On November 30th, former President George H.W. Bush passed away at his home in Texas. It may be foolhardy on my part to mention a former president because in politics today you see primarily polarization and division. But I’m mentioning President Bush today because I learned something about him I liked and that when taken to heart can be valuable to the leaders I work with.
I am a behaviorist at heart. I watch what leaders do and help them identify the behaviors that need addressing. From my vantage point, leadership is all about observable behavior. If you want a different result with your team, customer, or employees, it starts with a leader changing their behavior to attract their desired results.
Yes, what you say is important, but what you do is where the real power of leadership resides. Your speech about “1,000 points of light” and “the shiny city on the hill” can transform someone’s thinking, but a leader’s behavior transforms people’s reactions and actions.
That begs the question, what’s required to be successful as a leader and why are you mentioning President Bush? The answer to the first part of this question is three words. Success as a leader requires clarity, commitment, and character. The answer to the second part will come at the end.
Clarity. Leaders must have clarity as to what the desired future state looks like and why it’s essential to get there. When you lack clarity, you slow down and behave as if you’re driving in fog. You place your foot on the brakes, you become tentative as safety is your primary concern, and you neglect your desired destination while focusing only on what’s directly in front of you. When you have clarity about an idea, dream, hope or aspiration that is compelling, it is a game-changing moment for your results as well as for your satisfaction as a leader.
Leadership Question #1. Are you crystal clear about the idea, dream, hope or aspiration you have for your leadership? Have you articulated your leadership dream and do your employees know the one, two or three behaviors you’ll exhibit to make your dream possible?
Commitment. Leaders are “all in” concerning their desired destination. They are committed which is different from compliance. When you are committed there is nothing that will stop you from achieving your dream. You are so on fire with the possibility the dream holds for your customer, your employees and your leadership that the possibility of not accomplishing it is unthinkable.
Leadership Question #2. Can you handle adversity and setbacks well? Are you tenacious and have a level of perseverance commensurate with the desired future state? Would your employees agree?
Character. The vast majority of leaders I see allow their calendar to shape their priorities as opposed to having their priorities shape their calendars. While time is the most valuable resource available to leaders today, the ability to act on one’s convictions and to be ruthless with your calendar is essential. Character is a cousin to clarity and commitment. It is nearly impossible to be ruthless with your calendar if you don’t have clarity about the desired future and are committed to achieving it.
Leadership Question #3. Look at your calendar for today and ask yourself this question: who managed my priorities for today? Did my priorities shape my calendar or did my calendar shape my priorities?
What struck me about President Bush’s leadership? Two things.
#1. His enthusiasm for starting the YMCA in Midland, Texas in 1953. In his later life after being asked about his contributions in life, he said starting the YMCA was one of the most rewarding experiences of his entire life. Serving others was a key guiding principle and something he found most rewarding. He had unquestioning clarity about and commitment to service and it formed his character.
#2. In a brief video of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Bush entering 10 Downing Street, President Bush paused briefly and shook the hand of the doorman. He recognized the humanity and the contribution of the person and stopped to acknowledge him.
In this era of partisan politics and divisiveness, it’s refreshing to reflect back on the leadership of a “kinder, gentler” period in American history. I learned that devoting our lives to the service of others and acknowledging the people I meet each day with a handshake or eye contact are the foundation for a life well lived.
If you have clarity and commitment for a leadership dream, the two character questions that can be helpful today are:
1. Who will I enthusiastically serve today?
2. Who will I acknowledge, affirm or thank?