Steve seemed to have it all. He was tough, smart, disciplined, quick on his feet, and an effective strategist. He worked hard and could match anybody’s résumé with an impressive list of business and personal skills. With all that Steve had going for him, why was he failing in his latest and greatest work assignment? Was there a way for him to pull out of his tailspin?
Before his success in business, Steve had been an Army Ranger. Listening to Steve was like listening to a Tom Clancy audio book, only this was the actual participant reminiscing in real time. Steve’s Ranger training had prepared him to withstand almost anything, including extreme pain, in order to execute a mission. When Steve recalled his adventures, the look in his eyes assured his audience that if he had ever been captured even excessive torture might not have broken him. Steve might have chosen to die rather than disclose information to an enemy. This was one sharp, strong man—Rambo in a business suit.
Part of Steve’s extensive Ranger training had included instruction in being a leader at any level of organizational structure. Steve understood both giving and taking orders. He knew how to take charge, size up the situation, and go after the objective.
Steve’s boss, a vice president named Pat, had recruited Steve for a new assignment. Pat had a reputation for building successful organizations and had recently assumed responsibility for a whole new division in this sizable company.
Pat strongly believed in building individuals and teams, and to accomplish this with his new team, Pat had hired me (Ron) as a leadership consultant to facilitate more personal discovery for himself and his fresh staff of elite leaders.
As part of my consulting approach, I had tested Pat’s team to assess leadership performance. That’s how I first met Steve. I’ll never forget the afternoon I met with this man who was so discouraged that his whole demeanor drooped. His confidence eroding, Steve sat slumped in a chair. He was desperately looking for understanding and some help to regain his footing.
What had pierced the strength of this highly trained, combat-proven Ranger?
Steve’s discouragement resulted from feedback he had just received from his peers on his leadership style and how it was affecting his ability to lead, to be trusted, and to be a good team member. He thought his leadership practices were sound, but his peers and “direct-reports” (those who reported to him directly) saw them as oppositional, competitive, and detrimental to the team’s ability to function successfully.
Steve saw himself as a good, competent leader. He had been a member of one of the most elite, high-performance teams in the world—the Army Rangers. Now, as a successful businessman, he wanted more than anything to be a member of a high-performance team. Before I showed up, Steve assumed that he had made all the right moves, had all the right skills, and was doing just great, thank you! Now this devastating feedback from his team told him otherwise. He knew in his heart that he had the right stuff, so what was wrong?
What Steve didn’t understand is that skill is only part of the equation. He did have many solid leadership attributes in place: He was committed and focused, had great integrity, and could endure difficulties. What Steve didn’t understand was that some of his behavior and attitudes were offensive to coworkers. It didn’t matter to them that he was an ex-Army Ranger and had great leadership qualities and a list of achievements to show for it. To them he seemed proud. Steve didn’t understand the difference between being proud of your accomplishments and being perceived as kind of a cocky know-it-all. His air of superiority kept others from feeling they could trust him.
Once Steve began to exhibit a more humble attitude in response to his teammates’ feedback and became more attentive to their accomplishments and strengths, trust began to build. Since Steve no longer felt the need to blow his own horn about his accomplishments, his coworkers—because they liked and trusted him more—began to express to him their pride in his accomplishments.
As is so often the case in today’s business environment, Steve’s team changed dramatically over time. The company went through a merger, Pat was enticed away by another company, and many of Steve’s peers left in the merger downsizing. Steve’s still there, however…as team leader.
Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s irrepressible dog, once lamented, “It’s not easy being head beagle.” And in the wake of recent moral meltdowns at both high and low levels of corporate America, Snoopy’s insight may be more on target now than ever before.
For those who still aspire to lead others well, however, the current leadership climate presents a great opportunity—especially for those who earnestly want to lead right. As never before—in all segments of society—we earnestly want to associate with people who are genuinely trustworthy.
“Whether in a corporation, a Scout troop, a public agency, or an entire nation, constituents seek four things: meaning or direction, trust in and from the leader, a sense of hope and optimism, and results.”1 Well said, Warren Bennis.
Trust is at the heart of any honest relationship. Building teams, leading organizations, and working with shareholders and customers require open, honest relationships. A trusted style of leadership is what we offer in this book. Regardless of where you have been and what you have done—or even if you have no experience at all—you can become a leader worthy of trust. This leadership style will change you; it will change the lives of others around you; it will change companies and organizations.
