Ever since I can remember I have always watched people and their behavior. I was always especially interested in how people behaved during times of stress and crisis. I believe Ralf Waldo Emerson said it best when he said:"Adversity does NOT build character, it reveals it."
Such a powerful and simple statement that tells us so much about people. It is easy to lead when times are good, when customers are buying, when you have money in the bank. But what about when you have none of that? When you find yourself alone, scared, or maybe in the middle of an unexpected pandemic, who are you then? What kind of leader is revealed when you are stressed? These are tough questions that need to be addressed before it is too late.
The moment I got news of COVID-19 and the potential for massive change and stress it would cause, I braced myself with a pad of paper and pen to observe. I wanted to see what our leaders would say, what they would post on social media, and what they would say (and do) behind closed doors. My findings were very interesting. I also started asking myself all sorts of questions because I wanted to make sure I was acting from my own values and what I believe. Now, I want to preface this that this is not a scientific study. This is purely just my observation so please take this with a grain of salt.
I counted 10 different leadership brands that you DON'T want. Before I go into all 10, let me define what I mean by "leadership brand". It's actually pretty simple and not far from what a brand means. Your leadership brand is simply who you are during times of crisis, stress, and change. You define your brand by what you say publicly, what you post on social media, the jokes you make, how emotionally intelligent you are or aren't, how you run and manage meetings, the decisions you make, etc.
My challenge to you is this. As you read through these, it will be very easy to immediately identify others who exhibit these behaviors. I want to challenge you to ask yourself, have you personally done any of these? I know for sure I have. Perfection is NOT the goal here. Self-awareness is. Here they are.
Perfection is NOT the goal here. Self-awareness is.
10 Leadership Brands You Don't Want
1. Jester The Comedian (or the Jester)
Jester is full of memes. I mean he has ALL of them and will share them all. When a current event happens, you can count on Jester to ensure you are up to speed on critical events like the Tiger King or reminding us that Epstein didn't kill himself. You can even bet on the fact that they will find some way of bringing jokes to your well-intended thought provoking posts. You could be in the middle of a really good conversation, and there they are, being funny... again. What is interesting about Jester, is that when this is all over and past us, they will need to get back to work selling us something or trying to lead in some way. You'll see it clearly because it just won't make any sense. They posted 87 memes and then come out with a futile attempt at inspiration or advice that just seems out of place. It might even be great advice, but it feels like you just found your cereal box in the fridge. Just doesn't fit.
2. Johnny Tone Deaf
Johnny means well, but just doesn't get it. They seem to lack any connection to how people are feeling around them or what the general sentiment is. They joke at the wrong time. They try to inspire when they should just listen. The post from their hot tubs with their perfect family talking about the need to be quarantined not realizing that a lot of people don't have hot tubs and may not have families to be home with. They mean well, but end up hurting people, frustrating them, and sadly no one will never tell you because they already know how you're going to respond. The opposite of "tone deaf", is empathy.
3. Amy Alarmist
Prepare yourself for Armageddon. Batten down the hatches. These are phrases often used by Amy Alarmist. We got to know Amy well during Y2K, Anthrax, EBOLA, Bird Flu, Zika, and any other opportunity that the media has so masterfully manufactured. Amy can be persuasive though. She is armed and ready for any argument with articles, YouTube videos, and the like, to illustrate just how bad things are right now. If you aren't ready for Amy, you might fall into her web of fear mongering. What makes her interesting is that I truly feel she is trying to come from a good place. The fear is real for her and she wants to help but her approach needs help. A lot of help.
4. Andy Apathy
Not much to say here. Andy Apathy just doesn't care. Let's move on as he will be forgotten anyway.
5. Colin Coward
When times are good, Colin is front and center leading the way. But where is he now? We don't hear from him. He doesn't call, he doesn't write, he doesn't post, nothing. We've seen the type of leader on TV and in the movies. Characters like King Joffrey in Game of Thrones. As soon as war time came, he was gone and showed up immediately after the war. We saw this in the epic movie Gladiator when Commodus gallups up to Marcus Aurelius and Maximus after the war finished saying "Have I missed the battle?" and his father (Marcus Aurelius) replies, "You have missed the war." These characters elicit a deep seeded emotion inside of us and become some of the most hated characters. People remember this behavior when times get better and they try to return to their position of "leader".
6. Karen Conspiracy
The government created COVID-19 and Bill Gates is responsible. 5G. There is a vaccine and they won't release it. This happened because Chinese people eat bats. This is not worse than the common cold. This is a biological weapon. Why are the Russians not suffering from this? I could go on and on. I don't know what the answer is, but I sure as hell know that they don't either. Science doesn't mean much to these types so don't even try to argue with them. I find it best to just mute them, unfriend them, or block them.
