Much has been written about the leadership (or lack of leadership) crisis in America today. No business is immune to this crisis, and some are even more susceptible to it than others. Real leaders today are few and far between. We have great technicians and great managers, but few great leaders.
To truly succeed as a leader today, we cannot simply "go through the motions." We must charge ahead at full speed. In this hyper-competitive world, it’s not enough just to show up and look good. Leadership is a full-contact, sometimes risky position with no "hazardous duty" pay.
The term "full-contact" generally brings to mind the image of physical contact. But it presents itself in other ways as well.
First, as leaders, we must be fully in contact with ourselves. This is not the natural state of things for many of us, and it’s far easier to be out of touch with our thoughts, moods, and biases.
As leaders, we must also be in full contact with our own purpose. Our purpose is our vision of the future, our values and mission. The importance of purpose cannot be overstated. Our role as leaders is to change the status quo. We must always keep one eye trained on that future that we want to create. And we must have a fundamental sense of the actions needed to arrive at that future--to achieve that vision.
Next, we leaders must be in full contact with others in our organization. This includes peers, subordinates, and senior management. Leadership is about change but it is also about behaviors. Leadership involves a great deal of soft skills and interaction with people. These interactions cannot be casual if the leader is to be respected and to make an impact.
The leader must be in full contact with the values of the organization. Ultimately, the rest of the organization will live up to, or down to, the level set by the leader. In the absence of corporate values, that level is open for discussion and can vary. With firm corporate values, the people in the organization have sound principles by which to guide their behavior. Enron had values written on paper, but the leadership of the organization lost contact with those values….
Today, it is also essential to be in full contact with customers. They are demanding and have high expectations. Ultimately, they pay our salary. Yet, far too often, businesses operate in a vacuum and are blind to the customers’ needs. This data is borne out in many image surveys that indicate businesses are, in a word, unresponsive. The leader who is in full contact with his or her customers actively seeks them out and engages them in conversation—real talk about more than just the product at hand.
Full-contact leaders must merge all these contact points into a single, unified effort. They set direction, articulate the vision, and know just where they want to bring the organization. They can visualize it in their mind, smell it, taste it, feel it. They are able to balance multiple perspectives because of their grounded perspective.
Finally, full-contact leaders are aware that the being in a position of leadership involves some risk. Like athletes engaged in full-contact sports, these leaders know they may take some hits (and give some out, too), but they don’t shy away from the impact. They recognize it as an integral part of a full-contact position.
Wally Adamchik is President of FireStarter Speaking and Consulting. Visit the website at www.beaFireStarter.com. He can be reached at 919-673-9499 or wally@beaFireStarter.com.
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Tamika C. Carter, PHR
Associate Director, Construction HR
The Associated General Contractors of America