It is amazing how much can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit. —John Wooden
Leadership ideally rallies all to the cause of itself. It breeds leaders and seeks leaders who are better than itself. It knows when to give and knows when to push. Discretion and judgment, not inflexible rules, are its wisest allies.
Leadership is the gray area I have spoken of where common sense and personal commitment to self-honesty and responsibility come into play. For example, imagine a business with union and management; you find both groups have rules to abide by. If you run a business solely operating by fixed rules—management vs. union—you have solid friction, butting heads with one another, without give-and-take. This is a formula for robots, not human beings. In the best of businesses, union and management both use these rules as guidelines, not as absolutes. Give-and-take would, therefore, be the standard, not the exception. Hence, they work together in a gray area, where frictions are decreased and people are enabled to do their best. The work rules may require a break period for a worker and restrict workers to X amount of daily work hours. However, workers may be involved in a project about which they have great pride and ownership of and have chosen to forgo their break time and put in extra hours at home or at work. In turn, management sees fit to let this union employee have more freedom and flextime to manage a personal issue or grant other liberties. These are mutually agreed-to choices that benefit everyone and produce greater quality of service, products, and very importantly, personal self-esteem. This kind of relationship uses rules as guidelines to protect against abuses, but does not rule by a fixed method of operating only based on the established rules. This eliminates unnecessary friction between groups and allows the intent, not the letter, of the rule as primary.
Rules are the least effective, poorest form of an education or teaching method. Rules are primarily needed to protect against abuses. Rules are too often used by educators, management professionals, or family leaders as the easiest way to deal with an event, question, or situation. They are used too many times to allow us to skate past the important work of analyzing the merits of a situation. I will reiterate that to be human is to use judgment, not to simply react as an amoeba would to fixed stimuli, but to respond with consideration for the context in which an event occurs. This ability to measure and judge is a human attribute and a high responsibility, which we sometimes will relegate to rule-based guidelines through laziness or ignorance.
The easiest and poorest method of teaching anyone anything is to defer to rules, rather than take the time to actually evaluate and communicate intelligently—hence, teach.
The common cry when fixed rules are not followed by people who operate by using more common sense and individual reward/merit diversity with different people is the hue and cry that this is not equal treatment; it is favoritism, or it is even too productive and keeps other workers from finding work. These arguments are primarily sour grapes, and based more on envy and a poor understanding of how good working environments and teamwork are actually created.
Working with people through give-and-take, through measured responsibility and reward, is good for everyone, for overall morale and trust in any working environment. Just review the businesses that operate in this manner versus the businesses that operate based on friction through black-and-white operating conditions. The latter businesses are cold and wasteful and restrain the creative abilities of individuals. If any individual wants to contribute additional effort, then equal guidelines need to be applied.
Allowing freedom to workers is the ultimate equality.
This is also true in families with children, where guidelines for behavior are drawn. If you have one child who is exceptionally responsible and demonstrates great trust and worthiness, you can afford to bend the curfew and grant other little freedoms; however, if your other child is less trustworthy and pushes the limits consistently, you would not afford him or her any additional freedoms.
Equality means you treat people the same based on their behavior, not based on the guidelines for behavior. Those guidelines/rules will be used when you have abuses; then you enforce them with absolute commitment. But when responsibility begins to develop in someone, you move away from the use of fixed rules toward trust and common sense. This is the intangible medium of human potential that transcends mere rule-based methods of communication and actions.
This again is the essence of equality and fair treatment. You treat people the same by treating them differently, based on circumstance and/or behavior.
Do not expect the politically correct, or a bureaucrat, to have any understanding of any of this. They, by definition, do not respect values per se or common sense; they only respect control and condone actions, thoughtless or not, imposed on those who violate a particular set of written words (rules). Weak or artificial leadership simplistically respects operating from a point of high friction, operating from absolutes; as such, weak or artificial leaders are often demonstrated through zealot forms of behavior. They do not operate with common sense, as common sense implies following the intent of a law or rule, not always the letter of the law. Such reason would blur their fixed judgments and dismantle the self-righteous support pedestals that their identities are built upon. They do not understand the gray areas of communication, the merging of diverse views and opposite points of view to enable improved results. Such are the politically correct people who, on paper, appear to be social and corporate saints, but they are the first people who must be removed from positions of authority if optimized results and successes are to be realized.
Jack Welch, General Electric’s former CEO and business author, has spoken of four types of workers: (1) the ones who make numbers and are part of the corporate culture, (2) those who make numbers but do not marry into the corporate culture, (3) those who do not meet numbers but meld well with the corporate culture, and (4) those who do not meet numbers and do not meet up with the culture. Number four types are easy to get rid of or remove from a business; number two types are critical to get rid of, but take the greatest effort and courage to do so. Number three types are good people and good people can always be turned around to make the numbers; but group number two, the people who make numbers, cannot always be made into good people.
