Have you ever noticed the many writers pouring billions of gallons of ink into leadership guides, books, articles, and so forth, and leadership is still a problem? As a kid, we kept pigs. Not many, just seven or eight, had a couple of batches of piglets, and the pig slop grew the best tomatoes ever. One day, someone visited and saw the pigs when they dropped something flashy in the pig slop. I forget what was dropped, but we kids were told to find this item for this visitor — launching a marathon of several days crawling through pig slop all to no avail.
I saw those pigs eat snakes, squirrels, and they even ate a wild dog who got injured inside their pen. These eating machines never ceased to amaze me, and the slop was the best place to “lose” anything. Bringing us back to leadership and the search for diamonds in pig slop. I am not castigating the authors of leadership books, tools, guides, etc., as creating pig slop. I am claiming that leadership is learned, and in learning, there will be failures and success. The books on leadership do represent a clamoring quagmire for attention, where finding that one diamond to help your particular situation is going to be difficult, if not impossible.
What is a Leader to do?
I am a practical-minded person. Give me information, and let me chew on that information until solutions can begin to appear. As a leader, I have found some basic principles helpful in producing an atmosphere and culture worthy of passing along. Use; do not use, doesn’t matter to me. I offer some suggestions and leave the rest to you.
- Create a learning culture. I do not care how many degrees plaster your wall; I do not care how high your GPA is or was in academia. If you are not a committed lifelong learner, you will not retain the data you learned and treat yourself or others properly. Read a book! Investigate topics of interest to you! Read out loud to children! Reading has a power over the mind that no other force can match. Pick up a book!
- Never forget, “a leader is a teacher, and a teacher is a leader.” If you are not teaching, you are not leading! Yes, it truly is that simple to identify a leader from a manager. Teaching comes in many forms; use them all. As you get to know your people, you will discover the need to use different teaching styles; don’t be scared not to know something, suggest learning it together.
- Delegate, delegate, delegate, and then wash, rinse, and repeat. A leader will not keep everything on their plate. Recognize the talents around you, take those talents and grow more, using the first two principles and the power of delegation. The best leader I ever knew never seemed busy. He delegated as much as possible and spent his days going around to those he delegated to for updates.
- Know the value of emotions and use them sparingly! A military commander I served with understood this principle well. When he got upset, change happened. But he did not get upset often and was very selective when he showed any emotion, except humor. When this commander showed he was upset, people respected his emotional displays and worked twice as hard to right the wrong.
- Humor! Know some jokes, use them often! I was working in a call center, the VP of customer relations saw I was logging off for a break; he comes hurrying over to me, acting all important and officious; he says, “Do you know what I just heard?” “Not a clue.” “Elvis, he was singing a melody of songs to fried peanut butter and banana sandwiches.” Not a good joke, but I remember it. Knowledge of humor and application of that knowledge is preeminent to leadership.
Why the discussion on leadership?
Let’s face the 800# gorilla in the room; America, and the world, are in desperate need of leaders. We have too many managers and people who claim to desire leadership but want nothing more than a manager. We have people all around us who have become content with management and cannot tell you the difference between a manager and a leader; worse, these same people will try and claim leaders are born, not made. Plus, a thousand and one other excuses, diatribes, vent spleens, egoistic manifestations, and straight lies. Worse, politics gets involved, from the government to business; the politics of wagging tongues reminds me of geese in a pen. Hissing, biting, honking, making tons of noise, and not making a lick of sense. Chickens cackling in a yard is almost musical compared to geese in a pen, and I think the chickens might be smarter, even without brains, than geese!
One of those authors who write about leadership but could not lead a platoon of sailors into a bar after a long deployment was recently quoted as having said something others claim is essential to leadership. Leaders need to embrace the C’s of leadership. The C’s of leadership include:
- Calm. Employees and customers look to Leaders to project a sense of calm through an uncertain situation.
- This is a true statement, but if the employees have been appropriately trained, uncertain situations are diminished proportionally to quality, value-added training as part of being lifelong learners.
- Confidence. Being calm, but not still-water calm. Employees and customers rely on the confidence a Leader brings.
