The Pleasure of Your Company is Requested
My plane landed in Las Vegas after 9pm, and we were late.
I was traveling on business and tired, but excited to spend some time in Las Vegas at the beautiful Red Rock Resort. When I tried to check in an hour later, I was told that there were no rooms ready, but they generously gave me a credit for food and drink while I waited.
I strolled around the resort, hung out in the casino, and sampled the bar. Finally I headed up to the room at midnight (now 3am eastern) and when I opened the door to my room, I couldn’t help but laugh.
For the next six hours I was to be treated to luxury beyond my imagination. My $2800 a night 2000 square foot high-roller suite sported five flat screen televisions, an amazing stereo system, an enormous sectional couch, a marble topped bar, and a giant Jacuzzi. The only thing missing was a pool table for “naked billiards.” I started taking pictures while I ran water in the tub. I happily added bath salts and jumped in. It was lavish, it was ridiculous, and six hours later, it was gone. I checked into a regular room, having forfeited sleep for a chance to enjoy surreal decadence.
I recently read this article from the “National Review,” Like a Boss. In it Kevin Williamson points out that candidate Mitt Romney is fabulously wealthy, has fathered five sons and as a result, is a far superior candidate for president.
He encourages Romney to embrace his wealth. “Now Romney should quit pretending that he’s an ordinary schmo with ordinary schmo problems and start living a little larger. He should not be ashamed of being loaded; instead, he should have some fun with it. He will discover something that the Obama campaign has not quite figured out yet: Americans do not hate rich people. Americans love rich people.”
Maybe Williamson’s piece was a bit of satire, but it felt pretty serious.
The same day a very different post caught my attention, Gregory Gull’s A Real Crisis. In it he explores the relationship between individualism and collectivism and the role of systemic problems in the success and failure of leadership. He posits that exhortations for leaders to change their style to avoid the failures that have haunted leaders of late will do nothing as long as that raison d’être for business, short-term profit maximization, is the single most important measure of leadership success.
He concludes “Until we change the focus of our attention and until we educate accordingly nothing can and will change. Unless the aim changes the system will remain as is, ensuring more unintended negative consequences for society.” In essence, nothing leaders do will matter until the game changes.
So what do we do with these competing ideas? One author calls for leadership that embraces the status quo, the virile and wealthy businessman. The other contends that leadership matters little in our profit-driven society. For me, these two articles and my adventure in Las Vegas have given me a framework from which I’d like to talk with you about leadership.
There are some important questions I’d like to ask, but before we talk about them, let me tighten this up by mentioning some points that maybe we can agree upon and set aside.
First, money changes people. It certainly turned my head. Six hours in a luxury suite made me far less appreciative of the lovely “regular room” I stayed in the second night, even though it was far nicer than any other hotel room in which I had stayed.
And it wasn’t until I got home and finally got some sleep in my own bed, the one with my favorite ratty comforter and squishy pillows, that I realized how far from my roots I had been lured. I don’t think the siren call of money is news to anyone, and it was only meant to be the starting point of this discussion.
Second, it is easy to be distracted by the politics here. I want to be clear. I am a staunch democrat, but that does not change the fact that I appreciate the fact Romney flies coach on occasion and gives generously to charity. I don’t think fathering sons makes you a man, but sticking around to parent them does. I sincerely hope he has done that well. I’d like to get past this as a political debate and focus on some different issues.
Does leadership matter? Is our society so focused on money and short term success that it is a rigged game? Will all leaders, regardless of style or focus, eventually lose, either by not making “enough” money or by compromising their ethics to win?
What is it we want from our leaders? Do we need them to be powerful, wealthy, virile, and ruthless? Do we want them to be humble, compassionate, smart, and passionate? What role does strength, vision, curiosity, and innovation play in leadership?
The Lead Change Group is an excellent place to discuss these issues. In many ways this is our purpose. So I am asking you. Yes YOU, who loiter out there reading and tweeting about leadership. The questions are on the table, and I am personally inviting you to join this discussion.
What do you think? Does leadership matter? How? What is it we want from our leaders?