Quality leadership is vitally important today, and many people work hard to improve their leadership skills. But all the training and technical skills, as important as they are, will not create an enduring, trusted leader.
How do you become a trusted leader? Is there a proven path that ensures you will be a leader others will follow?
Our friend Steve was not alone in realizing that his leadership style needed help.
Long before this book was even a dream, when I (Wayne) first met Ron, I realized he was a talented leader who would be a good man to know. At the time of our first meeting, I was a senior executive in the wholesale distribution industry. Over the years I had led teams and found some level of success, but I knew I had not discovered the secret of moving from being a good leader to a great leader.
Ron and I became friends, and I eventually accepted another executive position with a different firm. This new company was growing, and as we added additional executives to the team, we invited Ron to come help us with leadership training. Ron used the same approach with us as he did with Steve.
My test results devastated me. Full of dismay and discouragement, I, like Steve, ended up in a face-to-face meeting with Ron. I had thought I was an effective leader. Now, staring at my leadership-style scores, I was learning that I was a minor-leaguer at best. Difficult truths confronted me. If my leadership style did not change, my progress and the likelihood of future success were in jeopardy.
As a leader I was defined by my competitiveness, perfectionism, and avoidance of unpleasant reality. My team members saw me as combative and individualistic. I showed little need for affiliation with the team. I was not trusted.
Clearly, I had much work to do on my leadership approach.
With kindness and obvious professionalism, Ron made me aware of my need for the incredible principles this book presents. I have made changes, and I believe I am a much stronger leader today than in the past. The principles have so influenced my life that I am now teaching them to leaders in a variety of organizations. I want as many people as possible to understand that a leadership style based on trust makes all the difference in achieving individual, team, and organizational success.
The temptation I (Ron) face is to settle for claiming my title as “exalted consultant” and go smugly on to share all of my life-changing wisdom! But my coauthor and hundreds of clients and associates who know me would never let me get away with it. So now I need to share some of my own story, which reveals the real sources of any profound information and insights I’ve collected.
Several decades ago I had the good fortune of finding work as an engineer for a company led by an outstanding man named C. E. (Bill) Bottum. Bill was an out-of-the-box thinker—if you know what I mean—long before anybody even talked about thinking in or out of boxes.
About five years into my work for Bill, a change in how our firm was using subcontractors necessitated the hiring of a firm to help those of us in leadership roles improve our interpersonal relationship skills.
I had just finished designing a construction framework that required careful attention to where and how forces were applied. Coincidentally, at about the same time I was asked to fill out an assessment of my leadership style. Using the same testing instrument I would employ with both Steve and Wayne years later, I also received some sobering but eye-opening feedback from my peers, my direct-reports, and my boss.
That was half a lifetime ago, but I still remember thinking, If I don’t change some areas of my leadership style, I’m never going to experience the success in life that I desire.
Equally illuminating to me was the realization that an instrument designed to examine my leadership style could be just as scientifically valid as the engineering design work I had recently completed. A whole string of lights turned on for me. With the help of an assessment tool, I could examine and analyze the overall forces that were driving my leadership style, and I could clearly see how that style was affecting those around me. Additionally, I could dig into the details to better understand which elements of my style were applying stress and what happened as a result of that stress. I could then reinforce those areas of my style that needed buttressing, just as I had designed additional reinforcements to assure a successful engineering project.
These insights eventually resulted in a dramatic career change for me. I realized that insight into what makes leaders “tick” could have dramatic, positive ramifications not only for the leaders themselves but also for the many people they influence. Entire organizations could become more self-aware and focused in the pursuit of their vision, mission, and goals. And the individuals involved could experience a whole lot more enjoyment and career satisfaction along the way.
But my greatest light-bulb moment was yet to come—also courtesy of Bill Bottum.
Several years later I, like many, many others, became enamored with a hot new business book titled In Search of Excellence. I remember going to see Bill, eager to tell him about the book and share with him what I had learned from it. I found that Bill was a few pages ahead of me. Not only was he already familiar with the book, but as we discussed the conclusions of the authors Thomas Peters and Robert Waterman Jr., Bill informed me that in his opinion the authors had just recovered some ancient, time-tested truths about leadership.
Bill reached into a desk drawer and showed me a chart he had created, the result of a lifetime of developing what he called “the guiding principles.” Bill then showed me how the main points of In Search of Excellence clearly aligned with his principles. This book is based on the same basic guiding principles.
