“Occasionally the world witnesses a heroic feat or discovers a person with rare talent…but most people know there is another type of greatness that tends to be more quiet by nature, one that generally escapes the headlines. Yet, it is a greatness that, in my opinion, is deserving of higher honour, even more respect. I call it everyday greatness” (Dr Stephen R Covey)
How a leader “shows up” daily either inspires or disappoints employees. It energises everyone or leads to emotional depletion. It boosts morale or creates unhappiness. It reinforces direction or creates confusion. It creates a sense of emotional safety and security or poisons the culture. It engenders collaboration and teamwork or breeds selfishness. It builds trust or cultivates contempt. The leaders’ disposition gives employees hope or dismantles any sense of a meaningful future.
Every leader has pivotal choice points – significant moments when a decision is required to be proactive or reactive, to contribute or be a spectator, to care for or ignore those in pain, to lead ethically or succumb to the many temptations that are “on offer” to the leader: power, position, money, etc. The decisions that are made by leaders at these pivotal choice points define their transformation ability – the ability to influence change that will grow the company, develop all employees and make meaningful contributions to the world.
In the introduction of the book, “Everyday Greatness”, Dr Stephen R Covey notes three decision moments that every leader must face daily, whether conscious of them or not (commentary mine):
- The Choice to Act (Will we act on life or will we merely be acted upon?)
A leader’s influence-ability is eroded when little or no action is taken, particularly when it counts – when the leader should be speaking up, addressing wrong-doing and reinforcing company values. Inactivity is seen by employees as a sign of weakness, a leader without backbone. As a result, their confidence in any decisions that emanate from the top floor diminishes and trust is destroyed.
The transformative leader, however, intentionally acts on what can be controlled or impacted and, as such, influences growth, participation, inclusion and creativity positively. The action taken, and subsequent example that is set, starts transforming the organisational culture.
- The Choice of Purpose (To what ends, or purposes, will our daily choices lead?)
Leaders need to pursue worthwhile purposes. This is not as easy as it first sounds as the complexity of business life and other related issues press upon time and energy, sapping strength and limiting time to think about purpose and direction. Focusing on problems and discovering potential solutions is needed, however, the same will not necessarily translate into real contribution – it just fixes stuff that is broken but doesn’t necessarily accelerate you forward towards achieving your vision.
Leaders must make daily choices that propel the company towards the fulfilment of dreams. These decisions involve communicating the vision with clarity, empowering teams to make their own choices about the part that they are to play to realise the vision and ensuring that the right resources are available for all employees to function well. The achievement of purpose and the empowerment of employees go hand in hand.
- The Choice for Principles (Will we live our lives in accordance with proven principles or will we suffer the consequences of not doing so?)
Leaders need to behave in harmony with timeless, universal principles. Principles provide permanent markers (like a beacon) against which leaders can set their direction in times of both storm and calm, darkness and light. Principles do not change – they are immovable. Covey notes here: “While values drive behaviours, principles govern consequences”. He goes on to show that vision, innovation, humility, quality, empathy, magnanimity, perseverance and balance are all principles that can mobilise leaders towards greater personal effectiveness, increased life satisfaction and I would add, greater organisational impact. If doubted, consider living life as a leader based on the opposites, such as a lack of vision, laziness, vanity, sloppiness, closed mindedness, revenge, lack of determination or imbalance – hardly a recipe for success!
Meaningful leadership contribution should be the focus of all those in positions of power. Decisions made at pivotal choice points impact a leader’s transformation-ability. Leaders who have high influence-ability are those who have sculptured their thoughts and actions around a purpose that makes their lives of most worth.
Leaders would be wise to note these words from James Branch Cabell: “While it is well enough to leave footprints in the sands of time, it is even more important to make sure they point in a commendable direction”.