Alright, Deb. I’ll step up to the plate, and start the conversation with you. You asked “Does leadership matter? How? What is it we want from our leaders?” My answer is: Yes, in a variety of ways, and level-headedness.
To expound on that… Yes, I believe that leadership matters. We’re in a crisis in this country on many fronts, precisely because character-based leadership has been lacking, not just at the highest levels, but at many levels. From the ’60s onward, where the “Me generation” became more important than the community, family, and country-based perspectives that existed earlier, things have been falling apart.
When individuals focus on the good of themselves more than the good of the community, children suffer. They become latch-key kids or spend more time being raised by adults outside the family, playing second-fiddle to professions and pursuits that tell them they are not as important, at a time when they are too young to understand the pressures and strains of adult life.
As those children grow, they live well the lessons they’ve been taught. Pursuing what they want, at any and all costs, is fine. I could go on, but you get the idea.
What I want from my leaders, whether in my community, business or country, is for there to be a balance in decision-making between my own needs and the needs of others; for thought to be given both to the present as well as the future. Our country has financial needs now, but we need to mitigate those needs based on the needs of the future. Making our grandchildren pay for the debt we incur today is not a wise course of action. As with any household, we need to live without our means as a community, as a business and as a country. Prioritize our spending, borrow prudently, and forego the rest.
That’s what I need from my leader. I need to trust that when they make a decision, I’ve been factored into it along with everyone else. I need level-headed decisions that show a consideration for all sides of the issue before a decision is made, which means ultimately that a decision has been worked toward that accounts for the strongest objections put forward from both sides. This is what consensus-building is all about.
I also need a decision to be about one thing when topics are particularly controversial, not a slew of things where it’s impossible for outsiders to pinpoint what was objected to without insider knowledge. When multiple things are lumped together, it’s easy to misinterpret what a person is objecting to. And when topics are particularly controversial, taking smaller steps in consensus-building enables us to clearly articulate our reason for supporting or objecting to a matter. This ultimately makes it almost impossible for people to misinterpret our motives, and creates a more harmonious environment to make *real* progress in.
There will be times when a leader simply has to make a decision, and there will be those who are thrilled with it and those who object. But, if everyone has had the chance to be fairly heard, and an attempt has been made at coming to a consensus, then no one can really object if the leader has to be the final arbitrator. That’s where level-headedness comes in again. Build a relationship with me. Show me that you understand my concerns and priorities, even if they’re not your own. And do the same with others in the group. I may not like your choice, but I’ll respect you for it.
(Sorry this is so long! It’s something I’m passionate about…)
I can’t say I’m at all surprised at your passion. In all the hours that we have spent talking about leadership, I don’t think we ever really addressed this question, so I am happy to hear your thoughts. I find it interesting that we agree on so many things in our conversations, but I would not have written what you have.
I see a lot of leadership buzz words here that you value, balance, trust, consensus building, and although you didn’t use this word, transparency. As I think about leadership in these contexts, I realize you are asking for a lot. I am a leader on a small scale, and I struggle with these issues. I cannot imagine how much more difficult it is for the CEO of a large company to do the same. How do you foster trust with a hundred people, a thousand, millions? How can I make you believe that I care about your needs, that I factored them in, especially when in the end I decided that your needs were not as important as others?
What is so interesting is the words you didn’t mention. Perhaps you value vision less or even not at all. Where does passion fit into this equation, or intellect? Must a leader be inspiring?
In the end perhaps what we value in leadership is related to what we see lacking in the leadership in our lives. Or even more interestingly, what if we want leadership traits that we ourselves either possess or actually lack, depending on how we perceive our own role?
I would love to see what others value in leadership, the important qualities that make for great leadership from other perspectives. Thank you for your thoughts today.
Lol, Deb! You know me… I never go for the obvious answers. 🙂 Vision, passion, etc. are definitely all factors. But one can have vision and the passion to pursue it, but only sweep others along in their wake without ever having created passionate followers. There’s a transference that needs to take place, like when Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke, so that even if the leader is gone, the vision and passion lives on. To me, that comes from community-building; showing that one values others, even if they don’t agree.
But, yes, I’m interested in what others have to say as well.