As leaders we need to think carefully about the example we are setting

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Over the past weeks we have seen some very poor leadership examples and two outstanding examples of leadership from our political and business leaders.

This past month there has been a litany of poor leadership.  Let’s start with senior New South Wales politicians and business leaders appearing before ICAC.  Add to it the James Packer – David Gyngell imbroglio a week ago. And we will finish with two instances both involving Joe Hockey, the Federal Treasurer.  In the first instance when he and finance Minister Mathias Cormann lit up cigars at the finish of their pre-budget promotional walk on Friday and secondly, this week, prior to his budget speech to Parliament, dancing with his wife in his parliamentary office to the tune “Best day of my life”.  What messages are these leaders sending?

Contrast the above with NAB CEO Cameron Clyne’s recent resignation from the bank. As a leader he conducted recent media interviews with the utmost respect and humility showing deep and abiding care for the NAB. Also consider Barry O’Farrell’s resignation as NSW State Premier (covered in a previous blog ) .

The reason I raise this is that I recently facilitated a strategic planning conference with a committed group of leaders and managers.

At one point our discussion moved to the importance of the example that leaders and managers set.  They made some great points:

  • Leadership is first and foremost about trust; without it there is no foundation on which to build.
  • Leaders need optimism. Optimism inspires the hope and the confidence required to take full advantage of the opportunities as they exist.  We don’t know of anyone who has willingly followed a pessimistic leader. Optimism is a conscious choice that has a huge impact on our ability to succeed.
  • A leadership role is 24/7. In some way, the spotlight is always on us. Leaders need to inspire not only through their accomplishments but their character.
  • A sense of humility is essential to leadership because it confirms a person’s humanity.
  • Every word we utter is critical.
    • Every time we speak as leaders and managers we are likely to do one of two things; raise expectations among our people or raise concerns.
    • Remember that the meaning assigned to what we say is done by the receiver, not by the sender.
  • Our body language is seen as more important because it runs non-stop and unless we stand constantly facing a mirror we cannot see facial expressions and the different stances we use when communicating with others. What we can be sure of is that our people will assign meaning and make assumptions about many of the nuances we as leaders use in our verbal and non-verbal communication. Whether their interpretation is correct is not at issue as their perception is their reality.

We need to keep our leadership real using our leadership for something other than self-aggrandisement. In leadership or management roles, we need to ask ourselves the question every day “what example am I setting?  What messages am I sending?”