate sources that give leaders permission to lead. The first source is authority or the power granted to leaders by either election, or appointment to an office. In the business setting, this is conferred by the stockholders through the board of directors.

The second source is validity. Validity is not conferred, nor is it automatically achieved once a leader is appointed to a position. It is earned and is a contributing factor to the authority granted to a leader, typically over the span of his or her career. This defines a leader as genuine and authentic in the eyes of all key constituencies.

Both sources of legitimacy compliment each other, but validity provides an enduring, yet fragile acquiescence of all the constituencies that gives a leader the tacit permission to lead. It is built upon three critical factors: trust, credibility and emotional balance. These are the hallmarks of great leaders. Without the presence of these critical factors, the leader’s validity collapses. Once a leader loses his or her validity, the authority to lead is effectively undermined.

“Leadership is a privilege. Those who receive the mantle must also know they can expect an accounting of their stewardships. It is not uncommon for people to forego higher salaries to join an organization with strong, ethical leadership. Most individuals desire leadership they can admire and respect. They want to be in sync with that brand of leader, and will often parallel their own lives after that person…” [1]

[1] Huntsman,Jon M. Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2009) p 73

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

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Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility

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leaderinchair

Personal credibility is based upon a leader’s character and integrity and the actions and behaviors that stem from them. Far from perfect, many of the leaders I surveyed had character flaws and displayed at times, questionable ethical behaviors. Yet their personal credibility remained intact. So it is safe to ascertain that perfection is not humanly expected and attainable as a leader, but self-awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses is essential. It reflects both maturity and authenticity, which only then serves to enhance a leader’s personal credibility.

An observance of the absence of self-awareness resulted in a strong emergence of arrogance and hubris that diminished and ultimately destroyed credibility on all levels.

Obviously unless problematic or weak leaders make concerted efforts to change their character and integrity, they are remain unalterable. However leaders do have control over the actions, behaviors and decisions that influence and shape their personal credibility. This once again involves self-awareness as well as comprehensive critical thinking abilities to examine the consequences of both their long and short-term actions. All leaders have choices, but the right choices demand a leader’s willingness and acquiescence.

Leaders must also be cognizant of their levels of personal credibility on all of their key constituencies. In the current environment where short-term profitability is emphasized, many leaders damage their credibility by only focusing on their shareholder expectations at the expense of their other constituencies. My research demonstrates this can be fatal. The leaders listed as “Worst CEOs of All Time” by Portfolio Magazine commonly practiced it. This imbalance ultimately leads to a loss of validity.

There are six recommendations you can take to enhance your personal credibility:

  1. Develop an awareness of your personal strengths and weaknesses including a frank assessment of your character and personal levels of integrity.
  2. Determine how these affect your personal credibility.
  3. Identify what actions, decisions and behaviors you can change.
  4. Develop a habit of assessing the impact and consequences of your actions on your personal credibility.
  5. Change what you can, and manage and control what you can’t.
  6. Remember this is an evolutionary process and not a singular event. History shows that individuals evolved into becoming great leaders over the span of their entire careers. For many it was a struggle.

It is important to remember that no leader is an island onto oneself, who functions in isolation. Nor is the individual the first one to encounter problems associated with building his or her credibility. Universally, the leaders surveyed all struggled with this issue at one point or another in their careers.

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

 Click here to Read a Free Chapter.

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Written by Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D.

October 3, 2013 at 11:21 am

Ethics: Actions Do Have Consequences

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womancrowd

Although ethics and personal integrity appear to have a diminishing role in our culture, when a massive failure of ethics and moral standards results in corporate implosions such as the Enron bankruptcy, as well as the collapse of the financial markets people notice. There is no question that in business, the highest moral and ethical standards are expected and demanded.

Actions do have consequences. Despite the thinking in popular culture that has helped enable a number of political leaders’ “ethical lapses,” in business ethics and integrity are closely paid attention to by superiors, associates, subordinates—and most importantly, customers.

All of these people judge managers and employees by their actions, not their words. Even a minor lapse in ethical judgment is not easily forgiven or forgotten.

This is important for managers to consider because their behavior impacts people on multiple levels. The consequences and implications of any ethical decision are far-reaching and must be carefully thought through before the action is taken.

The moral and ethical behavior of a manager has many consequences and implications beyond an immediate judgment or choice. Ethical behavior and integrity play an essential role in any manager’s position, for the following reasons:

Trust

The basis of all relationships is trust. Managers are primarily responsible for the directing of human resources. While they may also be responsible for the tools and equipment associated with business, their primary charge is the management of their individual employees. In this capacity, they are dealing with superiors and subordinates in financial terms.

Superiors are relying on the manager to provide accurate reports and records of their unit’s activities. The employee relies on the manager to assure that his or her efforts are supported and performance accurately reported.

The foundation of and glue that holds these relationships together is trust. Any ethical lapse is considered a breach of trust and will result in the pillars of management collapsing. Once this occurs, the manager has lost their effectiveness.

Rapport

Rapport is the building and nurturing of quality relationships. This is a term normally used to describe relationships among employees, but it goes beyond this. Managers require good rapport at all levels with their superiors, subordinates and associates.

