Know Yourself as a Leader (and Make Sure Your Team Knows You)

I have recently been writing about the importance of leadership, especially in small organizations and community-based nonprofits. It is important to remember that I am talking about leadership, as opposed to simply management. Of course those roles often go hand-in-hand, but leadership does not require a formal title and can cross organizational boundaries.

To this point, I was recently thinking back to the example of Howard Lutnick in the days after September 11th. (NOTE: The related video contains some powerful images and memories from that time. Be ready.).

What the video shows is a leader who stepped to the plate under the most extreme circumstances.

The part that continues to have the most impact on me is how he explicitly states that he wanted to close the doors and mourn the loss of their families, but his remaining team insisted that they get back to work. What I take from this is the tight relationship between followership and leadership as well as the idea of stewardship. The organizational culture was strong enough where the employees had the strength and expectation to tell their leader what they needed of him, and Howard had a strong enough sense of stewardship to not shirk the mantle of leadership.

Hopefully, none of us will ever be forced to face a challenge in this way, but are we leading today in a manner where we are building cultures that can withstand this type of challenge? Are we committed enough to our organizations (and here I mean the people, not the name on the building) to make the hard decisions and take the tough challenges required to see our teams through the darkest hours? One would hope so.

A key aspect of this type of leadership is that it requires a rather comprehensive effort on the part of the leader. We need to be mindful and empathetic, but we may also need to make difficult, challenging, and potentially unpopular decisions under less than ideal circumstances. Issues such as honesty, forthrightness, clarity, and humility all come into play.

So what’s the right answer? Yours will be different than mine, but you do a great service to yourself and your organization by pre-considering these questions so that you are prepared when your clarion sounds. Be ready.