Some of you know that I am writing a course called “How to Develop Capable People.” And if you’ve been reading this blog for very long you have probably come to see that my basic premise is that leadership is not singular. I have emphasized, and continue to do so, the fact that leadership functions within groups. It is the capacity to inspire others to do what needs to be done. The role of a leader, therefore, is the art of letting others have your own way.
The tagline of this blog and our business is that we enable you to “Extend your reach, Multiply your effectiveness, and Divide your work.” The very act of extension, multiplication, and division implies the presence of others.
Leaders function in the midst of those other people. To capture effectiveness is to maximize your INFLUENCE with those other people…and it is no easy or simple process. Indeed subtlety (not subterfuge) and sensitivity (not touchiness) are imperative.
Truly effective superlative leaders are forceful but gentle, exude power and authority without being blunt, brutal, or overpowering. I am, of course, talking about superlative leadership. There have been leaders who are blunt, brutal, and overpowering and they get the job done. But I do not classify them as being superlative.
Because the end never justifies the means. If one is to aspire to the rank of a superlative leader it is not enough simply to get things done. It is how those things get done that distinguishes a superlative leader from a mere mortal. Superlative leaders are indeed more powerful than a locomotive and able to leap tall buildings at a single bound but they don’t throw their considerable weight around.
Superlative leaders are people of deference; they have a way of behaving that demonstrates respect for someone or something. They hold the people they work with, the systems they work within, and the devices they use with regard and esteem. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of each and consider those strengths and weaknesses when making decisions, issuing directives, garnering cooperation, and enacting orders.
The great American President Theodore Roosevelt was a man of overwhelming personal resolve and above average physical strength and stamina. He was a larger than life character who left a deep and definitive mark on world history. But he avoided the 3 enemies of a deferential leader:
Enemy #1 = Bullying. He could be aggressive when he needed to be, but never when it was unwanted or unwarranted. He used the visibility of his political offices and the power of the podium to persuade and inspire, not to intimidate or manipulate.
Enemy #2 = Bluster. Never use empty threats. It always works against you. Always! In the end, when someone inevitably calls your bluff, you reveal weakness and lack of resolve. Bluster is the noise one makes to compensate for a paucity of internal fortitude and determination.
Enemy # 3 = BS. You can dazzle others for a time with high sounding phrases and soaring rhetoric, but there is always and often a time to back up your words with action. Never make promises you cannot keep, imply attitudes you don’t possess, or try to impress someone with who you are merely by the things you say.
President Roosevelt was the first to use the phrase “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” Indeed, I suggest that when one has a big enough stick one can afford to speak softly. Roosevelt described his big stick philosophy as “the exercise of intelligent forethought and of decisive action sufficiently far in advance of any likely crisis.” Whenever I speak of deferential leadership, someone always objects that it is indicative of or stands on a base of weakness.
That simply is not correct. Really strong people rely on strength of character, skill, and resolve, not noise and force. They can respect the social conventions of others, defer to the autonomy of other individuals, and work within the dynamics at play in any setting and do so with strength.