7. Sally Spin
No matter what the news is, Sally always finds a way to make it political. They are passionate about their beliefs and are completely disconnected from anything other that what they believe and what supports their argument. Their posts repel anyone who doesn't believe what they believe while attracting more people who support their "spin". I know that most people are okay with that but it is not a good strategy for leadership. Leaders build bridges where there is seemingly no way to connect. They inspire hope and collaboration across social, economic, and political boundaries. Even when they are thrown an olive branch from across the political party, they use it as an opportunity to hit harder versus continuing to build a bridge.
8. Polly Anna
Everything will be just fine if we just adopt an "abundant mindset" according to Polly. I am all for healthy optimism but when that optimistic view ignores some of the realities of life, it can be dangerous. Life is full of this beautiful contrast between good and bad. We have to be able to see both and respond accordingly. By ignoring either reality, we find ourself in a difficult world. We have to learn to confront grim reality while still creating of vision of possibility. Not an easy balance.
9. Bobby Selfish
Bobby is prepared. He has money in the bank. He has a plan. For himself and his family. That's it. He has circled the wagons and is successfully keeping others out. While I respect and admire his ability to take care of his family, ignoring others during their time of need will come back to haunt him after this passes. Trust has been lost. They already know you will not be there for them when things go sideways. All negotiations will be questioned, extended, all because they don't trust you. Empathy is the only answer here. How would you want others to respond is you were in their shoes?
10. Arnie Arm Chair
Arnie is typically found on Monday mornings after Sunday football telling everyone what they would've done or what the coaches should've done. Now we see them arm chair quarterbacking every decision made during this crisis. They are not experts. They have zero experience. They don't have any credentials. But man do they have opinions on what should've been done. Notice that they offer nothing about what should happen moving forward. That is too risky because they may be wrong! By waiting until it is all over, they can ensure an accurate assessment.
I am sure you have seen one of these leaders and most likely a combination of several of them. My goal here is not to mock people but rather to bring some self-awareness to our behavior. This applies to anyone who is leading or influencing anyone. Parents, your kids are watching how you act. Managers, you team is watching what you say and post. Owners, your entire company is using you as the lighthouse to guide them through this. And if you feel like you don't fit any of the leadership categories or feel like no one is watching you, you are sorely mistaken. People are watching you and if you aren't careful, you could unintentionally fall into one of these 10 brands.
So, what should we be doing as leaders?
My conclusion is simple. If you can help someone, help them. If you have the means to help a lot of people, help a lot of people. Pay close attention to what you post on social media because we are the media now. We influence people and how they see the world. If your post creates fear, then we have a name for you. If it lacks emotional intelligence, we have a name for you. If your post is more propaganda, we have a name for you.
Take a moment, ask yourself who you want to be at the end of all of this? Ask yourself who do you want your kids to be as a result of this? Ask yourself who you admire and what would they do during this time? The answers to those questions should serve as a guide and filter for your decisions.
As for me, I look to the experts and to the people I know who are closest to what is going on for guidance. No different than how we look at flight attendants as our barometer in flight as to how to feel, I look to my network of Lighthouse Leaders. Those leaders who are calm, collected, and speak the truth even when it is difficult. The leaders that reserve their right to yell and "ring the alarm" at the right moments, preserving our trust in them.
I don't know when this will end but I do know that sales people need to sell. Leaders need to set the vision and tone. Front line workers need all the support they can get. Our children need to see their parents helping and leading. Regardless of where this ends up, by doing these things, we will create a better world.
I do close to 100 events a year as a speaker and when all this came down, they all cancelled. My first thought was "I need to pivot to create online learning" but something didn't sit right with me. It felt "tone deaf", selfish, and opportunistic. I also felt that the people who need what I can do most, probably can't afford it now. So, we decided to offer our content for FREE.
Someone asked me why, and my response was this. If I saw someone drowning outside and I had a boat, would that be the time to think of how I can monetize my boat or to see how much they'd be willing to spend to be saved? Or, is it the time to just get in the boat and help people? The answer was simple to me.
Now, my "boat" isn't for everyone. I have a very specific lane of value that I can offer, but there is more needed. We all have gifts, skills that we can offer. Those gifts and skills are your "boats". I urge you to share them and help people now. I truly believe that the universe has a pretty accurate accounting system which means, you will be taken care of somehow. For me, it has come in the form of some people (who are not drowning) asking for one-on-one coaching and advisory services. I don't know what it means for you, but there is only one way to find out.
I hope these 10 Leadership Brands help you avoid these leadership pitfalls and push you to become the leader we need. I'll see you on the other side.