In my post of two weeks ago, entitled "The Leadership Love-In," I reiterated the never-ending need for better leadership. I also extended kudos to a handful of passionate leadership bloggers who I consider to be experts in their field. These pundits command impressive social media audiences, and while it is gratifying that people are interested in their perspectives and insight, the ongoing leadership mania underscores the significant gap between principle and practice.
Given my background is in business, I tend to think of leadership in a competitive context. In my CEO afterlife, I’ve pondered the inherent notion that business leadership is different than that of less competitive organizations such as academic institutes, charities, governments, or social associations. I’ve subsequently concluded that the disparity lay not within the type of organization one leads, but within the particular environment leaders find themselves. The notion is as simple as this: it is much easier to practice the tenets of good leadership when one is winning rather than losing, no matter what the game.
So to use a sports analogy, I ask you to consider the mindset of 2-14 coaches Jim Caldwell of the Colts and Hue Jackson of the Raiders as they neared the end of the 2011 NFL season. Now compare that mentality to that of the 49ers Jim Harbaugh or the Packer’s Mike McCarthy. Harbaugh and McCarthy were having great seasons. They were winning, feeling confident, secure and staying the strategic course they’d developed, communicated and executed from day one of the season. Toward season’s end, there were several love-ins and group hugs on the sidelines. At the other end of the spectrum were Caldwell and Jackson, scrambling for a new course, a miracle maybe, but finding nothing but a guillotine to end their misery.
When you are losing, a change in plan is needed. A CEO leading a company on the verge of bankruptcy has to ditch the love-in and go into a crisis management mode. Leading and working in such environments can be awfully tough. Patience is not a virtue; nor is anyone’s job security. This doesn’t mean that leaders abdicate showing a way to the Promised Land. Clarity of purpose, strategy, and vision will never be more critical than in these situations.
In the leadership game, mental toughness and tenacity in hard times separates winners from losers. And it doesn’t matter whether you run a Fortune 500 company, a sports team or the local PTA.