I have often wondered why some people in positions of significant responsibility, whether in government or in business, don’t exemplify meaning and greatness.
You may have come across the question: Are you ready, willing and able? These three words, ‘ready’, ‘willing’, and ‘able’, when lived by an individual make him/her a potent force to be reckoned with. Readiness implies preparedness, and that’s easy to see; ability is determined by competence needed to effectively deal with a variety of managerial challenges — this is self-evident. However, your willingness is an abstract quality, but one which can be felt by others. Willingness refers to your enthusiasm and eagerness to achieve what you passionately believe in and desire. It’s your calling from within.
Such a calling is beautifully expressed by Peter Koestenbaum. He says:
“Unless the distant goals of meaning, greatness, and destiny are addressed, we can’t make an intelligent decision about what to do tomorrow morning — much less set strategy for a company or for a human life. Nothing is more practical than for people to deepen themselves. The more you understand the human condition, the more effective you are as a businessperson. Human depth makes business sense.”
Many leaders today seem to lack the depth and substance that commands our admiration and respect for them. This becomes painfully apparent when we witness their paralysing indecision in times of crisis.
How we are responding, in our own spheres of influence, to global challenges posed by climate change, growing social injustice, poverty, the AIDS pandemic, presents an alarming picture for us.
Why do leaders prefer to sit on the fence even though the stakes are high? There is no better place to commence our search for acquiring greater depth and understanding than a dictionary. I consulted Random House Webster’s dictionary and looked up the word ‘will’. Will is the faculty of conscious and deliberate action; the power of choosing and deciding; and an expression of our purpose or determination; wish or desire.
The degree to which you care for any cause or situation is directly proportional to the intensity of your willingness to lead. An apathetic disposition hardly suits a person who is entrusted with great responsibility. However, caring alone will not do. Your inner calling will be ignited when you exercise your power to make choices, particularly when faced with tough situations.
Leaders face a multitude of dilemmas. For example, what would you do as a CEO, if one of your managers takes you into confidence and admits to embezzling fifty thousand dollars? If the manager had not trusted you, you might never have discovered who committed the act. It was the manager’s trust in you that led you to this discovery. Do you keep that bond of confidence and somehow deal with the misdemeanour privately? Or do you report the manager to the concerned authorities? In others words, do you uphold the principle of trust or expose the criminal act? By revealing the manager you will send out a signal in your company that trusting does not pay — in fact, it can be detrimental to your business. It would breed fear and doubt amongst your people, which is counterproductive to creating an empowered culture based on openness, vital for remaining competitive. You know how bureaucracy in its extreme can make any enterprise unresponsive and slow.
When faced with difficult choices some leaders hope that the passage of time will take care of the problem. I recall an incident some years ago, when a bank manager was sitting on a loan application from one of his staff for over a month. On enquiry, he declared smugly, that in time, the applicant will soon realise he does not need the loan! Well, sometimes such a tactic may work, but mostly it doesn’t! In fact it’s in bad taste, particularly if the need of the applicant is genuine and urgent. In this case the loan applied for was to pay accumulated medical bills of his children.
It is our every day decisions, both tactical and strategic, that mark the trajectory of our life into the future. Even though most of us realise the importance of being decisive in our lives, it becomes exceedingly difficult if you are not clear on your values and purpose.
Richard Branson recently wrote in his diary: “What are the motives of doing such things? A month ago, I was at an all-time low. I seemed to have run out of a purpose in my life. I’d proved myself in many areas. I’d just turned forty. I was seeking a new challenge…” Later he reflected on this entry and remarked, “When I re-read what I had written, I realised that as a businessman, I can do a great deal of good.” He went on to say, “I meet incredible people like Nelson Mandela, world leaders like the Russian premier, and people of vast wealth like Bill Gates and Microsoft’s lesser-known co-founder Paul Allen. In fact, people in business and the very wealthy are in a unique position. They can connect with everyone, whether high or low, in any country, through a network of goodwill.”
To help you gain further clarity on your purpose, try answering the following questions: What is the meaning of your life? Why do you live? What principles do you stand for? How would you like to be remembered after you have gone from this world? Your top-of-mind, one line answers to such, seemingly simple questions, will be very revealing. They will help you focus on what it means for you to be alive today and how you see greatness. You will also gain a perspective on how you see your personal destiny. As a result of this kind of reflection, you will find courage and power that will make you decisive — an attractive and an essential quality in a leader.
Intensity for what you care for, gives rise to courage. Courage is the quality of your mind that enables you to face difficulty or danger without fear. Fear can be your worst enemy. It paralyses you and steals from you your will to lead. You can, therefore, cultivate your will to lead, by overcoming your fears, which are mostly unfounded. Fear of failure, fear of losing face and fear of the unknown are the most common. The good news is that our fears are mostly false. There is a poignant acronym for fear: False Emotions Appear Real. The following case study based on a real event involving a management consultant and his client illustrates the delusive nature of fear.
