Watching our politicians at work, those referred to as ‘The Honourable Member’, is eye-popping instruction on leadership integrity. In politics as in business, leaders earn the ‘honourable’ designation not by words, but by deeds – deeds in relationship. By that measure, politicians aren’t banking much!
Any leader can speak the right words: they can purport to uphold values such as inclusion, accountability and respect. But it is in their treatment of others that a leader’s words have meaning and where they earn either trust or cynicism. The lens that is the political arena, shows how espoused principles are at odds with the relational aggression actually enacted.
We have grown cynical about politics as a consequence of this dissonance, and – here’s the alert: the workplace is equally susceptible to this debilitating pessimism. A depth understanding of this link between words and deeds is crucial for those wishing to inspire confidence in their own leadership and success for their team.
Politicians have yet to demonstrate that they get it. Instead they use their considerable powers of spin in ways that are, at their core, ethically questionable. They seek to discredit the other by:
* accusing, blaming, and shaming;
* belittling through ‘clever’ repartee and quoting out of context;
* spinning events to support one side only (theirs, of course); and
* claiming (false) outrage and demanding an apology or a resignation.
Nevertheless, the majority of politicians have no doubt honourably sought out the opportunity for public service. Likewise, leaders in business often have the best intentions and are genuinely confused when these don’t yield the expected results. In the face of challenging goals or threatened security, normally skilled leaders are at risk of sacrificing relationship for appearance, service for posturing.
Good people can be gobbled up by an organizational culture that exerts pressure on one’s own right thinking. The signs are not always of the eye-popping variety – hence the need to increase our awareness.
As Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller Blink makes clear, we recognize authenticity in the blink of an eye – or more tellingly, we recognize when authenticity is absent. We make an instantaneous judgement about trustworthiness. Leaders underestimate this at their peril when they show their skill – and I use the word advisedly – at manipulating the appearance of trustworthiness.
There is a difference between being in a position of leadership, and showing leadership. In fact, it is the degree of congruence between the title of leader and the reality of what that leader models that grows either cynicism or trust, discouragement or inspiration.
The voter who experiences apathy in the political realm, is subject to the same malaise when working for an organization that spins its employees with the appearance of a values-based mission statement, but acts in relationship with its employees in a manner that belies the words.
A business target may be achieved – or a useful bill passed – yet the outcome is tainted by the process. A short-term gain may be possible (and only may be) but the team is chagrined, the customer’s loyalty (or the voter’s loyalty) is diminished, and success is not sustained.
Does the executive have more personal choice than the politician? Is he or she free to act in relationships in ways that are congruent and respectful?
Honourable leaders are those who choose right action along with right words:
* They never give vent to yelling, name-calling or scapegoating;
* They own their errors and fallibilities and apologize freely;
* They go out of their way to celebrate the success of others, watchful of their own aggrandizement;
* They say privately only what they’d be prepared to say publicly;
* They are skilled at both avoiding and resolving conflict.
If our politicians don’t often model this for us, they do offer a means to assess honourable leadership in our own environments. If we are fortunate there are others around us whose interpersonal skills are worthy of emulating. And with integrity and awareness we can ensure that our own leadership values are win/win values: in the service of our goals, yet never at the expense of others.
By James Clapton