The manager’s role is to act as a liaison between the various levels they are in communication with. The employee has access to his or her manager. The manager has full access from senior management to support staff.

Exceptional management, support and communication means the manager must actively maintain good rapport at every level. However, building relationships and establishing rapport is a people skill that further demands trust and ethical behavior. These are the cornerstones of building rapport on all levels. Any degree of moral and ethical failure at any level will undermine the manager’s efforts and effectiveness.

Credibility

There are managers who have undoubtedly displayed lapses in moral and ethical judgment, yet still maintained their job and position. They may have shielded their actions from their superiors, but not from their subordinates. In some instances they may have made statements or promises and failed to follow up on them.

In any ethical failure, they have betrayed the trust of their subordinates. When this occurs, these managers have lost credibility in the eyes of their people, which more often than not results in sapping their motivation.

Employees will either leave or let their performance drop knowing their manager has little integrity. While these managers might think they have won in the short-term, in the long run there are profound consequences to be paid.

Reliability

Managers who have betrayed trust cannot be relied upon. If this occurs between the manager and his or her superiors, it is dealt with on the senior level, normally resulting in termination.

A loss of credibility with individual employees will result in them being unable to trust the manager. Rapport with these individuals will be eroded to the point that all work-related effectiveness is lost.

The consequences will be a revolving door of people under the manager’s responsibility, as any respectable person will not continue under these circumstances.

Reputation

A person’s reputation is the most valued possession that they have. Once destroyed, a personal reputation is difficult, if not impossible, to restore. The same is true for a company’s reputation.

A manager holds the responsibility for both his or her reputation as well as the company’s. His or her personal actions have a double, if not triple, impact since senior managers, his or her subordinates, and the company’s customers are continually examining his or her actions. This is an awesome responsibility unparalleled in magnitude in any organizational environment.

Related:

You Are Judged by the Actions You Take

Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

Six Ways to Enhance Your Personal Credibility

 Emotional Bonds are a Reflection of a Leader’s Effectiveness

 Can You Be Trusted? The Answer May Surprise You

Excerpt: Ethics & Integrity: Pinpoint Management Skill Development Training Series by Timothy Bednarz (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011)

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
Linkedin | Facebook | Twitter | Web| Blog | Catalog |800.654.4935 | 715.342.1018

Copyright © 2013 Timothy F. Bednarz, All Rights Reserved

Leaders Are Judged By The Actions They Take

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Kelleher--William-Thomas-Cain-Getty-Images

Of all the leaders surveyed, the great ones were individuals who consistently displayed their integrity and character. No matter what happened in their lives: adversity, controversies, failure and defeat, their character shined through. It established deep personal credibility with each of their constituencies, as well as all others that came into contact with them.

First and foremost, leaders are judged by the actions they take. Today’s high profile leaders are prominently visible to all of their key constituencies. They make speeches and presentations to employees, shareholders, financial analysts, and the public in general.

Herb Kelleher (Southwest Airlines) exemplifies this. “He’s totally true to himself and totally consistent between his private life and his public life. He’s totally consistent between his public speeches and his private speeches. You could look at a speech that Herb gave to the annual shareholders meeting of 2002 and compare it to his message to the field in 1992 and compare it to a letter to employees in 1982 and find tremendous consistency in terms of adherence to core values.

So the absolute adherence to extraordinarily high professional principles of ethical conduct and fair dealing, is just remarkable over time. So he built up a reservoir of credibility not only among employees but other people.”[1]

Many leaders may sound impressive, but simultaneously undermine their credibility since their actions fail to mirror their words. In some instances, leaders’ actions contradict their company’s mission statement, resulting in confusion within their organization. In either case, their personal actions become corrosive to the organizational culture, as well as their own individual credibility.

As a high profile leader, Carly Fiorina’s (Hewlett Packard) actions were highly scruntized and undermined her credibility. “Fiorina came in with a mandate of change, but didn’t make any effort to build trust between herself and the company. Indeed, she sullied her image by exalting herself without regard to her employees’ reactions.

Buying a personal jet in front of a distrustful and alienated workforce is one example. Freezing employee salaries while giving herself and her executive ilk bonuses is another. Doing these things in light of nearly 18,000 employee dismissals (2003) is just plain callous.”[2]

Leaders’ actions set the tone for their organization, whether they realize it or not. They can either inspire or generate resentment in their employees. Fred Smith (FedEx) inspired his organization by setting a tone where all his employees felt they could share in the success of the company.

He stated, “One of the biggest principles is that you’ve got to take action. Most large organizations reach a static point. They cannot take any action, because there are all types of barriers to doing so. There are institutionalized barriers that weren’t there when the company was considerably smaller. What changes is your knowledge and your appreciation of how to deal with those institutional barriers, to eliminate them or use them to your advantage in achieving those changes. There are myriad number of changes that have to take place in the management style for the company to continue growing.”[3]

“’Andy [Grove][Intel] has always been a teacher – often by example,’ says Ron Whittier, senior vice president in charge of content development… Yet I don’t think he wants to be remembered as a great visionary – but as someone who made things happen and created a great company.’”[4]

All constituencies expect leaders to be fair, just and consistent. Any perception of cronyism and the use of internal politics to develop an advantage for one individual or group generates unintended consequences, as these policies and actions are replicated at lower levels. Yet, for certain types of leaders, potential gains are too tempting not to employ these practices.

