Eighteen months after starting this column, business leadership still hasn't reached perfection. Haven't they been reading? Why is good leadership still so rare?
Maybe it's because we use a whacked-out definition of leadership. "Leader" has become code for "rich guy with an impressive title who orders others around." But leading by giving orders left and right with no accountability doesn't work. We're living in a world of low loyalty, high mobility, and extreme uncertainty. "Push" leadership will push people right out the door. We need leaders who inspire others to follow, who engender loyalty. We need leaders who practice "pull" leadership.
Pull leaders don't give orders; they create ...view middle of the document...
They hope they've provided the right tools and training. They ask constantly how they can create a culture that helps others achieve.
Because organizational success isn't enough for them, pull leaders also take responsibility for helping their people succeed as individuals. They learn enough to encourage and support each person reach their goals, even goals that aren't necessarily about work. Think about it for a minute. If you dream of attending a Red Sox game in box seats and your boss arranges it as a holiday present, wouldn't you be inclined to be more loyal than if your boss gave out the usual all-expenses-paid trip to the annual cow tipping contest?
Pull leaders work to become attractive to others
In taking responsibility, pull leaders realize their greatest tool is themselves. So they work hard at perfecting that tool! You'd think Michelle LaBrosse of Cheetah Learning would be relaxing on a tropical island after building a highly successful multimillion-dollar business in less than five years. Nope. She reads constantly, attends top-level executive education programs, and is constantly asking how she can get better. Her people love her and she has no problem finding employees.
Becoming attractive isn't just a matter of reading up on business. Pull leaders work on their interpersonal skills. They get their own lives in order, knowing full well that if they aren't successful in their own lives, they don't have the emotional well to draw from to be there for their people. Much to my surprise, in one Harvard Business School panel discussion, several highly successful CEOs mentioned that they meditate for fifteen to twenty minutes a day. They also advocated being socially involved and giving back to the community. By working to become better people, they became better leaders as well.
Pull leaders align and inspire with values
Values are the second most powerful force for bringing people together to achieve great things. Pull leaders know their own values, and demonstrate them when they act. And I'm not talking about impressive balcony speeches on "quality" or "competitiveness" or "valuing people." Politicians give those speeches and aren't exactly at the top of most people's most-respected list. What matters to pull leaders are their values in action. They examine their own actions honestly and without judgment, discover what values they embody, and either change their behavior or choose to stand for the values they already embody.
The most powerful values message is sent when the pull leader is clearly taking a risk to stay true to his or her values. An engineer cared enough about quality to stand up in a department meeting and tell the development team that the decision to ship a low-quality product to meet a deadline was a betrayal of their commitment to quality. Risky? Sure. He could have gotten fired. But once word spread, he received great underground support as a steward of closely-held values.
Pull leaders are stewards of...