- Care enough to stop blaming and criticizing. Life is more than simply growing old. It means growing up. Growing old, any animal is capable of. Growing up is the prerogative of human beings. Once you decide that all criticism and blame are a waste of time your life will change forever. It’s far easier to be a critic than to be a player. That’s why there’s always more critics than players. In an NHL game, for example, you’ll find eighteen people on the ice at any one time if you include the referees and the linesmen. What do you have in the audience? Eighteen thousand critics. 1000:1. That’s about the proportion of critics to players in our society.
- Take ownership. One thing I’ve learned is that no one will ever think less of you for raising your hand and saying, “I’m responsible for that.” Explaining his error in judgement over a photo taken eighteen years ago, our prime-minister initially blamed his privileged upbringing for blinding him to the offensive reality of such images and how they are viewed as racist. My response is, “What’s wrong with simply fessing up to a mistake and misjudgment?” Take ownership. A leader’s responsibility is to model maturity and display what ownership looks like. And as citizens, it is our responsibility to take ownership by expecting from ourselves what we expect from our elected officials. It’s a whole lot easier to see the shortcomings in others – particularly if they are as visible as politicians – than it is to see our own blind spots and deficiencies.
- Don’t wait for your leaders. Another way of expressing ownership is to give what you expect from others. Waiting, as most of us know, is not a good strategy if you are after results. Indeed, we often wait for, or expect, our elected officials to legislate policies and practices that suit our own interests and in the process abdicate personal responsibility. What we expect from others, especially those placed in a position of leadership – contains a seed of opportunity to bring that to the world. If you want a visionary, benevolent leader with strong character, start by developing these qualities within yourself. If you want politicians to have more integrity, bring greater integrity to the world. Wanting your political leaders to be accountable starts with you being accountable.
For the past several years I have been involved in teaching leadership development programs at every level and in every division of the RCMP. In my workshops, I make a distinction between the transactional work of policing (writing tickets, arresting criminals, doing paper work, etc.) and transformational work of policing, where lives are changed, communities become safer, and police officers make a lasting difference in someone’s life.
When I teach this leadership principle I tell a story about a constable who rightfully ticketed me several years ago for going through a stop sign while I turned on to a main street in the community where I live. But this constable didn’t just write me a ticket. He carefully took the time to make the whole experience a transformational moment. He sincerely and respectfully told me a story of why he was writing me a ticket. He had recently attended to an accident where children were killed because a car was t-boned when the driver went through a stop sign without stopping.
The story was transformational to me. It changed my life. While I won’t say that since that day I have never rolled through a stop sign, over the past nine years I frequently think of that constable when I am approaching a stop sign, and when I do so, I make sure I come to a complete stop.
In recent weeks I have taken the time to track down this constable and thank him for changing a life. Here, in essence, is what I said:
“I want to thank you for stopping me that night and telling me that story before you ticketed me. You changed my life. Because of your actions, I am a safer driver. But it not only made me a safer driver. For the past nine years I have been telling this story to corporate audiences across the continent and several people over the years have told me that my story has helped change their driving habits and made them safer drivers.
So… your service in our community has changed lives and likely saved lives. I just wanted to write and express my sincere appreciation to you.
Continue on with your important work in our community and beyond. You and your colleagues in the RCMP do incredible work that is far too often unacknowledged and unappreciated.”
So often, we never know when one action will have a rippling effect to make lasting change in a person’s life. So often, we never know how our lives can make a difference.
To paraphrase the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that one thoughtful, committed citizen can change the world.”
I recently overheard a manager talking with a colleague about how he was being sent to a “Respectful Workplace Program.” I couldn’t help but interrupt and ask him about it.
“Yes,” he explained. “Everyone in our company is required to attend a one-day training seminar on how to build a respectful workplace.”
Be assured that I am respectful of whoever might, with good intentions, be running a workshop on building respect in an organization. And even without any knowledge of what will be presented in the workshop, I’m sure that this program will undoubtedly bring valuable information.
But with all due respect (pun intended!), respect can’t be taught like mathematics. Building a respectful workplace, like building respect in your home or community doesn’t come from a training program. Respect isn’t about speaking to each other nicely or holding hands or hugging each other. While we could all use a refresher in good manners, respect goes much deeper than techniques or even behavior.
If you want improve a disrespectful workplace you have to get to the root cause of the problem. A respectful workplace is achieved – and sustained – through one critical element: respect for yourself. When you have self-respect you won’t tolerate bullying, inappropriate, disrespectful comments, or people acting unprofessionally. You have the same standards for yourself as you expect from others. When you have respect for yourself you don’t demean others or act in ill-mannered ways. You have better things to do with your time, and you have no interest in being disrespectful to others. You won’t find yourself entangled in hurtful, useless and hurtful arguments. And you won’t let others disrespect you.
Here are four strategies for increasing your level of self-respect. Just as anyone can be a leader, anyone can put these into practice, beginning today. As you do, notice the positive impact and benefit to your workplace by increasing the respect around you.
