Let me first make a disclaimer: This blog is non-partisan. I am a registered Independent who can make a clear and logical argument as to why neither party is doing what needs to be done to get the economy moving, get our spending under control, and show true leadership in challenging times. In fact, I am hard-pressed to make an argument for either party as to what real direction, support or help Washington is providing to any of its constituents (customers) in building real trust and adding value.
The one thing I do know, however, is that there is a lot to be learned these days about leadership (or the lack of) from Washington. Unfortunately, they are showing us more about what not to do in terms of leadership, than providing role models of true leadership. Nevertheless, a lesson is a lesson, and our politicians are sharing some great ones right now.
Let’s begin with Obama’s inaugural address. I had dinner with some friends the night of Obama’s swearing-in ceremony and his now infamous second term inauguration speech; the speech that lays the groundwork for his second term. Both of my friends are big Obama supporters and were thrilled with the speech he gave. I listened as they shared how much they loved his approach, his design of a long term plan, his willingness to take on tough issues, and his commitment to make his second term stand for progress and forward movement. I patiently stayed focused and attentive as they shared their excitement and admiration until finally one of them asked my opinion.
Now I will be honest, part of me did not want to rock the boat or cause any problems, and I thought about just agreeing with everything they said to just keep this a pleasant evening. But the leadership and logical part of me just could not do that. Ultimately I had to share my difference of opinion. Because what I really saw and heard in the inaugural address was a great set of ideas that I believe will not get off the ground, due to a lack of our first leadership lesson.
Leadership Lesson Number 1: Relationships First!
Honestly, in my opinion it is irrelevant how good, strong or powerful Obama’s speech was, if that is all it is; a speech, a mere plan or idea on how to improve things in our country. From what I have seen and witnessed in Obama (and most of our politicians),that is all it is: a speech. You see, Barack Obama consistently violates an important rule of leadership: the importance of relationships first. Any good leader knows that if you want to accomplish anything, like get your organization moving forward, then you need to first build consensus and focus on bringing people together. Strong leaders understand that the relationships you create are far more important than the plan you present.
It does not matter how good or intelligent your plan is, if you have not built bridges, created friendships and reached out to those individuals you need to support and carry out the plan. If you have not done this, then your plan is nothing more than ideas on a piece of paper.
If you want to succeed in this economy, then as a leader you have to know that the relationships you have are always more powerful than any plan you can develop.
Relationships are key to so many aspects of being a strong leader, including…
Leadership Lesson Number 2: Execution
Do you realize that it has been four long years since our politicians have been able to pass, agree to or deliver on a budget? Four years! Imagine if your company or business ran for four years with no ideas or thoughts in place as to where, when and how it was going to spend money. Would you would still be here?
Congress’s inability to implement Leadership Lesson Number 2, Execution, has had devastating consequences. It has caused economic uncertainty, high unemployment, and the largest increase of our national debt in history. Our leaders’ lack of ability to execute is costly in so many ways. Any successful leader knows that if you cannot execute, your customers will leave you, your top talent will move on, and your cost of operations will greatly increase. All of which is currently happening, due to our politicians’ inability to execute. Today’s consumer is gun shy, and we are reporting the lowest levels of consumer confidence in years. High numbers of talented and skilled workers cannot find jobs or are underemployed, and our largest investors and wealthiest Americans are either holding on to their money or leaving the U.S.A. to invest in more promising markets.
Yes, execution is key in your efforts to be an effective and strong leader. As important as I believe execution is, it pales in comparison to our third lesson. Regarding leadership in Washington, the biggest disappointment is how clueless our politicians seem to be about the role they play in the problems our country is facing. To listen to them talk, they will admit there are problems, but those problems are never their fault or their issue. They feel they have done their job and everyone else, or the other party, is the reason our issues are getting worse.
If I had to choose one leadership lesson, one quality that stands out above all others as key in your ability to make change, create opportunity and win in this economy, it would be…
Leadership Lesson number 3: Taking Personal Responsibility
Think about it. How often do you turn on the television, listen to the news, or read a magazine article, only to hear your politicians, from the President on down, tell you what the other guy is doing wrong and why it is not his or their fault? That if only, Tom, Dick, or Harry would straighten up and do something, then things would turn around. They promise you it is not them; they are working hard and doing all they can to get this country back on track.
Well maybe they are working hard, or doing all they think they can, but the one thing they are not doing is leading. A critical part of leadership is to take responsibility. To first look to yourself for the reasons these challenges persist and look to yourself to make the necessary changes to get different outcomes and get things moving in the right direction. Without personal responsibility, we can never move forward, we can never build relationships and we can never hope to execute any type of plan. Harry Truman reminds us that every strong leader knows the Buck Stops Here; that success and failure begin and end with you, the leader.
Again, I believe these are sad times for our country right now, and there is definitely a void of leadership and action in Washington. But as entrepreneurs, as business owners, and as leaders ourselves, we can learn volumes from what our politicians are not doing, how they are not leading, and apply these lessons to our businesses and organizations, and set ourselves up to Win In The Trust & Value Economy.