Iron Humility

I heard a sermon a few weeks ago that made me think about Collins’ Level 5 Leader as described in his book Good to Great. To paraphrase him, the best leaders have melded an iron will with a genuine humility. These attributes are often strange bedfellows. Neither can be faked nor even consciously considered, lest they become false.

The interesting twist I heard is this: A true leader does not think more of himself or less of himself. He just doesn’t think of himself. He does not look for credit but does not shy away from it. He just doesn’t think about credit.   We could all be reminded from time to time that self and credit have little place in leadership.  Most of all, self credit.

Doing It Wright

Every once in a while, an organization gets it right. In the case of ASCO, a construction equipment dealer headquartered in Lubbock, TX, it is better said gets it “Wright.”    The company was founded by J.W. Wright in 1960 with a simple premise:  sell the best products available, hire the best people available, and provide the best service available. The company grew tremendously based upon those simple precepts, personified in the character of Mr. Wright. His two sons, Steve and Brax, along with their sister Paula,  joined the company in the mid-70’s and continue their father’s work and reflect his character and values.  Not that Mr. Wright has gone away, mind you.  In his mid 80’s’s now,  he still comes to the office every day.

In the last decade, ASCO realized they must capture the essence of the company’s character in a more formal way.  Their values are simply stated:  Honor God, Develop People, Pursue Excellence, and Grow Profitably.  Indeed, they are a rare company in that they actually live their values.  They talk about them, use them as decision criteria, and demand – yes,  demand – alignment with them from their leadership.  Their values are even reflected in employee benefits.   ASCO provides educational assistance to all employees and their families as they live out their value of developing people.

ASCO’s vision is even more intriguing:  “We are blessed, so we will be a blessing to others.”  From funding for Alzheimer’s research to endowing university chairs, the company “puts its money where its mouth is.” In each case, all associates understand what the philanthropic goals are and work hard to make them happen and cheer at their realization.

All of this is accomplished in the rough-and-tumble panhandle of Texas, in an industry not known for this approach to work.  It isn’t a fad or a gimmick.  It is the reflection of good folks doing it the Wright way.

Maybe You’re Just Wrong…

After the elections the President stated that obviously he did not communicate his positions well enough and that is the reason for the results. Regardless of one’s political leanings, you have to be amazed at the response. It obviously hasn’t occurred to him yet that maybe people heard him and disagreed with him. After all, even his enemies agree that he is a great communicator.

There is a leadership lesson in this for all of us. If we have trouble leading folks, maybe we are just plain wrong. It happens. The implication otherwise is that everyone of our followers is not smart enough to understand, or at least need to be told in a different way. What folly this is. If people resist, the first failure mode, the first consideration should be “have I got this wrong?”

What does it mean to be “transparent?”

A consulting colleague of mine continually uses the phrase “the higher you go, the more you show.”  He has said this for many years, well before the term “transparency” became popular.  CEO’s and politicians have especially become fond of using the word. They just aren’t fond of its definition.   In a nutshell, it means living a life open to examination.  There are two keys to transparency:

Pro-activity. Transparency does not mean admitting everything after you are caught.   It is a willingness to live in the proverbial  “glass house.”  It is the identification of  areas in the leader’s life and work where being open and willing to share,  to invite examination and encourage an honest challenge are vital to the leader-follower relationship.

Accountability. Leaders must be accountable to those they lead.  Why?  Simply, followers are always at risk to some extent.   If a leader is dishonest, the fallout will affect her followers. If a leader makes poor decisions, he can put the very livelihoods of his followers in jeopardy.  The conventional thinking is that accountability is a one-way street.  The reality is that the street signs are generally turned the wrong way.

Transparency has become a rhetorical word in today’s culture.   The challenge for real leader is to make it a centerpiece of their culture, not another poster in the conference room.