Their focus on personal gain, however, becomes transparent to the rest of the organization. This destroys trust and channels of openness and honesty throughout the company. Fredrick Joseph (Drexel Burnham) created a dysfunctional culture when he ignored the unethical practices and securities violations of high-powered Michael Milken, and his creation of the junk bond business. The insider-trader scandals surrounding Milken ultimately led to the largest bankruptcy in Wall Street history at that time.

These actions hamper leaders’ abilities to instill their ideas, beliefs and values in others, and significantly hinder them when communicating sweeping strategies that are needed to move organizations forward. Rather than unite different factions, they splinter any existing unity, as different groups jockey for position. Leaders in this position typically tend to use their authority and power in a repressive rather than productive manner. It saps the company’s available resources and diminishes its productivity.

A notable and well-publicized example of this practice is Al Dunlap (Sunbeam). “In Dunlap’s presence, knees trembled and stomachs churned. Underlings feared the torrential harangue that Dunlap could unleash at any moment. At his worst, he became viciously profane, even violent. Executives said he would throw papers or furniture, bang his hands on his desk, and shout so ferociously that a manager’s hair would be blown back by the stream of air that rushed from Dunlap’s mouth. “Hair spray day” became a code phrase among execs, signifying a potential tantrum.”[5]

My research of some of the poorest performing leaders substantiated that many also made questionable and highly risky financial decisions that placed their companies at risk, and placed the well being of shareholders far above the interests of their customers.

“In the service of a quick buck, he [Al Dunlap – Sunbeam] imposed brutal pressure on honest people, placing their careers, incomes, health insurance, and pensions at stake. He made impossible, irrational demands that were ruinous to the long-term prosperity of companies. The leadership style he practiced was inconsistent with good business, thoughtful management, a strong economy….”[6]

Jon Huntsman (Huntsman Chemical) observed. “People often offer as an excuse for lying, cheating, and fraud that they were pressured into it by high expectations or that “everyone does it.” Some claim that it is the only way they can keep up. Those excuses sound better than the real reasons they choose the improper course: arrogance, power trips, greed, and lack of backbone, all of which are equal-opportunity afflictions.”[7]

The great leaders were committed to others and demanded excellence from all. They forged building blocks of growth and were proactive as they mastered execution of their plans within all levels of their organization.

They demanded accountability on all levels and did not delegate this responsibility. They held themselves equally accountable, and adhered to the same standards as were established for the lowest level employee. This typically appealed to their personal sense of fairness.

“More than anyone, leaders should welcome being held accountable. Nothing builds confidence in a leader more than a willingness to take responsibility for what happens during his watch. One might add that nothing builds a stronger case for holding employees to a high standard than a boss who holds himself to even higher ones.”[8]

These leaders were passionate, and demonstrated a high level of personal drive and resilience. These factors made it possible to build emotional connections with key constituencies, especially needed during difficult periods.

Finally, one of the most notable distinctions of great leaders was found in their restraint and self-control. It inspired confidence in all key constituencies. A key example of this trait was the composure and stature James Burke (Johnson & Johnson) displayed during the Tylenol scare. His actions are attributed to saving that brand and securing the company’s impeccable reputation.

Related:

  1. Legitimacy: The Sole Basis of Leadership
  2. Does Compassion and Empathy Have a Role in Leadership?
  3. Your Commitment to Others Defines You as a Leader

References:

  1. Yeh Raymond T. with Yeh Stephanie H., The Art of Business: In the Footsteps of Giants (Zero Time Publishing, 2004)
  2. Knufken, Drea, 10 Reasons People Hate Carly Fiorina (Business Pundit) June 18, 2008
  3. Hafner, Katie, Fred Smith: The Entrepreneur Redux (Inc. Magazine, June 1, 1984)
  4. Sheridan John H., 1997 Technology Leader of the Year Andy Grove: Building an Information Age Legacy (Industry Week, April 19-21, 2010)
  5. Byrne, John A., Chainsaw (Harper Business, 1999, 2003) p 353-354
  6. Gallagher Bill, Once a Bum, Always a Bum (Niagara Falls Reporter, January 29, 2002)
  7. Huntsman, Jon M., Winners Never Cheat Even in Difficult Times (Wharton School Publishing, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2008) p 35
  8. Giuliani, Rudolph, Leadership (Hyperion, New York, 2002) p 70

 

Excerpt: Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Majorium Business Press, Stevens Point, WI 2011) Read a Free Chapter

Timothy F. Bednarz, Ph.D. | Author | Publisher | Majorium Business Press
Author of Great! What Makes Leaders Great: What They Did, How They Did It and What You Can Learn From It (Finalist – 2011 Foreword Reviews‘ Book of the Year)
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