- Calmness is a projection of inner thoughts onto situational awareness.
- Confidence is the sum of training, plus experience and the desire to excel — all of which the leader does not control and can only influence. Thus, we have a confusion of terms and ideas that do damage when confused.
- Communication. Relentlessly communicate and communicate more clearly. This is to avoid rumors developing the muddy waters.
- Muddy waters will always exist; people gossip like mad. But leadership communication can only go so far when people choose to ignore communication. Hence, again, we confuse roles and responsibilities being passed off as a leadership principle.
- Communication is a two-directional street and requires both parties to be listeners and speakers in their due order.
- Collaboration. Call on the resources and capabilities of ALL your team and bring them together. Have a role for everyone in which they can contribute.
- NO! Contribution is nothing without training, training requires delegation, and delegation is only useful if you include a return and report requirement. Collaboration has a role, but not in leadership as described.
- Community. All of us live in communities. It’s important we set an example, and model behaviors that are supportive.
- Would someone please tell me how modeling behaviors is part of living in communities?
- Modeling behaviors is essential in the leadership toolbox, and I would never implicate otherwise. However, the community is left with a choice to exemplify the modeled behaviors or not. Worse, those outside the company cannot be controlled except through persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love unfeigned — all tools a leader needs to be promoting in followers.
- Compassion and empathy, during and post a crisis are critical in leadership.
- Every time you see the word empathy, remember it is an emotional road to ruin. Worse, add sympathy to the mix, and the speed to ruin increases dangerously.
- Compassion is not empathy; compassion is not sympathy; it is simply recognizing pain in another person and rendering support without participating in that emotional crisis.
- Calm. Employees and customers look to Leaders to project a sense of calm through an uncertain situation.
Thus, we have the pig slop and the diamond hunt. Unless an author provides principles, many leadership books, guides, and articles are just noise, pig slop, where the person desiring to improve individual leadership skills is hunting for diamonds. At the same time, fighting through a gaggle of geese that are hissing, honking, and clamoring for attention.
How does a person avoid the diamond hunt in pig slop?
The following is not an all-inclusive list. However, it is the beginning of a list of tools helpful to leaders in all situations:
- Start being a leader by being a good follower. Even if being a good follower requires you to be the loyal opposition. “Yes,” people are managers looking for a leader to pin their star to and never understand the power of being the loyal opposition. I have never met a leader who was not first a good follower, even if they had to be the loyal opposition.
- Not just books on leadership, as this is only going on a diamond hunt in pig slop. Read books on every topic you can think of, for when you read; you discover principles for future application. I found how to understand complex theories in biology and how to use these complex organizational systems in how the human body interacts with its disparate parts and systems.
- Never stop learning! Going hand-in-hand with reading, never stop learning is a principle and motto for life. If you need or want information, go to a subject matter expert and beg lessons. I had a boss who did not know the industry, did not know the company and had no clue how to build the team. He was hired for a specific set of skills and discovered his collateral duties one assignment at a time. He went around to every long-term employee and asked them to teach him their jobs. Six months into his tenure as leader, he was the best leader many had ever experienced. Never stopping learning means being willing to learn from anyone.
- Leaders are trained, not born. Leaders do not magically appear. Leaders are carefully taught, built, and never stop! Are you carefully building yourself mentally and physically? In the US Army, I was taught physical fitness, and with the number of mistakes I was constantly making, I learned a lot about physical fitness. But, until I was injured, I had not taught my brain to meet my body’s strength and made more mistakes because the strength of my body excelled the strength of my mind. In carefully building your leadership skills, abilities, and talents, do not forget to keep the body and mind equal in strength.
No single person has all the answers on how to be a good leader. I know I am still learning, and the more I learn, the less I know, and I have been studying leadership, becoming a leader, and working as a leader for the majority of my adult life. I have led teams in dangerous work, I have developed people in all sorts of industries, and I still fall back on these time-honored principles because they work. Thus, I ask you to put down the diamond hunt, get out of the goose pen, and simplify your life so you can learn easier and practice better the principles of delegation, learning, reading, and using humor.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.