HURRICANE RITA AND LEADERSHIP
Articles and articles about leadership. Is it charisma? Can it be taught? What makes a great leader? All over the world people want to know this. In fact, I’ve just been asked to submit a proposal to do a workshop on EQ and Leadership in Saudi Arabia, for a bank. They knew the competencies of emotional intelligence and they know they want their people to have them. It’s a worldwide phenomenon, and for good reason.
Can leadership be learned? Yes, I think so. In the same way that you can learn to be a therapist. They used to tell us in graduate school, “It can’t be taught, but it can be learned.”
Three things factor it: wanting to be a leader, observing good leaders with your thinking cap on and your feeling heart open, and then practice – on the firing line!
We’re observing this right now with President Bush. As I write this from my office in south Texas, we’ve been under threat of Hurricane Rita for two days, and millions of Texas have fled to hopefully higher ground. I just opened an article in the Washington Post that began, “President Bush flew here ahead of Hurricane Rita on Friday to show command of a federal disaster response effort that even supporters acknowledge he fumbled three weeks ago.”
Everyone seem to have fumbled the ball with Hurricane Katrina. Those who learn from their mistakes still have a chance. Bush appears to be one of them. He is quoted as having said to reporters before leaving Washington, “I need to understand how it works better.” He is also, of course, scrambling to regain the confidence of the people. At his level, he gets to fail in public. But he also gets to succeed in public.
I read also that a military leader was heading out to the scene because he “wanted to watch the troops in action during a disaster.”
I can't stress enough that a leader shows up and pitches in. I see this frequently in offices. There's a deadline -- let's say the brief has to make it to the 4th Circuit which means a 7 p.m. Fed-Ex deadline, and everyone’s working overtime already. There are two ways the head guy (or gal) can handle this -- well, 3 actually.
One is to disappear completely, because it's chaos. That gets minus 2 points. (Ask Bush.) Hiding in your office is bad. The major point about primal leadership is that the leader models the emotion the workers are “supposed” to have, and we do pick up on that. If the leader disappears at the crucial moment, we are left to our fantasies, and they are never going to be positive.
The second is to stand around looking worried, disgusted or angry – say off to the side with your arms crossed. While everyone else is running around like chickens with their heads cut off? This gives you zero points. I don’t think people who do this understand the impression this makes. I might even give this a –2 and give the disappearance the zero. It smacks of arrogance, of disdain, or being separate from, or above it all. The first thing they tell us in management class is if there’s a crisis – get help. More hands are needed. And there’s a set of hands that won’t pitch in? This annoys people. To say the least.
The third way is to show up, smile, look confident and PITCH IN. Last-minute production involves grunt work - in the case of a brief, attaching CMRRR receipts, punching holes, stuffing envelopes, filling out Fed-Ex forms by hand. (It may be going to 15 lawyers as well as to the Court, and all must be served.) The leader who considers this "beneath" him or her, makes a statement. If you don’t value the work your employees do, how do you expect them to? Studies show that as many as 60% of workers are engaged in “present-eeism” – showing up, but in body only. The leader who stands at the end of the assembly line, and seals the envelopes, calm and confident, gets 10 points. And lots of support in the future.
One example I saw of this was an executive chef for a 5-star resort here in town. The banquet was set to go in an hour. The pre-formed pasta nests hadn’t shown up. There were none to be had in town. Noodles had to be boiled, then BY HAND shaped into nests. Guess who stood at the head of the table, smiling, and forming gooey little nests? The sous chefs hadn’t known how to do it. Chef Rene didn’t either, but he figured it out and showed them.
There are few things as chaotic as a kitchen before a big banquet, and you tend to get some temperamental types to begin with. When emotions run high, the leader shows up and pitches in. And looks confident. It works wonders.
If you aren't a walking-around kind of manager, boss or leader, you never really get the FEEL of the situation. If you hide in your office and rely on the reports of your likely-to-prevaricate mid-managers you're going to hear only what they think you want to hear. Unless you go to the scene and observe, in person, you won't know who's really pulling their weight, who buckles under pressure, who rises to the occasion, who the "real" leader of the team is (not always the one with the title), who supplies the positive can-do attitude, who drags the team down -- a host of EQ traits that move your team toward goals.
But it doesn’t count to go and just stand there and make mental notes. You won’t be part of it so you won’t be able to feel it, and you’ll appear to be critical which will add more tension to the situation. And popular you will not be. Yes, you need to be popular, because motivation is not a thinking word.
Get in their like Chef Rene, roll up your sleeves and join in. Get the feel of it. Combine that with your intellectual understanding of the logistics, and your gut, and you will be learning leadership. It never ends. Ask President Bush.
©Susan Dunn, MA, The EQ Coach, http://www.susandunn.cc . Coaching, executive coaching, business programs, distance learning courses, and ebooks for leadership, career, relationships, transition, resilience. Coach certification program. Mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org for info and free ezine.