Leading through Social Distancing

Every single action and word out of a parent’s mouth shapes their child or children.

That’s a lot of ‘being a good example’ to have to endure.

Before I had children, my favorite saying was:

‘If you can’t be a good example, you’re just going to have to serve as a terrible warning.’

Not that I was a bad person. I just wasn’t someone who considered that I had to show anyone else how to live.

But I was wrong.

We are all examples to someone, especially other adults. An example of responsibility and kindness, compassion and fortitude. In fact, being a good example is just another way of saying being a leader.

Leaders from the Back

We tend to see our leaders as larger than life icons out in front of the crowd. It’s easiest to concentrate on one person—like the lead singer of a band—instead of the moving parts of a group.

But no one rises to a place of prominence alone. And they don’t maintain it without some well-oiled group taking care of details that are too many for one person to manage.

In fact, the most effective leaders, the ones who attract the most people to the supporting group, are ones who acknowledge the efforts of others.

At least it would be that way in a perfect world.

Zealots and cult-leaders don’t acknowledge the contributions of others. They simply expect them and stoke the underlying emotions to motivate the followers. Instead of interdependency, common good, hard work, and self-sacrifice, these kinds of mob-mentality leaders stoke fear, anger, hatred, prejudice, and exclusion to motivate.

Then the leader takes credit for the accomplishments and blames the mistakes.

A ‘good’ leader—for lack of a better term—acknowledges the shared successes and the shared failures. In fact, the failures are emphasized as the failure of the leader to give the followers the tools for success.

That’s a leader’s job—enabling success at every level. And if a leader is always at the front of the pack, how does the leader know what others need for success?

An effective leader is in tune with the needs of the followers. That doesn’t mean they micromanage or helicopter. They are attentive and responsive.

They put their trust in the people who have been inspired by their leadership. Trust is a key component of a good leader. We see examples of lack of trust from leadership all the time.

Whenever a regime limits things like free speech and the Internet, there is no trust.

Whenever an employee lives in fear of failure and reprimand which limits their ability to engage with their work or take the risks necessary for innovation, there is no trust.

When someone is excluded from important conversations that directly affect her, there is no trust.

When facts are withheld from a population, there is no trust.

Leadership during Crisis

Leaders are especially important when everything is going wrong. Sure, we all want to create successes and then claim them. But the true test of a leader is bringing their followers through a crisis or challenge to their success.

There is no success without struggle, setbacks, crisis points, sacrifices, or some pain. It’s like playing organized games with young kids--they want to violate the rules to win. But there is no value in a win that took a short-cut. You haven’t proven that you can grasp success with both hands while restricting yourself to the same obstacles as everyone else.

If everyone can cheat, then what’s the point in playing?

Success is accomplishment. Winning is vanquishing an opponent. There is no achievement in cutting corners. That’s why our culture looks down on computer hackers (aside from it being illegal, there’s a moral and even fairness issue). So much effort into disrupting the work of others instead of just building something of value themselves.

Leading Visions

Leaders have visions of what can be. And what can be in this world of COVID-19 is only limited by the visions, strengths, and examples of our leaders, great and small.

Our vision now has to be a world that functions in great isolation until such time as our world goes back to ‘normal.’ Wherever you are, visualize that function. Visualize the moving parts that make that a reality.

And then visualize what you have to be grateful for.

Social distance does not diminish our need for or our capacity to lead. We can all lead even from our own homes. Within our small social groups--or even physically alone. We can be good examples instead of terrible warnings.

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