- Never make a promise you aren’t prepared to keep. Self-respect, like confidence, is an outcome of right choices, not a prerequisite. Learning to keep promises, whether it is to your child to attend his baseball game or to yourself to keep up good health habits, results in personal integrity. Keeping promises to yourself and others, even in the face of discomfort and the tendency toward complacency, gives you confidence to get through the hard times. As the late Stephen R. Covey used to say, private victory precedes public victory.
- Create focus in your life. Clarity around your highest values, a sense of purpose, daily disciplines around your health, and an ongoing personal development plan are all ways that contribute to how you feel about yourself. People who respect themselves take care of themselves. And they spend their time being of service to others. When you start paying attention, you will notice that people with focus and clarity in their lives aren’t part of the gossiping crowds. They don’t have time for complaining or blaming others or being a part of disrespectful conversations. They are too busy focused on being useful in the world.
- Take the high ground. If you are wondering why people yell at you or degrade you or act in disrespectful ways, it’s simple. Because you let them. You don’t have any obligation to tolerate disrespectful behavior. You don’t have to become lazy even if the people you work with are lazy. You don’t have to get involved in ill-mannered arguments. A leader I have high regard for told me once, “Never argue with an idiot because they will bring you down to their level and beat you with experience.” Live on the foundation good principles, even if the people around you don’t appreciate it. Do the right thing, because the right thing will make things right inside of you.
- Be a light, not a judge. The disciples of a Hasidic rabbi approached their spiritual leader with a complaint about the prevalence of evil in the world. Intent upon driving out the forces of iniquity and darkness, they requested that the rabbi counsel them. The rabbi’s response was one that can help us all come to grips with the malevolent forces of darkness that at times seem to surround our world. The rabbi suggested to his students that they take brooms, go down to the basement, and attempt to sweep the darkness from the cellar. The bewildered disciples applied themselves to sweeping out the darkness, but to no avail. The rabbi then advised them to take sticks and beat vigorously at the darkness to drive out the evil. When this likewise failed, he counseled them to again go down to the cellar and to protest against the evil. When this failed as well, he said, “My students, let each of you meet the challenge of darkness by lighting a lamp.” The disciples descended to the cellar and kindled their lights. They looked, and behold! The darkness had been driven out.
Self-respect doesn’t guarantee that others will treat you with respect. What it does do is guarantee that you won’t tolerate disrespect. When disrespect is no longer tolerated, it will soon cease to exist.
I’d love to hear from you about some of your organizational challenges if you are working in a disrespectful workplace or relationship. Send me your thoughts on my contact page. I’d be glad to schedule a complimentary ½ hour session to discuss your situation.
John Coltrane, the great American jazz saxophonist and composer, once said that to be a better artist you have to be a better person. He could easily have been talking about leadership. It’s not about your title; it’s about who you are as a person. And you can be a better leader by working on being a better person. You must be, before you can do. To accomplish much, be much. The doing must be the expression of the being. It is foolish to think that we can accomplish much without first preparing ourselves by being honest, caring, unselfish, and trustworthy.
Leadership is about creating results through others, while helping people around you grow and flourish – without the use of positional power. It’s about presence, not position. The question is: Where does that sense of presence come from? How does one develop that presence? After years of research and observation, I’ve come to understand that sense of presence comes essentially from being a good person. It’s that easy, and it’s that difficult. Here are a few ways to develop your leadership presence by being a good person:
- Earn the respect of others through self-respect. We’ve all met people who are bright, talented, competent, and good at making deals, but something about who they are as a person got in the way of all their ability. Certain abilities belong on a resumé, and certain virtues belong in a eulogy. If you think about it, it’s the qualities written in a eulogy that are the ones that truly matter when it comes to earning trust as a leader. People of strong character are integrated human beings.
- To lead you have to connect. To connect, you have to care. You can’t fake caring, just like you can’t fake character. When coaching an executive and discussing possible reasons for the lack of results from his team I asked, “Do you care?” he kept going on about his frustration for the lack of accountability on the team and the poor attitude of his employees. I pushed further, “I know you care about results, but do you care about the people around you? Do you care about what matters to them, about their families and their values and their unique gifts?” After a long pause he shrugged his shoulders and said, “No, not really.” I then suggested he do his organization and himself a favor and step down from the responsibility of management. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Leadership is a largely a matter of caring about people, not manipulating them.
- Centered leaders know their worth, strength, and security comes from within. Because they don’t define themselves by their external environment, they can remain calm in the midst of the storms, secure in the midst of failure, and keep perspective in the midst of success. Centered leaders are guided by an internal compass based on their own values and their own approach to life rather than the fleeting opinions of others or comparisons to others. They are focused on what matters and are able to go within and find inner strength, wisdom, and stability, even in the midst of a demanding external world.
