While this isn’t political commentary, its impossible to divorce the substance of the article – leadership, from the political context of the lesson.
Imagine you are in an organization wherein one of your key leaders clearly does not share one of the primary organizational values. Through their conduct, they have repeatedly, over the course of many years, demonstrated that they do not believe this key value is important. Also imagine that the leader comes to you and now asks you to do, for them, this key organizational value. By example, the leader demonstrates the unimportance of the value except when it has personal value to them. This is not leadership by example, this is anti-leadership.
Commitment to organizational values, and leadership by example, are two primary traits a leader must have. An absence of one or the other is poor leadership; the combination of the two is anti-leadership. All leaders lapse, make mistakes and exercise poor judgment.
People and organizations survive this periodic poor leadership. However, when a leader demonstrates, over the long-run, that a primary organizational value is unimportant and they couple it with asking us to ignore “leadership by example,” we are faced with serious questions regarding their ability to lead us.
We determine what leaders value not by what they say, but by what they do. I think for the American follower one of the most disdainful statements may be “Do as I say, not as I do.” This paternalistic view is not leadership. Our history is replete with great leaders whom we admire, follow and emulate because of what they showed us, not what they told us. I am reminded of Lieutenant General Hal Moore, in We Were Soldiers, being the first to step off the helicopter into battle and being the last to leave the field of battle. Demonstrating what you and your organization values, is much more important than anything you will ever say.
Let me take a moment and remind you that being good at one thing does not necessarily mean you will be good at another. How many times in your life and career have you seen a leader come from one organization where they did well to yours where they were an abject failure? Indeed, we have a phrase for people who were promoted to positions of leadership based on their performance as a follower – the Peter Principle. In its truest form, the Peter Principle refers to organizations promoting people to the level of the incompetence. You were good at the follower job, so we give you the leader job until you move up the ladder based on prior performance and find the place where in you fail. Today, organizations work to identify behaviors that directly relate to the future leadership position. We look for behaviors that indicate you will flourish in the position for which you are applying; the past is guide to those clues.
Being a captain of industry does not mean you will be an effective public leader. The core values of business and public service are different and often at odds. You can be an outstanding business person but be a poor performer as a public leader. We shouldn’t look directly at your business performance, but at how your performance as a business leader demonstrates your commitment to public values.
The Right to vote is a primary American value. Moreover, Universal Suffrage did not begin with our Constitution. People had to fight for this Right for more than two hundred years. Indeed, around the world we see people braving abject poverty, intimidation and terrorism for the Right to vote. Perhaps, the Right to ballot is one of the overarching human values. Certainly, to be an American is to vote.
I know – you don’t think your vote matters. Well, in recent times, senate campaigns, presidential elections and a innumerable host of local issues were decided by very few voters. Every vote counts. Every ballot cast honors the people who fought for Universal Suffrage and those who have defended our freedom. It is simply an American value too important to overlook.
Which brings us to this passage from the September 29, 2009, issue of the Sacramento Bee.
“Whitman explained her reasons for not voting regularly at a campaign event in Davis: “I, like many Americans, was not as engaged as I should have been over the last 20 or 30 years," Whitman said. “I was focused on raising a family, on my husband's career; we moved many, many times, and it is no excuse. My voting record, my registration record, is unacceptable.”
As a potential public leader, Whitman did not find, in nearly 3 decades, some national, state or local issue compelling enough to motivate her to vote. However, now on the eve of gubernatorial elections in California she wants us to find her compelling enough to vote for. Clearly, this is “Do as I say” and not leadership by example; and, significant evidence that Whitman does not value the Right to vote as we should expect from our leaders. Had she shared this value, she would have found a way to cast her ballot.
Especially in the context of values, leaders must lead by example.
About the Author
Lieutenant Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) retired from the Los Angeles Police Department. He is the author or co-author of six books including Police Technology and Leadership: Texas Hold ‘em Style. He can be contacted through his website at http://www.police-lieutenant.com/