Leadership is essential in every type of organization; be it a business, a club, athletic team, government entity, church, non-profit, and even a family.
Whenever there is a group of people or a team working together to achieve an objective, there must be a leader. Without leadership, the team will stop working together and the objective will not be achieved.
Most leaders are moderately successful or they don’t last very long. If the organization achieves exceptional success, the leader must be exceptional. The exceptional leader will use best practices, but best practices are only effective if the leader has the four essential attributes to lead like a president:
- Process Oriented
The words of Presidents of the United States (POTUS) will illustrate each of these attributes. Most organizations have a President or a leader with a different name that performs the same function. The principles of leading like a president apply to all leaders from the CEO of Microsoft to the shift manager at Wal-Mart.
The persuasive leader is one who shows by his/her actions, attitude and speech that the fellow-citizens (employees, teammates, club members, etc.) are people and not objects to be exploited nor ignored. Fellow-citizens are treated as the most valuable resource of the organization.
It might be said that Franklin D. Roosevelt was the most persuasive of presidents. After all, he served 12 years in office, more than any other president. These are the words he used to persuade fellow-citizens to follow him.
“Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
The same concept was expressed by Thomas Jefferson in these words, “That government is the strongest of which every man feels himself a part.”
Both presidents assured their fellow-citizens that everyone was important for the country (organization) to be successful. This is a very persuasive and motivating leadership concept.
Ronald Reagan was called “The Great Persuader” because of his ability to communicate his plans in a way that everyone could understand and a majority could support. He was very specific as to how to make persuasive leadership work in his organization, the government.
“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.”
The basic premise of persuasive leadership is that all opinions are heard, fully vetted and a satisfactory consensus is achieved, therefore micromanaging is unnecessary. There is a more common style of leadership which is known as autocratic or compulsive, which is much like bullying.
It is much more difficult to be a persuasive leader. It requires a constant effort to regard everyone as a person who is worthy of consideration. It requires treating others as we would like to be treated. It requires self-control and overcoming pride. It is difficult, but the organizations of persuasive leaders are much more successful because everyone works harder for someone who persuades rather than compels.
Most people seem to have a basic need to be committed to something, a sports team, a political party, salsa dancing, the Food Network, etc. The exceptional leader of an organization will be passionate about the goals of that organization. In addition, they will spend a good share of their time helping others in the organization to be as passionate as they are.
Our nation began with a leader who was passionate about freedom, liberty and justice. George Washington said, “The Constitution is the guide which I never will abandon.” He knew that the Constitution was the map to maintaining those principles for which that he had fought and for which many other Americans had died. Notice, he said, “Never.”
No one could doubt the passion of “Give ‘em hell, Harry” Truman. He was passionate about motivating his fellow-citizens to do better. He said, “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand.”
The passionate leader will always lead with enthusiasm. “Rough Rider” Theodore Roosevelt loved serving as the POTUS and he expressed it this way, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
Passion, when properly focused and controlled, is a very good thing. It is how teams, armies, corporations, etc. win the most important battles. An exceptional organization must have a passionate leader that inspires everyone to do his/her best so that the organization will achieve its potential.
The process in any organization refers to how the work of the organization is accomplished. It includes those who work in the organization plus key suppliers, partners, contractors and collaborators. Processes also include the methods to improve those same work processes to achieve better performance, reduce variability and improve products or services.
An exceptional leader will understand how things get done in the organization. W. Edwards Deming, often known as the “Father of Quality Improvement” said, “It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and then do your best.” In other words, a passionate and persuasive leader who does not understand the processes of the organization cannot effectively lead the organization because he/she does not know what the organization is capable of doing.
Government is more complicated than most organizations but there are some basic processes that effective Presidents have understood. Our second president, John Adams, wrote, “The essence of a free government consists in an effectual control of rivalries.” Things have not changed much since 1796.
The founding fathers feared the over-reaching processes of most governments, reminiscent of the one from which they had recently gained independence. Thomas Jefferson cautioned, “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people, under the pretense of taking care of them, they must become happy.”
Finally, in more modern times, John F. Kennedy reminded us of the key process to keep government working in behalf of the country. “Let us not seek the Republican answer or the Democratic answer, but the right answer. Let us not seek to fix the blame for the past. Let us accept our own responsibility for the future.”
If any organization, including government, is going to be successful, the exceptional leader will understand the processes of the organization and will work within those processes. The leader will also simultaneously work for process improvement. This requires competency at the job and cooperation with others who are involved in the process. Otherwise, failure is certain.
A principled leader has a personal code of conduct with integrity at its core. Integrity can be defined as a firm adherence to a code of moral values; incorruptible. It is the stuff of which great men and women are made. It is absolutely essential for an exceptional leader.
John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” If that is true and the President is the defender of the Constitution, he/she must also be a moral person.
We have had our share of men who were not moral persons. In modern history, the two presidential examples that are the most obvious are Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Both committed immoral acts while in office and lied to the American people.
Harry Truman puts it a little more passionately, “Richard Nixon is a no good, lying bastard. He can lie out of both sides of his mouth at the same time, and if he ever caught himself telling the truth, he’d lie just to keep his hand in.”
Bill Clinton is no better but political correctness does not allow anyone in authority to say it the way that Harry did. Some excuse Clinton’s behavior, but being unprincipled is the death of true leadership and brings shame upon the organization.
When a leader compromises his integrity or diverts her moral compass, the problem has a ripple effect in the organization. In addition to the potential problems created for the organization by the leader himself, there are two typical responses from others in the organization. Those with integrity will begin to look for a way out because they have lost trust in their leader. The less honest people are likely to follow the actions modeled by their leader. Dishonesty, lack of trust and turnover combine to do tremendous damage to the organization.
Dwight D. Eisenhower summarizes the importance of being a principled leader. “The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.”
The Four Ps
In summary, it is apparent that few leaders exhibit the qualities of being persuasive, passionate, process oriented and principled; even those who seem to be successful in their respective organizations. We talk of a “glass ceiling” for women because of external forces that keep them from advancing. The glass ceiling for those who do not exhibit these four qualities is self-imposed and it applies to all leaders and not just Presidents.
Every leader can have a measure of success but they have damned themselves to a lesser success than they otherwise would have achieved. For example, a leader who compels, rather than persuades, will be successful only as long as he/she doesn’t need to rely on others to manage. Since this type of leader will not tolerate anyone questioning him/her, the best and brightest employees leave for a better working environment. These organizations are plagued with perpetual turnover at the managerial level.
A leader who is not passionate fails to inspire others to do their best work and the entire organization becomes a tedious place to work with little potential. When the leader is not process oriented, the organizational growth and prosperity will be severely limited because the leader lacks the requisite knowledge for improvement and the competition will overcome the organization. Finally, an unprincipled leader will succumb to their weaknesses, lose the respect of others and cause havoc in the organization because, as Eisenhower said, “no real success is possible.”
The four Ps of leading like a president are essential in any organization. The exceptional leader will exhibit all four of the prerequisite attributes:
- Process Oriented
Now, lead like a president and reap the rewards of exceptional leadership.