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What Leadership is NOT

David Lykken
Apr 30, 2012

Never has there been a time when we as Americans have been more confused about what makes for good leadership. Why is this? For years, we seemed to intuitively recognize good leadership when we saw it … so what has changed? Why the confusion? I used to think that it might be the result of a leadership deficit in our nation. However, more recently, I suspect the problem to be centered on the great ideological divide within our nation. There are “leaders” who believe that big government is a solution. Others, like me, believe less government involvement is the solution. As we ponder the question about leadership, I believe the bigger question is: “What is the right direction for our country … more government or less government?” Once that issue is decided, then I believe there will be less confusion when discussing the topic of leadership. The leader of the “bigger government” ideology is going to have a completely different style than a leader who believes in “smaller government.” For all practical purposes, we are a two-party political system. The Democratic Party seems more intent on more government involvement in every aspect of our lives and industry, where as the Republican Party seems to subscribe to less government involvement. As we prepare to go to the polls this coming November to decide the ideological direction for our country, the question becomes: “Who now is the best leader?” One thing seems certain as we face an uncertain world with serious financial problems … we must recognize what makes a great leader. As many of you know who have read my column each month throughout 2011, I have been writing extensively on the topic of leadership. In this article, I want to take a different approach. I am going to write about what leadership is NOT. But before I do, here is a brief summary of the 7-Cs (Characteristics) found in a great leader that I wrote about last year. They were as follows: 1. Character, which I described as that which make up who we really are—our inner person or what makes up our “core.” It's what drives our every decision, and in many ways, defines who we are—good or bad. It is the “cornerstone” in the foundation of every leader. 2. Conviction is what you have that guides your every move and causes you to not lose your direction. It is that inner compass that keeps leaders on course with what they believe is the right direction in spite of opposing opinions. 3. Confidence is the hallmark of a strong leader, and works hand-in-hand with conviction and character. A leader must have an unwavering confidence in their convictions. Character clearly establishes “true North” on a leader’s compass. 4. Charisma is embodied in most great leaders. They exude genuine selfless magnetic warmth and have an amazing ability to relate to others. 5. Clarity of purpose and direction is the next essential component of every great leader. This is particularly critical and important when confusion surrounds the various options. 6. Communication of all the above is so critical. I used the example of Ronald Regan as someone who was very effective at communicating to a broad and diverse audience. Even his greatest critics admired his ability to effectively communicate. 7. Compassion while leading, especially in difficult circumstances, is a powerful component of any great leader. And several readers wrote me suggesting more “Cs,” all of which were great. If you're interested in reading any of those articles, I would encourage you to visit NationalMortgageProfessional.com and search “David Lykken” for my archived articles. So if the above 7-Cs describe what a good leader is, what are some of the things that a leader is NOT? Here are some that come to mind immediately. As you read this list, please write down your ideas of what a leader is and is not. Then e-mail your list to me and I will include them and your name in future articles. So let’s start with the following list of what a leader is NOT” 1. Leadership is NOT about a position The position or role that someone has does not, in and of itself, make a person of leader. I know that may seem like an “oh duh” obvious kind of statement, but you'd be surprised how many people consider someone a leader just because they hold a title or a position of leadership. Let's get this foundational cornerstone in place … leader is not WHAT you are in terms of position … a leader is WHO you are internally. Some of you reading this article may know exactly what I'm talking about. You may be working for someone or have worked for someone who has/had a position of leadership, but has miserably failed to lead you and/or the rest of the organization. Another example is that most would agree that President Obama arguably holds the number one leadership position in the world. How many would argue that he has failed as a leader especially when it comes to leading our country out of the economic challenges facing our country? When evaluating a leader, consider this … it is rarely the good times that define a good leader. It is typically the difficult times that determine whether or not a leader is good or bad. How many industry “leaders” do you know who have held the position of the chairman of the board, chief executive officer, president, chief financial officer, chief operating officer or general manager who has failed in their position and role as a “leader.” In terms of titles, they may be in the role of a leader, but functionally, they are not. While “the clothes make the man,” a position does not make a leader. 2. Leadership is NOT an ego trip The comedian Billy Crystal, when speaking to a group of business executives, said, “Gentlemen, start your egos.” While I have never met a good leader that does not have a healthy ego, I also never met an effective leader who had an oversized ego. When someone’s ego gets out of hand and they go on a power trip, it can be extremely demoralizing and eventually destructive to an organization. An out-of-control ego is like a cancer that must be cut out of an organization if it is to survive. Fear is the common denominator amongst egocentric “leaders.” While fear can be an effective motivator, it doesn't result in a healthy organization, especially if the fear is generated from within an organization’s leadership. I particularly like Diana Black’s quote, “Big egos are big shields for lots of empty space.” The very definition of “egocentric” drives home the point, “Thinking only of one's self, without regard for the feelings or desires of others; self-centered.” True leaders are self-less not self-centered. 3. Leadership is NOT a popularity contest True leadership, especially in difficult times, rarely results in someone being popular with the majority. Yet more and more “leaders” in our country desire to “lead” by consensus than conviction? How many political “leaders” do you know that formulate their “leadership” positions based on polling data? While a case could be made that an elected official voting on an important issue should attempt to gain insights via polling data as to their electorate’s preferences, consensus-building within a company is not how good leadership works. Far too many company leaders manage their business by consensus rather than conviction. There is nothing wrong with getting consensus per se, but in the end, a good leader must lead by their own convictions. A good leader is a consensus builder … NOT a consensus follower. 4. Leadership is NOT a “birthright” Leadership should be viewed as a privilege earned by successfully overcoming difficult circumstances and not the right of someone just putting in time. It's sad when you hear someone say, “I deserved that promotion to leadership because I've been here longer than that person.” When someone’s ascension to a position of leadership becomes more about seniority than qualifications, then an organization is doomed to mediocrity, and eventually, failure. Just because someone has occupied space in an organization longer than someone else is no reason to promote to a leadership role. If someone wants a leadership position as a result of tenure, my advice is that they go to work for the federal government. They will be in good company. All we have to do is consider the U.S. Postal Service to discover where “birthright leadership” gets an organization—bloated and bankrupt. As I close out this month’s article, I leave you with one of my favorite Peter Drucker quotes: “Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things.” I'll be back next month with more on this important topic. Remember to e-mail me at [email protected] with your thoughts on what leadership IS and is NOT. David Lykken is president of mortgage strategies and managing partner with Mortgage Banking Solutions. He has more than 35 years of industry experience and has garnered a national reputation, and has become a frequent guest on FOX Business News with Neil Cavuto, Stuart Varney, Liz Claman and Dave Asman with additional guest appearances on the CBS Evening News, Bloomberg TV and radio. He may be reached by phone at (512) 977-9900, ext. 10, or e-mail [email protected] or [email protected]
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