They recognise and cultivate healthy habits
Savvy leaders understand that character outweighs personality every time. Leadership, as so many presume, is not about personality, it is about character. And character is developed over the long-haul. Developing character is a series of intentional acts be those of success, failure, adversity or achievement. Developing character is to know your values â€? what you live for and what you would be prepared to die for â€? and to fashion continues acts from those values. Real character cannot be mimed, imitated or acted out â€? it is something that is consistent, recognisable and trusted. Consciously going about building those habits that lead to character is what savvy leaders devote themselves too. It isnâ€™t something that happens all at once but rather builds over time and in such a manner that it is acknowledged by others before it is recognised by the carrier.
What those habits are will vary from person to person, the trick is to cultivate those habits that are true to you. To do those things that will make you a better person and not compiling a list of things to do because of their â€˜show and tellâ€™ value. A perusal of great leaders will reveal a backbone of personal habits that provided them with strength, relief, perspective, humility and courage. Developing habits that build character will necessitate a review of how you spend your time as you might need to find the discipline to change things around in order to do those things that are important, those things that really matter.
They find ways to feed their soul
Ever woken up and felt that what the day had in stall for you wasnâ€™t going to feed your soul? If that has become a frequent occurrence you are in trouble and I suspect you know it. Knowing that what we do has meaning and purpose is fundamental to being human and something that is not new. Victor Frankl writes as much in his epic, Manâ€™s Search for Meaning. All of us need to know that what we do has inherent meaning and purpose. Finding that is not an external search but rather is an internal one. For many people, what they do might seem mundane, repetitive and at face value, of little value. Or so it may appear. Finding value in what we do, no matter how mundane and repetitive it may be does not mean that it has little or no value. The trick is one of perspective. It is the realisation that â€˜I bring the meaningâ€™ to my work rather than hoping to find meaning in the work. It is a subtle but significant distinction.
There can be no greater food for the soul than to link meaning and purpose with that which you do. The poet Robert Frost said it best when he wrote,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
They are not afraid to ask
Savvy leaders ask questions. Questions not only directed at others but questions of themselves. They recognize the power of questions: to invite others into conversations, to learn and grow, to test and secure feedback. It is a modern day leadership travesty that our leadership formation programmes have produced leaders afraid to ask questions for fear of appearance. We have constructed corporate environments and cultures where to ask a question is to appear ignorant, vulnerable and uncertain. We have enshrined images and pictures of leaders who donâ€™t ask questions but fearlessly give the answers and storm the bastion. In the reality of todayâ€™s world where technology, value shifts, globalization and diversity collide every day, the picture of the all-knowing leader simply cannot survive.
Savvy leaders understand this new reality. They know that to ask questions is to empower and puts the wisdom of many to work. Moreover, savvy leaders work hard at developing an ability to frame the relevant questions and cultivate an understanding of when is the best time to ask them. Timing is important as is allowing for a silence that may follow.
They read to learn and they learn to read
The books litter the shelves but remain unread. That is the overwhelming story of the corner office. The biggest excuse for the failure to read is that of insufficient time. I suspect it is not so simple. I think it might have more to do with attitudes towards learning rather than not enough time. If it is important we make the time. Learning is important. Savvy leaders know this and spend time reading. Now granted, not everyoneâ€™s primary artery when it comes to learning is reading. But not to read is to sever a major source of leaning. Not everything needs to be read, in fact it is impossible to keep abreast of the flood of leadership writing but that is not what I mean by â€˜readingâ€™. Our reading needs to embrace a wider context than what the latest leadership Guru has to say; it needs to include stories and fables, biographies and history, literature that will inspire, stretch and surprise. But, savvy leaders recognize the value spent with words that challenge and lead to reflection. They begin to craft a reading habit that will inform, stimulate and provide useful reference points and markers for their own leadership journey.
Perhaps some of the things that should be read have been neglected for far too long. I recall buying a book about a group of animal friends who shared the dream to build a ladder that would enable them to touch the moon. In spite of their best efforts they failed and were downcast in their failure to reach their dream. It was during their commiserations that they caught the reflection of the moon in a puddle and realized that their dream was far closer than they had imagined. A delightfully simple story, a childrenâ€™s bedtime story, but a story with applications for leaders everywhere. As savvy leaders learn to read, they learn to read not merely the written stories but also the lived stories of those with whom they come into contact with every day. They become aware of the importance of each personâ€™s story and as they learn to read these stories, they build the capacity to connect, cohere and lead.
