Leadership is easy. Okay, not really, but it is easy to define what makes an effective leader. It requires just two things.
Last time we explored the first trait, outstanding character. While a leader needs to be a lot of things, above everything sits character. All other great leadership traits – energetic, humble, knowledgeable, trustworthy, and the list goes on – flow from high character.
There is no compromise with character. But what if you do have a momentary lapse in this can’t-have-a-lapse area. Is it possible to rise again as an effective leader? Perhaps, but there’s no guarantee a leader will recover from a slip in character, at least not with the followers who witnessed or experienced the failure. Given time, though, a fallen leader might recover their leadership mojo.
Effective leaders more often need to recover from lesser mistakes. On any given day for any given reason, a leader may “break” an essential leadership trait. Maybe the leader talked harshly to a teammate or embarrassed someone in a team meeting. Maybe the leader caused confusion because of a poor communication, causing strife and angst in the team. Or perhaps the leader took credit for a team’s success or blamed someone else for poor performance rather than taking responsibility.
In any of the above failures, a leader needs our second key leadership trait, transparency.
No leader is perfect. No person is perfect. So mistakes will be made. Hopefully, these mistakes will be in lesser leadership areas such as being empathetic, disciplined, or fair. Regardless of failure, major or minor, a leader must quickly and authentically admit the mistake and apologize for the shortcoming.
Upon displaying a mistake, an effective leader must simply say, “I’m sorry. I did this. I apologize for the pain and confusion my mistake has caused. I will work hard to never do this again.” That’s it. Quick and authentic.
Unfortunately, the world is full of leaders who say, “I’m sorry if this offended or hurt you.” This isn’t an apology. This is saying the other person has the problem. Nor does an apology end with a “but.” As in, “I’m sorry but this is what I meant.”
Transparent does not describe United CEO Oscar Munoz after dragging a passenger off a United flight a few weeks ago (check here for PCC’s thoughts on United’s biggest problem). He was neither quick nor authentic. It took two days and two attempts at an apology before Mr. Munoz finally offered an appropriate response to the traveling public.
In his first two statements, Mr. Munoz said things like United staff treated their passenger “politely” and “apologetically” as they literally dragged him off the plane. He also blamed the passenger, calling him “disruptive and belligerent.” Rather than speaking to the bloodied passenger or the traveling public at large, Mr. Munoz wrote to his employees, “While I deeply regret this situation arose, I also emphatically stand behind all of you . . . Treating our customers and each other with respect and dignity is at the core of who we are.” Really? Allowing a passenger to be seated and then dragging that passenger off the plane, breaking several teeth in the process, that’s respect and dignity?
In his third statement two days after the incident, Mr. Munoz was finally transparent. “I deeply apologize to the customer forcibly removed and to all the customers aboard. No one should ever be mistreated this way.” With this third attempt, Mr. Munoz was finally transparent. But after two days and two failed apologies, does this apology really count for anything?
“I think the currency of leadership is transparency.”
~ Howard Schultz
Of course, transparency isn’t just for apologizing. After the above statement, Mr. Schultz went on to say, “. . . there are moments where you’ve got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it.” So transparency also allows a leader to be “real.” It builds trust. And it helps others be transparent as well.
So think about your leadership. Are you always fair? Empathetic? Humble? Do others describe you as disciplined, flexible, and honest?
Most importantly, do you always display the two most important leadership characteristics, character and transparency?
Or are they the only qualities needed for effective leadership?
Darren K. Ford
I've enjoyed a great career. Worked in many different industries with great coworkers and customers. I talk to a lot of people while drinking a lot of coffee. I read constantly. From all of this, I have much to say.