This is what I believe Jack Welsh would argue. Jack Welsh is a true leader in the corporate world, which I would say only a handful of CEOs could lay true claim to. Richard Branson, CEO of Virgin Airlines, is another gentleman who is a true leader and a success in a brutally tough industry. He has spoken of not always hiring experts, but rather of hiring good people. Again, good people can become experts, but experts cannot necessarily become good people. This, in my view, echoes much of what Jack Welsh says.
I would add another corporate true hero of mine to the list of great CEOs: Herb Kelleher, former CEO of Southwest Airlines. Please read his book NUTS. Herb breaks the rules, trusts people—and wins. He is not what I would ever call politically correct; rather, he is genuine—a very rare commodity in this age. He is an icon and role model for all business leaders.
Another book that captures the essence of equality through different treatment based on behaviors as it outlines how to be a smart and effective manager is Ken Blanchard’s The One Minute Manager. If you have not read that book, it is a great read. It is concise, capturing the essence of how to evaluate situations while teaming with and managing various types of people.
Finally, one of the greatest business leaders of our modern times is W. Edwards Deming, whose iconoclastic methods did not simply change a corporation, but changed a nation, Japan, into the quality center of the globe. In my view, Deming mirrored an understanding shared by John Wooden, the greatest coach in UCLA basketball history and a brilliant author, who believed in how amazing results can be accomplished if no one cares who gets the credit.
Dr. Deming was a world-class statistician, who was ironically fond of saying that “He that starts with statistical methods alone will not be here in three years as a business.” His approach would also apply to athletics or any enterprise, as it is attitude and character that make a leader and a winner. Dr. Deming, like John Wooden and other unrivaled leaders, is intelligence and integrity personified, and they all stand out from the crowd. I would recommend any one of several books written about Dr. Deming, as he is an example of a consummate leader, not bound by conventional business practices. Dr. Deming honored the value of human beings by his lifelong commitment to excellence through a marriage of common-sense judgments and science. Dr. Deming’s leadership methods led major businesses and the Wall Streets of the world, rather than being led by them and their conventional shortsighted quarterly analysts. Dr. Deming was the Einstein of business success, who certainly was not an unsung icon, but did not reach the sustained acclaim I believe he deserved. Frankly, he was flatly rejected by too many for some of his seemingly more unorthodox approaches to working with people, which were essential to his successful management formulas for business.
Other business leaders today, such as Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, are role models for common sense and demonstrate a caring for humanity that is lacking in our general business leadership today.
Great leaders with strong leadership qualities run short in this world, so be wisely skeptical and wary of charlatans, even though many of them are generally good people. I have found even the good folks are caught up in being first and foremost out for themselves. Then there are others who are simply not good people and are disguised in sheep’s clothes. Their lip service is world-class. I also call them politically correct weasels. Foremost for leadership, measure all things against your standards, your ethics of high principles, and trust yourself first. Have character. By that I do not mean to demonstrate irreverence or disrespect for other people, but respectfully attempt to avoid being led by conventionalists and mere mediocrity. Find a way to influence and lead by example, an example that builds on cooperation rather than competition.
Let me try to capture this in brief poetic verse:
Truth is found between the lines, in the middle, where grays and paradox abound. It is found in give-and-take, through common sense—the law of shades. The engagement of truth is to be moral, rather than conventional, as egos can only scream in silence here.
For it is easier to be emotional, indignant, and anchored to the black or white than do the math. Truth’s equations do dismantle aristocrats’ might. Truth forever will scoundrels and ignoramuses frankly frighten.
Value your inner voice and find it, clarify it, use it. Your integrity requires it. The current state of the world can use you. Ignore the cries from the colorful demagogues, those who exploit and portray half-truths as facts to garner attention and promote self-serving agendas. In contrast to the demagogues, a true-hearted person lives in the middle, not in the extremes; is described and defined in character, not in cause; and is actually the person living in the peacemaker’s seat, without grandiose identity—but with something more than flash and pomp. That person has honor, not medals; has kindness, not sentiment; has a respect for truth, not for agendas; and has a love for what is truly right, not for what is technically right. That is leadership.
If you find your inner voice, either quiet or overt, you will not become a politically correct nuisance to the world, creating volumes of unnecessary one-sided noise. You will become a much truer, more honest voice of diversity, merging the sounds and feelings of everyone through your voice, by your actions, in your symphony of thoughts, in your music that is intrinsic and somewhere in all of us.
That search for the common denominator—the common truth that resonates in us all—will never be found in the black-and-white sides of an issue or an organization, but in the middle, in the grays, between the lines, in the dance that brings us together. In that dance, both the magic and discipline of authentic ideals are born.
True effective leaders know this. They understand the dance: leadership is a melding of differences into one objective, and to accomplish that takes intelligence, which is sometimes reticent, sometimes overt, and sometimes a combination of both. You need to be straight and to know when to bend. The best of leadership is a combination of skills. But first and always foremost, it is built from a true individual, not a conventionalist. In other words, character counts. Integrity is essential. It is important to attract genuine respect from others. That respect translates into a bond and a trust that is essential and unmistakable. Think of the few who you can count on your hand who engender such respect and trust.
It is far too few.