They look out the window â€? but they also look in the mirror
Looking out the window is an inherent part of leadership. Being aware of the open blue sky or the threatening storm clouds is just something leaders have to do. Savvy leaders understand the context, they understand the times in which they live. They see the changes and are prepared to lead in the cross-currents of such change. Vision is the one word that refuses to be shaken from the leadership lexicon. Vision comes from looking out the window and having the courage to say what one sees, even if there is a chorus of denial and protest. Of course this is only half the task â€? the thing then is to act on the vision. Looking out the window is something savvy leaders do and they learn the skills necessary for translating that vision to those around them.
Looking out the window is one thing, looking in a mirror is another. Mirrors reveal who we are and savvy leaders are not shy to ensure that they have several mirrors strategically placed to provide them with a view of themselves â€? however unflattering that may be. Leadership changes people and these changes are often for the worst. Leaders who lose touch with who they are and with those they lead are leaders who have failed to look in the mirror. Now granted, there are some mirrors that, as Harry Potter discovered, are primed to reveal only what we wish to see but these are not the kind of mirrors I am referring to here. I am talking about well polished mirrors that give accurate feedback, mirrors that serve as a reality check for leaders tempted to believe only that which they wish to see and hear. Such mirrors are all too rare in the impressive and powerful domains that most corporate leaders inhabit.
They pay attention to how they get things done
Savvy leaders are cautious of the kind of thinking that holds that, â€˜the ends justify the meansâ€™. This is not always the case. Savvy leaders pay careful attention to how they go about things. Many leaders fall into the trap of just doing it to get it done rather than explaining the rationale. Do this often enough and you have a team who remain uncommitted and one where the ownership is superficial and fragile. Savvy leaders pay attention to the process, not merely the content, on their way to accomplishing the outcomes. They pay attention to the people along the way and donâ€™t merely focus on the results to be accomplished. Balancing the short-term realities with the long-term opportunities is no easy task for the leader. The current constraints have to be considered in moving towards the promise of tomorrow and in plotting this course the savvy leaders pays careful attention to how they will go about doing this. It is all too easy to excuse away the how something got done in the midst of great results and thunderous applause. But the how is important and when disregarded, the oversights in this area often come back to haunt the perpetrator â€? the leader.
It is not about the CEO. Most CEOâ€™s need to get this. When a leader starts to put him or herself in an elitist bracket they begin to lose their grip on reality and the lifeline to leadership greatness. I recall working with an executive team where the CEO would fly business class and the remainder of his team economyâ€Œon the same flight. It was a culture inherent as I was told that the previous CEO once loudly complained that he had been seated at the back of business class as opposed to the front. Go figure! Trouble is that such actions and behaviour become all too common as leaders become familiar with the trappings that accompany leadership. There is one rule for them and another for everyone else.
Savvy leaders donâ€™t let the press get to them. They ensure that they stay rooted and grounded â€? they travel economy so to speak, rather than do the things that distance them from those they lead. Yes, leaders get to experience privileges along the way but savvy leaders treat these as the exception rather than the rule.
They remove the masks
Often leaders have become so adept at wearing a mask they are not conscious of wearing one. That is a dangerous place to be. Savvy leaders strive for authenticity and avoid the temptation to wear a mask. Being honest is something leaders need to be â€? which means doing the obvious. Telling the truth, admitting you donâ€™t know, saying youâ€™re sorry. Hard stuff for most leaders and often the kind of stuff that gets learnt the hard way. Just ask David Pottruck, the ex-CEO of Schwab. Pottruck was fired after 20 years with the corporate powerhouse. He woke up one morning, went to a routine board meeting and left it without a job. By that afternoon he had been replaced by Charles Schwab himself. In recounting his fall from grace Pottruck reveals an amazing candor and willingness to accept responsibility without blame for the unexpected dismissal. He refused to release public statements that disguised the fact that he had been dismissed and took responsibility for informing his staff directly. He worked until 8:30 that evening in his office before taking his final leave. None of this was easy or without pain but here is a remarkable story of a CEO who knew who he was, what his values were and then lived by them in both the good times and the bad times.
For so long leaders have been groomed to wear masks, play the game and take care of themselves. Savvy leaders recognize the danger that wearing masks represents not only too themselves but to those they lead. As a result they strive to be authentic, real, and open, even when conventional wisdom dictates otherwise.