April 2011


An enormous amount of concentration has been spotlighted on the ethics, values, and beliefs of today’s Leaders.  The world is clamoring for Leaders to set the standard of what is

Lack of Individual Character

virtuous and authentic.  Companies have been forced into developing obligatory governance and ethics policies in an attempt to verify their collective contrived morality.  These guiding principles are designed to control the actions and profit motives of the organization.  Unfortunately, this righteous battering of our institutions has only served to dissuade the accountability of personal actions from individuals to the un-accountability of monolithic non-human entities.  The masses easily point to the corruption of the Corporation, the Government, or the Society as the “root of all evil” and painlessly exculpate themselves from the personal responsibility of accountability.  A societal top-down expectation of morality has developed allowing individuals to “sit back and wait” for ethics and values to come to them.

Much has been espoused regarding the significance of Character as a requisite for a Good Leader.  Yes, if you do not comport and demonstrate a Strength of Character, you will never truly Build and Lead an A-Team.  And with People as the key differentiator in today’s competitive business universe, you must compile an A-Team of Players for you and your business to succeed and prosper. But Character at the Top of an organization does not propagate Values throughout the ranks.  Character is not transferable.  The distinctive Character of an Individual is the building block to the Values of any organization or institution.

In today’s politically charged culture we are admonished for judging others.  We are to be understanding of the failures of virtue of those around us and give deference to the possibility of circumstances they may have encountered.  But if you aspire to excel as the Leader of an A-Team, you must embrace the obligation of judging the Character of others.  As I have said before, it is not your job to fix people.  A Street Smart Leader is not a builder of character; he is a Collector of Character!

A man’s character is his fate
Heraclitus

Character represents those attributes we expect our employees to stride through the door with. They include integrity, work ethic, quality, caring, accountability responsibility, cooperation, etc.  Character goes beyond just knowing what is right and perseveres in “doing what is right”.  Character is a habit which defies adversity and prevails with fortitude.  Leaders can count on people of Character to make the right decisions in the tough “moments of truth” even if it does not personally benefit them at the time.  People with Character allow you to focus on productive solutions instead of emotional motives.

The accomplishment of a great many things is possible with Intelligence, Skills, and Attitude alone.  So why is Character so vital?  First, Character assures that you and your team will embark on endeavors that are the “right things”.  Secondly, it is the presence of Character that makes sure those “right things” are actually successfully implemented through accountability and work ethic.  Character transcends one’s best intentions and is finally defined by one’s actions.   It is the fundamental difference in why we do, what we do.

Character is an A-Team Requirement

A Leader’s time can be “sucked dry” with people-issues emanating from Character related non-performance and drama.  Employees who simply fail to do what they are “supposed to do” create a ripple effect around them which proliferates and disrupts the entire team.  Eventually these diverters of productivity necessitate management’s time.  A Leader can teach someone a new skill and act to rectify an attitude lapse, but once a violation of Character takes place, trust is permanently lost.  Without trust, a Leader has no choice but to micro-manage an employee in an atmosphere of growing resentment and frustration.  His focus moves from enhancing performance to “fixing up” situations fraught with emotions.  Take notice of the amount of failures that are Character related.  Start accounting for the squandered time you spend on these worthless and wasted lost causes.

The force of character is cumulative.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It is tempting for Leaders to become trapped into trading off Character for short term performance achievement.  Extraordinary performance is possible by extremely talented employees who lack Character and are focused on selfishly motivated objectives, but their cost is extremely high.  These crippling trade-offs can extend for years with a remarkably gifted employee.

We have all witnessed them.  The classic “ends justifies the means” people.  Those who disrupt, unravel, and generally blow up the work environment around them.  They take no prisoners and pursue personal agendas at the risk of accomplishing overall company goals.  They are people users, often burning out their team over and over again.  They are stress machines who develop turmoil and generate confrontation at every turn.  Others feign from the prospect of working with them.  Eventually teamwork is eliminated as the Cycle of Fear increases.  If we were talking about non-performers or average performers, the answer to this dilemma would be a simple termination, but sometimes these passion-killers are the highest performers of your organization.  They possess special, unique, and not easily replaceable skills and performance which create a make-or-break situation in your company’s success.

High Performers Without Character

What they lack is Character.  Regardless of the coaching, micro-managing, and manipulating you are willing to put into modifying their behavior, they will eventually “burn” you as a result of their lacking Character.  Success masquerades their flaws, but again and again they will make the wrong ethical choices presenting you with substantial liabilities internally and externally.  Ultimately you will be faced with losing them, losing your Team, or losing Yourself.  Decide early not to empower these individuals.  Be smart, be skillful, keep a great attitude and then present the Force of your Character at every challenge.

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.”
Edmund Burke

Your first priority is to make Character based hiring decisions by asking and listening to specific examples of “how” someone has dealt with the adversities in their career and in their life.    Next you must be courageous, make Character judgments about the people on your team, and diligently “weed out” those who are deficient.   As a Leader you are expected by your team and your company to exemplify a strong and moral Character.  But do not be fooled into believing this will create Character throughout your organization.  Setting the standard, cannot improve upon another’s Character.  Character is an individual accountability.  A Street Smart Leader knows the value of Character and requires it as a “condition of employment”.  He relinquishes the false ego gratification as a potential Builder of Men and focuses on the genuine results to be gained as a Builder of Character Based Teams.

