Updated: Aug 12, 2020
Many, maybe most, great leaders have been through extremely difficult times. Like Mandela, they had to make difficult choices when life knocked them down. He showed us stunning emotional intelligence as he left prison after 27 years.
His thought was “as I walked toward my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Who wouldn’t be bitter? Have a heart full of hatred? Desire for revenge? Somehow, Mandela put those emotions aside and replaced them with the desire to serve and help, two hallmarks of great leaders.
What’s the Leadership Point?
Leaders learn to focus all their attention on the what is, not on the what was. Their tough experiences taught them that being successful, getting people to follow for positive reasons, takes every bit of their concentration and effort. There is nothing left over for the past. They live in the now, in the moment.
As we pointed out in last week’s blog, What Leaders Have In Common, a positive, inspiring vision of the future motivates every successful leader. Yet they must figure out how to live in the present in such a way that it will lead to that future. They are not just dreamers, living in ethereal hopes that a wonderful future will drop out of the sky on them. They are practical. They know that people must eat, they need shelter and clothing while they work their butts off to reach that desired, inspired future.
Followers Need Leaders They Can Trust: Leaders Earn Trust
As the Gallup organization learned in its extensive research of positive leaders, followers want/expect the leader to be someone they can trust – someone who behaves in ways that are trustworthy. Followers look for someone who is honest, has integrity, and demonstrates respect. And they always seem to know when the leader is missing one or more of these characteristics. People communicate about the lack of trust at the speed of light – it seems to be everywhere – instantly.
Leaders who provide vision without any practical way of getting there do not create trust. In fact, it isn’t long before followers see the vision as a hoax or a trap. All the inspired words in the world cannot overcome that absence of trust.
Followers Look For Compassion in Leaders
Gallup research also showed that people decide to follow those who demonstrate real compassion. They want their immediate manager to care about their personal well-being. At a higher organizational level, people want their leaders to have a strong bias for positivity. They intuitively understand that for them to love the organization, it must have a “heart.” Organizations with lots of brains but no heart do not generate the enthusiasm and commitment needed to overcome the challenges of the fast-moving modern workplace.
Leaders need to know how to provide the tough but positive messaging that helps people make that all-important commitment to success. Rocky Balboa provides a bit of that in this moving, short scene.