It is a Question of Leadership

While I was eating breakfast this morning, as most mornings, I was watching the talking heads spew forth their rhetoric about the state of the nation and the state of the 2008 Presidential election. All of them, no matter how well they try to hide it, have a dog in the fight just as all of us, but in particular I was amused by the characterizations and name calling by the candidates surrogates. What fools! This lead me to remember an article I wrote almost 8 years ago for a local magazine in the Washington DC area on the heels of September 11th. As we are a nation once again on the brink of financial catastrophe and still engaged in a military conflict which just yesterday, Easter Sunday, claimed its 4000th young life, I’d like to share it with you today, especially the last sentence.

It’s a Question of Leadership

I know without reserve, everyone who reads these words shares my feelings, in whatever measure they personally experienced the events of September 11th. I know there are new questions seeking precious few answers. And, I know we are again a nation with our underbelly exposed to perils from both within and without. So I thought in this month’s column I would offer some hard-won advice to those of you who lead others in the daily pursuit of business.

It would be difficult for anyone who actually knows me to not know my stance on leadership: One manages things and events. One leads people.

As a parent who delivered one of his sons to the Marine Corp one recent Monday afternoon, and will deliver his other son to the Army in just six short months, and as someone who has more than a little experience living and dealing with cultural differences, I have been profoundly changed. I’ve found myself asking some pretty tough questions and not finding easy answers.

So, what has leadership to do with marketing? Answer: Absolutely everything! The events of the last weeks have struck at the heart and soul of America. While we need managers to get things done, we need leaders to ask the right questions and spark those to be lead into appropriate action. Those of us who find ourselves in leadership positions are being faced with new challenges, not the least of which is how to counsel those we lead when they are confronted with actions and reactions to recent events by clients and customers.

The following bullet points are not necessarily my own by the way, but Psychologists Judy Booker and David Ruxer, who know about these things, have shared some of their wisdom in my preparation. To them, I offer my gratitude.

  • Realize those with whom you are dealing are under stress
  • It’s OK to be upset and have mixed feelings
  • Watch your words and take care to stop strong rhetoric
  • Assume every interaction is with someone who has been directly affected
  • Listen very carefully; don’t rush to judgment
  • Give everyone a little extra room, both physically and emotionally
  • Don’t take another’s anger and other feelings personally
  • Decisions will be more difficult to make, so limit options
  • Maintain as normal contact with customers and clients as possible

To my readers I would also suggest:

  • If you lead, then lead well; if you follow, then follow well
  • Be careful what you wish for, you may get it
  • Be very, very careful about the liberties you give away