Why the best leaders value heart and strength
They trade open door policies for open ear practices
(Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Todd’s soon to be released book, “Never Kick A Cow Chip On A Hot Day—Real Lessons For Real CEOs And Those Who Want To Be” from Morgan James Publishing.)
Mantra # 4: Fantastic Leaders Value Heart And Strength
CEOs are supposed to be infallible, but in reality they are human, and when they keep emotions bottled up, the consequences can be substantial. Effective executives are not only courageous and forceful, but they are also vulnerable and demonstrate that they have big hearts. They are always confident, but not always certain.
In fact, the most fantastic leaders in the world care deeply for the people they lead. They trade open door policies for open ear practices, always willing to listen to, and support their team. They find time to dive into the lives of their colleagues, and are willing to build relationships based on a genuine and authentic care for team member’s personal and professional concerns.
They do so through the mutual exchange of feelings, information and emotions. Author Patrick Lencioni calls this type of vulnerability “getting naked,” and correctly asserts that this must start at the top, or it will not happen at all. CEO’s often believe that they have to have all of the answers, and constantly appear to be strong. This mindset puts them into a very uncomfortable box—one that literally is constraining and problematic.
I once had a coaching meeting with a talented but “boxed in” CEO. I asked him if he felt as if he had to have all of the answers. It was clear he felt that he had to solve every problem within the business. He couldn’t ever appear weak or exposed, and always had to show a strong front, even when he felt inner doubt and self-worth. He was not relying on his team, and he was boxing himself in. He needed help, but didn’t know how to show his vulnerability and just ask.
There has been a great deal of press in the last few decades about the ineffectiveness of “top down” management. Most of this, of course, was spewed forth by people who never had accountability for an organization. Too many people internalized this criticism and foolishly believed that they could abdicate their position in the name of collaboration. This is naive! Culture and strategy must be driven from the top down. And it must start by being a human being with human feelings.
Don’t kid yourself! If you are the CEO, you are accountable. You are the top dog, not the top earthworm. You do not, however, have to have all of the answers or always appear as a man (or woman) made of steel. You can be vulnerable in front of your people and even your customers. In fact, that vulnerability welcomes in other opinions and is the quickest way to gain the trust of your team. You appear to be relatable, trustworthy, and real.
President John Adams said, “If there is one central truth to be collected from the history of all ages, it is this: that the people’s rights and liberties, and the democratical (sic) mixture in a constitution, can never be preserved without a strong executive.”
And so it is with business.
Strong executives may be collaborative, but they’re decisive. They may be kind, but they don’t avoid tough decisions. They likely understand and support pushing decisions to the lowest effective level, but they insist on great execution at that level. They don’t need to control all the details, but they insist on high performance.
I’ve had the great fortune of working with numerous strong executives, and some weak ones. Weak executives foster weak organizations, but strong executives don’t necessarily foster strong organizations. Strength—that is, power, decisiveness, forcefulness, fearlessness and confidence—isn’t enough, but it’s a darn good start. Couple strength with passion, intelligence, and vulnerability, and you have the building blocks of successful leadership. Without vulnerability, a strong leader simply becomes a tyrant.
We all know and love numerous people who are indecisive, lack force and confidence, and have many fears. It’s unlikely, however, that those people are successful in executive roles. They may be brilliant artists, designers, engineers, scientists, caregivers or teachers, but they shouldn’t be in leadership roles.
I’ve seen emotionally intelligent, passionate, and intellectually capable people in senior leadership roles crumble because they weren’t strong enough. They weren’t strong enough to stand up to their board when asked to do ridiculous things, to fire people who needed to be fired, to not need everyone to love them, or to say, “follow me” in a way that people responded to. Remain strong enough to be vulnerable, admit mistakes, and ask for help. And remember, your heart is the most important door to constantly leave open.
Real Lesson: You can learn to be strong, as long as you are not afraid to show vulnerability and ask for help. Strength and vulnerability are not mutually exclusive!