Four Key Elements to Leading

If you have followed the news for the last several months (or maybe it has been years), you may have noticed a huge drop in civility and leadership. We see people in leadership positions insulting and degrading people with whom they disagree.

We seem to think voicing our thoughts and opinions on social media is synonymous with having an impact. We “exaggerate” our involvement and activism, and yet we don’t even get off the couch to try to make a real difference. True leadership requires more than voicing one’s opinions and thoughts.

There are four key parts to leading:

  1. History. What a person brings to the table when leading is an accumulation of strengths and weaknesses that have developed over a lifetime. There are no shortcuts to effective leadership. It takes time as well as success and failure. Our desires for instant gratification and to solve problems quickly do not work in leading. Having done things in the past is important.
  2. Timing. A leader recognizes when a “moment has arrived” that demands effective leading. Timing and rhythm play a role in leadership. Understanding history, opportunities, and threats are critical for understanding when leading and leadership need to step-up. Leading requires being able to read a mosaic and being able to connect the dots.
  3. Grit. A leader knows when to embrace the opportunity and to get off the sidelines and lead. There is no “Plan B” and the leader is “all in” for whatever is going to happen until the end. This “all in” mentality is the key driver for success. The leader is not casual about his or her commitment. Leading is deliberate and requires an iron will to finish. Grit is intangible but makes such a huge difference.
  4. Emotional Maturity. Leading requires checking and controlling emotions. There are going to be hills and valleys of successes and failures. Leading requires an emotional maturity that rises to the challenge and cannot be baited into acting irrationally or spontaneously. People who are true leaders understand what is important and what can be let go. The focus is on the critical things and the trivial stuff is ignored.

One of my favorite Abraham Lincoln stories on emotional maturity involves the time Lincoln and his secretary, John Hay, called on General McClellan at his house in Washington D.C. around 9:30 in the evening to consult about a military issue. McClellan was not home, so Lincoln and Hay waited.  McClellan arrived home at 10:00 p.m. and went straight upstairs to bed. The servant was sent upstairs to tell the general that President Lincoln was waiting in the parlor.

McClellan sent word back that he had gone to bed and they could meet tomorrow. John Hay was appalled by McClellan’s actions. As Hay and Lincoln walked back to the White House that evening, Lincoln told Hay, “This is not the time to be making points on etiquette and personal dignity.”

We need effective and decent leaders. We need people of purpose who understand the moment and can lift us beyond the short-term and help us see beyond the horizon.

See you in McAllen!