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Tomorrow’s Leaders are being subjected to a regimen of reprogramming which is assailing and threatening the core essence of efficacious Leadership.  Fostered by intellectuals, this contemporary leadership fashion is concentrating on creating a softer, gentler, leadership style focused on a submissive approach to Leadership.  These new-fangled theories expound a fabricated Leadership value system based on conceptions such as, servitude to employees, gaining employee’s permission, self-deprecating humility, a duty to care for employees, adding value to employees, etc.  They preach a more emotionally available, compassionate, and sensitive style of Leadership.  Often at the foundation of their duplicity lies the concealed belief to convene a sophisticated “social justice” within the workplace.  These “new world” namby-pamby Leadership tactics are destined to fail and send converted disciples bolting, scared of their shadow, and demoralized with confusion and impotence.

This effete Leadership movement reminds one of the ‘90s crusade to change “real men” into ineffectual cross-beings known as a Metro-sexuals.   This scheme was initiated with the precept that in order to make room for compassion and sensitivity, strength and fortitude must be sacrificed.  We were told that for men to connect with women they

Who would you follow into battle?

had to devoid themselves of manhood and morph into a spineless slithering dribble of sentimentality.  Nowhere was this message reinforced more than on the Hollywood big screen. Over the last 20 years we have seen our leading actors change from Gable, Brando, Burton, Heston, and Peck to Alda, Afleck, Depp, Bloom, and Firth.  Even our women role models have been reduced in stature from O’Hara, Hepburn, Bacall, and Taylor to Roberts, Winslet, Paltrow, and Portman.   Really now, which group would you follow into a battle for your life?  Your company is constantly in a battle for its life and you are expected to lead it to victory.

Regardless of one’s personal dogmas of these metro-influences on our society, the “wimpifcation” of Leadership is a short road leading nowhere.  Do not buy into the falsehood that you need to become a “Metro-leader” to connect with your team.  The need will continue for both Men and Women to be Tough Leaders if they want to achieve the highest levels of success.  Your responsibility as a Leader is to assemble an A-Team of highly motivated people and compete with them to win out over the competition.  It is not your job to construct a Utopian World where everyone feels warm and fuzzy.  Is there a place for the “soft qualities”, often defined as EQ or EI?  Yes, but only to the extent that performance is amplified as a direct consequence of the method engaged.  Quite simply, being kind, or compassionate, or sensitive must have an ROI.  Sound Harsh?  This is what it takes to be a Street Smart Leader!

The most momentous menace presented in this new “Metro-leader” model is in its intrinsic proclivity for establishing an Entitlement Culture among your employees.  An Entitlement Culture is one where employees feel you owe them something that has “not been earned” because of who they are.  You need look no further than labor unions, government employees, or socialist countries to see the lack luster non-competitive performance that results from Entitlement.  Entitled people believe they have “Rights” which are constituted within their own minds.  They expect compensation and treatment as a result of these rights without having to deliver value.

If we go back to your Hiring Agreement with an employee, you will remember they agreed to perform a function with competency in exchange for a compensation package.  As an employee they do have certain “Rights” established by law, such as the right not to be discriminated against or to have a safe place to work.  But that is it; this is what you “owe” them.  Beyond this, as a Leader, you must determine the best way to maximize their performance and achieve company goals.  They have the responsibility to perform as well as they can, be motivated, achieve goals, be a good citizen, etc.  It is not your responsibility to provide these things for them.  Once you begin to try and manage their motivation or work ethic, you have allowed their responsibilities to be shifted to your shoulders and you have created an Entitlement.  Their performance is now your responsibility.  As a Metro-leader their inability to do their job means you have failed.  Guess who gets fired when the entire team fails because you have not “made them” successful.

Great Leaders understand the time and money tradeoffs between “good employee care” in order to gain results and “being nice” because it feels the right thing to do.  The “right thing” is a subjective and biased luxury which you should be able to back up with a good business reason before acting on.  Your customers are not willing to pay you anything additional because you are a nice boss who has established a great social program within the confines of your business unit.  So, unless your employee program directly increases productivity and cuts costs, you have just eroded your profits to fulfill your own “do good” ego.  This is a dereliction of the duty for which you were hired and only weakens your company’s future prosperity.  Eventually the “feel good” program collapses under the dead weight of its own incompetence.

The Cost of Entitlement

Here is a quick management discipline for you to adopt to ensure you are fighting off the Entitlement Culture.  As a Leader you are constantly asked for favors from employees.  For now on, never agree to a request unless you get something in return.  Keep a list of those items which you wish each person would be doing a better job at.  Then when they ask, “Can I leave 15 minutes early today to pick up my children?” You can reply, “Sure, as long as I can get that weekly report from you before you go.”  It may seem a small inconsequential tradeoff, but it will help you build an internal personal discipline to ensure you are receiving value for your consideration.  And it will really matter when faced with larger questions regarding how you determine employee related issues with a permanent cost such as an extra holiday or a ping pong table.

If you are a reader of my articles, you already know of my determination to build great teams of extraordinary people.  This begins with assembling great people who want to accomplish something of value with their efforts.  A-Players aren’t looking for soft, feel good Leaders or Entitlement Programs.  They are proud to earn their way.  They are willing to give 100% and expect 100% of your efforts towards them in return.  If you are receiving anything less than this bargain, you have work to do.  But don’t be fooled into believing that if you treat employees better, they will be motivated and then you will see improvements.  Your bargain begins with the setting of your expectations of them, to be followed by rewards for their accomplishments.

As a Leader you must measure the anticipated results on resources expended including those spent on employees.  It is your responsibility to bring home an ROI on these investments of time and money.  Leadership carries a colossal obligation to those who choose to employ you and those who choose to follow you.  It is not a game for social experimentation, it is about dollars and cents and winning and losing.  It may seem callous, but Leadership involves trade-offs and bargaining.  Your job is to make sure your company gets the better part of the deal.  Anything less is an Entitlement granted to someone which you cannot afford if you want to see your career prosper.  A Street Smart Leader is a deeply concerned and compassionate person who is driven by his passions – he just does it “Retro-Leader” style.