The world is changing at a blistering pace. In years past, the health of a company was measured by the size of its balance sheet. While that still may be true today, an organization’s competitiveness is clearly determined by its ability to harness the power of intangibles –– often referred to as “soft issues.” The truth is, any organization that wants to achieve excellence must emphasize the importance of intangible factors such as empowering its workforce, communicating in an open and honest manner, building trust among employees, promoting continuous education and the personal and professional growth of its employees, creating a work environment that encourages risk and discourages fear, improving business processes and eliminating waste, nurturing long-term relationships with suppliers and customers, working hard to develop an impeccable reputation, living according to sound business ethics, and unifying the organization around a mission and shared values.
In order to address our changing times, the leadership function is also going through a metamorphosis. In the past, all-knowing leaders resided in their ivory tower. When they spoke, their subjects faithfully obeyed their commands. Indirectly, these “rulers” implied “I am the boss,” “I know best,” and “I am in control. I will lead you to the Promised Land, but I will reward you along the way.” So, they used the carrot and stick and treated the minions with kindness as motivation. The central premise was “We call the shots and you implement them.” Today, if you want to attract and retain top talent, you have to offer employees more. Employees want to make a meaningful contribution, be self-fulfilled, and embrace the organization’s values and goals.
For today’s employee, being part of something special and making a difference in the world is much more important than the rewards sought by yesterday’s “me” generation. Employees want to work for an organization they can feel proud of — one that contributes back to society; an organization that has values and viewpoints compatible with their own; an organization that is oriented toward the long haul, working toward the prevention of ills, not just curing the symptoms; an organization that cares about morals and ethics and doing what is in the best interests of its customers; an organization that doesn’t dominate their life but rather allows them ample time to spend with their families. Employees want this because they recognize that such an organization will also care about them.
Today, great leaders have no need to pull rank or resort to command and control to get results. Instead, they’re effective because they’re knowledgeable, admired, trusted, and respected. This helps them secure buy-in automatically, without requiring egregious rules or strong oversight designed to force compliance. Great leaders hire great people, train them well, inspire them, and then get out of their way.
Vision. Great leaders are visionaries with a “can-do” attitude. They take on the impossible, while their fearful colleagues look for the exits. In the process, great leaders confront issues and obstacles head-on and make decisions that position their organizations successfully for the future. This means that their decisions won’t always be popular, but they will be considered deliberate and fair; short-term results won’t always be stellar, but long-term investments will secure a brighter future. These leaders won’t always be loved, but they will be trusted and respected.
Conviction. Great leaders have a backbone. They make every effort to gather information, weigh alternatives, secure buy-in from their constituents, and determine the best course of action. Great leaders focus precious resources in areas that provide the greatest opportunity rather than trying to please everyone or making arbitrary, across-the-board decisions.
Humility. Great leaders do what’s right — period. Great leaders recognize that their stance represents something much larger than the whim of any one individual –– as such, they put their egos and self-interests on hold. Great leaders do what’s in the organization’s best interest rather than trying to win a popularity contest, playing politics, or advancing their own private agenda.
Integrity. Great leaders operate with integrity at all times; they are passionate about protecting their personal integrity and the reputation of their organization. They understand that trust takes a long time to develop, but can be lost in the blink of an eye. Great leaders know that instilling a strong culture and promoting ethical core values are instrumental measures for success. In fact, in today’s turbulent times, everything is subject to change except an organization’s core values.
Credibility. Great leaders maintain a balance between short-term performance and building a better future. Great leaders know that short-term wins enable leaders to build trust, instill confidence, and maintain momentum. This provides them with enough credibility to make strategic investments and tackle the long-term challenges that ensure success. Great leaders understand the importance of motivating others to accept personal sacrifice to benefit others.
The bottom line is that great leaders win the support of their constituents by earning their trust and respect. Great leaders achieve success by setting high standards, remaining true to their beliefs and values, and listening to their conscience. They never stop trying until they do themselves proud. Great leaders encourage teamwork, promote win-win relationships, and demand everyone’s best effort. The truth is, it doesn’t matter whether you’re young or old, rich or poor, work on the top floor or in the basement, everyone earns trust and respect the same way. You can’t require it or demand it. You can’t cut deals or take shortcuts. You can’t buy it or even place a price tag on it. And that’s because earning trust and respect is priceless. Great leaders do it every day!
About the author:
Frank Sonnenburg is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of “America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank’s new book, Follow Your Conscience, is now available.