And these principles have an unexpected origin.
Two thousand years ago a sizable group of people were desperately looking for a new leader. They were caught in an unfortunate trap, living under a cruel local and national dictatorship. They were looking for someone who would lead them away from tyranny toward peace, harmony, and better personal circumstances. Lower taxes would be nice too!
Then a remarkable young man came on the scene. Many thought he was the one who could lead such an overthrow. This young leader assembled a team. As is often the case, the team members started fighting among themselves, scheming for the top positions in the coming “new order.” Like many aspiring leaders, they assumed that being in charge meant climbing the ladder, fighting for an exalted position on the company organizational chart, assuming power, taking control, gaining privilege, enjoying prestige, and having others serve them.
One day the young leader asked for some time with his team members.
Would this be the day he announced his plan to lead the rebellion against the oppressors? Would he hand out the choice assignments in the new regime? He took his men aside and said in so many words, “Listen, guys, true leadership is different from anything you’ve seen or heard. It’s not about skill, power, or control. It’s all about developing a style that produces trust.” That remarkable young man was Jesus.
He went on to share with his followers not just some nice spiritual sayings but eight incredible insights on how good living and good leadership work.
These ideas sounded strange. They seemed totally counterintuitive to the team. In fact, Jesus’ followers never really understood until he demonstrated the greatest act of humility, compassion, and commitment of all time: He gave his life for them.
Then he left. And without him around, these raw leadership recruits helped develop an organization that eventually changed the world. That’s why we believe these eight principles—known more commonly as the Beatitudes—are the keys to building trust with people. Putting them into practice will unlock your leadership potential and illumine the path to building a successful personal career and becoming a trusted leader of a team or organization.
To help you apply these principles more specifically to a leadership setting, we have taken a little liberty and restated the principles as follows:
1. Humility: “Favored are those not full of themselves”—leaders who are open and teachable…and invite the same qualities in others.
2. Development: “Favored are the realists”—leaders who accept the truth and know how to train others to seize the benefits of adversity, loss, and change.
3. Commitment: “Favored are the steadfast”—leaders who know that reaching a greater good requires a firm grip on the right values, causes, and goals.
4. Focus: “Favored are those desperate for excellence”—leaders who do the right things at the right time in the right way.
5. Compassion: “Favored are the caring”—leaders who serve the needs of everyone in their organizations.
6. Integrity: “Favored are those with unshakable ethics”—leaders who hold high moral values regardless of personal cost.
7. Peacemaking: “Favored are those who calm the waters”—leaders who remain steady in storms and build teams that stick together.
8. Endurance: “Favored are those with fortitude”—leaders who overcome personal doubts and setbacks to courageously stay the course.
We know that it may come as a bit of a shock to see Jesus’ teachings applied in this context. But we need to understand his brilliance. He wasn’t just an inspirational spiritual teacher. His timeless insights and the dynamic efforts and success of his followers mark Jesus as one of the greatest leaders of all time.
Few people consider themselves perfectly qualified to lead. The media—from ESPN to C-SPAN—tell us what everyone and everything should look like, and we find ourselves believing that skill is all that matters. We are even influenced by our own ideas about leadership. But Jesus had deeper insight and taught his followers that skill alone is not enough.
This book will guide you through the eight attributes of great leadership, with particular focus on the first and last: humility and endurance.
Our desire is to help you become a great leader. For the record, you do not have to be president of the United States or CEO of some international corporation to be a great leader. Just as parents don’t suddenly decide to parent, leaders don’t suddenly decide to lead. We are always leading. The important question is, “Just what kind of leader am I?”
To help make your time reading this book a pleasing and profitable investment, we have included two recurring sections at the end of each chapter to help you gain and retain as much wisdom as possible:
1. The Essentials provides a summary of the major ideas discussed in the chapter.
2. Change from the Inside Out includes questions and exercises to help you apply the chapter’s material more specifically to yourself or to your team or organization.
Robert Quinn in his book Deep Change says, “We are all affected by technical competence or political acumen, but we are more deeply influenced by moral power. In the end, the latter is the ultimate source of power.”2
The eight principles presented in this book will help you develop “the ultimate source of power” and create that successful, powerful, and trusted leadership style.
We invite you to explore the path that leads to trusted leadership. Together we can discover not just better leadership skills but, more important, better life skills.
Really, it can happen to you. Trust us.