It was a weekend in 1993 in Karachi. A management consultant was at home skimming a book, History of The Saracens by Professor Ameer Ali. In it he read about the battles of Badr, Ouhd and Khandak. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) had led these famous battles. Badr and Khandak were won, while Uhud was not! On reflection, the consultant realised that God was conveying an important message through these historic events. The lesson of Uhud was this: That regardless of who is leading you, if you and others in the team are not acting on principles, everyone loses. This is what happened in Uhud. Even though Muslims were well equipped and in sufficient numbers to face their enemy, they did not see victory. Sensing success from the apparent retreat of the enemy, some of the soldiers succumbed to greed. They left their positions, even though they were told not to, and went after the loot. Opponents took advantage of this lapse.
Conversely, Muslims won in Badr and Khandak because they stood firm on principles even though the odds were great. For instance, in the Battle of Badr, Muslims were heavily outnumbered, and in the Battle of Khandak, non-Muslim allies reneged in the heat of battle, causing a significant breach in the defenses.
Just as the consultant was reflecting on these historic events, his phone rang. It was the general manager of his client company who wanted to discuss a serious problem, urgently. He had only been in the company for three months when a challenge hit him. The consultant invited the GM over and they got talking.
It is worth bearing in mind that the consultant had carried out a visioneering exercise for this client a few months earlier. The intervention had involved all of their two hundred employees in different parts of Pakistan. Outcome of the extensive exercise was a clear vision and mission statement that was known and understood by all in the organisation. Values and guiding principles had also been established through consultation. The opening line of the mission statement read, “Seeking Allah’s pleasure in all that we do.” This ambitious claim reflected the aspirations of everyone in the company and was approved by the board.
The GM described the problem thus: his regional manager had threatened to resign if his demand for a higher salary package was not approved. He was heading a team of seventy salespeople, in a highly competitive market, at the height of the sales season. The GM was in no position to justify this increase on account of company policy which was recently formulated on a participative basis and was seen to be an equitable compensation structure. The GM was afraid that by not acceding to his RM’s request, the RM would leave, taking his team with him. His fear was that this would create a huge dent in the sales of the company and the budget target would not be achieved in his first year at the company.
The consultant invited the GM to share his initial thoughts on this problem. The GM said, “My instinct tells me that I should agree to the RM’s terms; start looking for his replacement in secret; as soon as one is found, I’ll fire the RM on the spot and instantly install the new person in his place. I’ll act with lightning speed so that the RM has no time to think. He will, therefore, be unable to take his team with him!” The consultant probed the GM further, “How would you describe the RM’s behaviour so far?” The GM replied spontaneously, “Oh! He is clearly blackmailing us! The consultant enquired: “How would your RM interpret your action, once reality of what you did dawns on him?” The GM stumbled and muttered, “Does it really matter?”
Your inner calling is not divorced from ethical considerations. In this instance, the GM had thought of taking a convenient ‘tit-for-tat’ approach, making him no better than the RM. If you play ‘chess’ with your people, they’ll do the same with you! You must not play games with people if you seriously wish to run your business on sustainable lines, based on foundations of trust and integrity.
The consultant reminded the GM of his company’s newly adopted mission statement and re-focused his attention on its first line: “Seeking Allah’s pleasure in all that we do.” The GM’s thinking clearly contradicted “Allah’s pleasure”. In light of this, the consultant suggested that if the GM wanted to proceed along the ‘tit-for-tat’ approach, he would be well advised to issue a circular to all staff stating that this line in the mission statement was too much of a burden for the company to live up to in its everyday decision-making, and is henceforth being removed. Thankfully, the GM was unwilling to follow this advice. His reason: “It doesn’t feel right!”
On seeing this, the consultant shared the lessons he had learned that very day, from Badr, Uhud and Khandak, and advised the GM: “Tell your RM plainly and respectfully that you cannot accept his request for higher pay and explain your reasons. The RM would leave the company or stay. That’ll be his call. The team will either go with him, or remain with the company. You’ll win either way. What’s the point of having people on board whom you do not trust? If the team remains, even after the RM’s departure, you know you have people you can depend on. If they leave, all the better for you! They will save you from engaging in an expensive witch-hunt to identify and sack disloyal elements…They will simply walk out of your life! And if they do, you will end up having a clean company. In a matter of weeks, a new team can be hired and trained and they will at least deliver 70% of budget this year, and exceed expectations in the years that follow!” And so it was. The GM exercised his own conviction, on sound and principled advice received. The RM left, while his team remained! The GM’s fears were unfounded.
Koestenbaum, in his search for a new language of effective leadership, leaves us with a profound question: “How to reconcile the often-brutal realities of business with basic human values in order to create a new language of effective leadership?”
Your inner calling will be demonstrated by you putting your neck on the line, by you daring to speak from your heart about what you care about deeply, and by you taking responsibility for the outcomes you promise to deliver.