- A commitment to contribute beyond yourself, whether it’s across the world or across the corridor, makes a great leader. Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, have devoted much of their energy to global development philanthropy. While in Ottawa to discuss overseas aid with the Canadian government, he said, in part, “In countries such as the U.S. and Canada, where a lot of people are doing quite well, the question is: Can you take your loyalty and your values and go further than yourself and your family, even beyond your region and your country? Can you have, as a member of the human race, the idea that you would volunteer time or your voice, or whatever means you have to give? … people want to be associated with more than their own success – they want to have knowledge and a sense of progress that they contributed to [something beyond themselves]… We call that our ‘global citizenship’ movement.” Bill Gates understands that being a good person means allowing your success to overflow into making life better for others.
Being a good leader by being a good person cannot be taught in a leadership course or from a textbook. But it can be learned. It can be developed. My dad would say that it can be caught even though it can’t be taught. It means your motive is do good by being good. And it amounts to leading well by living well.
Boston is one of my favorite cities. I get there at least once a year for work or to visit friends. For my daughter’s thirteenth birthday, we flew to Boston for a rare opportunity to see a Red Sox game and a Bruin’s game in the same day. The Fenway Park experience will be embedded in our hearts forever. There is something inexplicable about being in Boston. The beauty, the arts, the people, the universities, the passion, and the pride of community – that shone especially brightly through after the marathon bombing – all contribute to making Boston a magnificent place. But there is something else that has been a part of the splendor that has stood out in this city for more than the past two decades: Boston’s former beloved mayor.
Tom Menino, Boston’s longest-serving mayor, is a reminder of the special qualities that can make a politician cherished as a leader. Upon his death, back in 2014, Harvard’s paper, Crimson Staff, stated, “Boston lost its longest-serving chief executive, Harvard lost a partner, and the community lost a symbol of Boston’s cohesiveness, toughness, and spirit of renewal.”
There aren’t many politicians that are called ‘beloved,’ but that’s how most people in Boston would describe him after his more than five terms of office. Tom Menino was part of the fabric of Boston and the lessons about the importance of leadership that can be learned from the life of Tom Menino are worth noting. I have listed some of Menino’s attributes that describe his presence as a leader.
- Be connected. With his constant presence in the neighborhoods of Boston, more than half of Boston’s residents had personally met their mayor at one time or another. ‘Tommy’ Menino attended every possible event, ribbon cutting, and other public gatherings. People who met him said he was warm and genuine. He was authentic. Based on the hundreds of tributes after his death, Tommy’s down-to-earth, accessible manner and understanding of people made him highly regarded, both as a politician, a leader and as a person.
- Be a champion for the minority. Among Mr. Menino’s main priorities were “providing every child with a quality education; lowering the crime rate; and promoting a healthy lifestyle for all city residents.” Defender of the poor, those captive to their environments, and minorities, Menino stood strong as a principled leader of Boston, making it a great and beautiful ‘town’.
- Be humble. Months after leaving office, Menino was diagnosed with an advanced form of cancer. When he announced his illness, he made it clear that he did not want people to feel sorry for him, reminding the public that there are people worse off than him. He did not want to be treated any differently because of this illness. His attitude was the same as all previous challenges he had faced: “We’ll get through it.”
- Be principled. As a boy, Menino and his family experienced prejudice because of their Italian ethnicity. Thus, he was a staunch opponent to discrimination, and had zero tolerance for prejudice or racism of any kind. Menino stood up for justice by marching in the city’s gay pride parade and refused to march in South Boston’s St. Patrick’s Day parade because it banned LGBT advocacy groups. As a bridge builder in a city that had long been accused of inadequately handling race relations, Mayor Menino shattered the mold and stood for justice by connecting the gap.
- Be courageous. Leaders who get things done require toughness, discipline, and courage. In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings, Menino checked himself out of the hospital despite a broken leg to attend the memorial service and deliver his tribute to the victims and to the city. Menino knew that to be a leader you aren’t going to make everybody happy. Having the courage to stand for what he believed in was more important to him than popularity. The paradox was that by living and leading this way he was hugely popular.
Mayor Menino demonstrated an incredible human touch through the power of his authentic presence. Determination, work ethic, and an unyielding dedication to serving others were the hallmarks of this mayor. These qualities, along with his commitment to banish the racial polarization that had planted itself in Boston, solidified his legacy as one of America’s great public servants.
However, no leader or person should ever be emulated entirely. No one is perfect, and by observing carefully, you can learn as much from a person’s weaknesses as you can from their strengths. In order to serve the greater good, at times you have to exercise your power and be loyal to your followers. The Boston Globe noted once that, “Mayor Menino favored certain developers,” took a personal interest in almost every construction project, and often banished enemies “to the political wilderness.” He was even seen by some as a bully. Sometimes ridiculed for his lack of vision and eloquence, he was not known as the greatest of public speakers nor was he a leader with a profound ideology. But none of these criticisms overshadow Menino’s overwhelmingly assured legacy. To the contrary, these weaknesses helped make him who he was.
Reflecting on the life and lessons of the leaders in our lives – both the ones we are drawn to as well as those who repel us – can make us better people and better leaders. With all his strengths and weaknesses, Menino embodied what a politician can be. His lessons of hard work, dedication to those he served, and devotion to a purpose larger than himself should inspire us all as leaders to pursue our purpose with passion and a renewed sense of focus.