The other day, I had the pleasure of hearing former New York City Mayor, Rudolph Giuliani speak on the Principles of Leadership. He defined them as belief, optimism, courage, relentless preparation, teamwork, expectation setting, and communication. These seven keywords comprise the principles Giuliani now believes served him well on the leadership front for so many years (they are also the basis of a book he recently released). Giuliani sprinkled his talk with references to his days as a US attorney and mayor, his first hand September 11th, 2001 response role, and his brush with prostrate cancer.
The first principle; belief, is perhaps the most critical. Giuliani very simply stated that if you don’t know what you believe in and you don’t know why you believe in it, you will find it very difficult to stay the course of successful leadership when the rapid-fire of day to day issues pelt you from every angle. His example leader in this regard is former president, Ronald Reagan, who held two very strong beliefs which enabled him to accomplish more during his tenure that any other modern day president.
The first such belief Reagan held was that communism was simply a bad ideology and that it must be eradicated for the good of society at large. The steadiness of this belief eventually led to the crumbling of the Iron Curtain and a new era for those on both sides of the divide. Reagan’s second key belief was that the federal government had grown so large that it was actually holding back the people it was meant to serve. By breaking down and simplifying “big government” Reagan believed he could free the spirit of the American people such that they would serve themselves much more robustly than any government mandated program.
Contrast such firmness of belief with many of today’s political leaders who seemingly adjust their “beliefs” based on what the latest consumer poll tells them people are thinking; as if leadership was simply a matter of mirroring those you want to lead. The reality, of course is that poll-based-leadership is not leadership at all, as the “leader” is merely following the momentary will of the masses. As a popular country music song from a few years ago says, “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for everything”. The power of core and unwavering beliefs is certainly a key attribute of successful leaders.
The second principle Giuliani expounded upon was the leader’s need to be optimistic. The extreme example he made was for his audience to imagine he appeared in front of his team while spouting off as to how impossible a situation might be and how it was useless to even try and resolve the situation followed by then asking his people to follow him forward. Of course, few if any folks would follow such a leader. Note that this is not the type of optimism that breeds a false success of potential or future accomplishment. Rather, it is an optimism that enables one to see a situation clearly and then formulate potentially positive paths toward the desired outcome.
Author and speaker Zig Ziglar often asks his audience to imagine that their pessimistic surgeon came into pre-op mumbling and muttering about how their chances were slim to none given the simply impossible situation they were in. The Ziglar’s optimistic surgeon on the other hand, would enter the picture clearly explaining exactly what the reality was for your consideration and then assuring you of his positive track record and his expectations that things would end well for you as well. Which surgeon would you want to be holding the knife over you? An optimistic one or a pessimist? Optimism is certainly a key principle needing to be embraced by those hoping to lead.
Courage was the third principle in Giuliani’s view. And while courage can take many forms, from the extraordinary life saving type to the everyday mundane courage behind carrying forward all the little steps in life, the key courage I heard in Giuliani’s words was the courage to keep moving forward toward the goal regardless of the situation. Giuliani spoke of firefighters having the courage to run into burning buildings when everyone else was running out and he spoke of the courage exhibited by former president Reagan in acting upon his beliefs in spite of the contrarian views which opposed him. In both cases courage was the key driver resulting in action.
Action driven courage though is different than ceremonial courage. An ancient tribe in New Zealand was known for marking their “courageous” young men with a unique facial tattoo. However, the courage was bestowed upon them as a part of the tattooing process itself, given the extreme pain caused by the work of an ancient facial tattoo, and not by some prior show of courageous action. No, the courage referenced by Giuliani is not the type of courage one can bestow upon another. Rather it is an internal form of courage, grounded in strong beliefs and fueled by optimism which leads to action and then progress. It is the courage behind the saying, “go as far as you can see and then you’ll see further”.
It seems that at times, courage is an attribute only thought of on some grand scale; lifesaving actions and such. However, it simply and most definitely takes courage to fuel the large number of steps necessary for day to day living. Courage is the key that enables action. So, courageously embrace the words of songwriter Jimmy Buffett, “leap and the net will appear.” That’s true courage.
If courage is a key principle of leadership, then preparation is the foundation upon which it is built. Firefighters can courageously run into burning buildings because they have prepared over and over again to enable them to meet such dangers head-on and manage the ramifications. Giuliani refers to this type of required preparation as “relentless preparation.”
Renowned personal improvement author Stephen Covey describes relentless preparation as the sharpening of a saw and he reminds us that even skills we exhibit and exercise regularly require renewal. In fact, if we spent more time sharpening the saw of the skills we are truly good at versus grinding away on the saws we see as weakness, the relentless preparation part would benefit us in ways magnified by leveraging the unique values we each bring to the world. Like sharpening a saw, preparation is simply a continuing requirement for success.
Abraham Lincoln was once quoted as saying that if he had eight hours to cut down a tree, he’d spend six hours sharpening his axe. That is relentless preparation and a good example of the leadership principle of preparation in action.
Teamwork as a principle of leadership was next on Giuliani’s list. He was quick to point out the power of teams and the necessity for leaders to foster great teams. To set the stage, he shared a story from one of his mentors who used to give every new manager of people a set of Russian nesting dolls. When a nesting doll is opened, another doll is found inside, which in turn, when it is opened, yet another doll is found inside. This continues until the tiniest of dolls remains. The mentor Giuliani referred to always put a simple note into the smallest of the nesting dolls. The note read, “If you only hire people who are smaller than yourself, then you’ll never grow larger than you are now.”
Many speakers on business and success speak of the need for teamwork, yet few spend as much time as Giuliani in expounding the necessity of carefully and deliberately building that team. The world of sports knows this maxim well as managers are always attempting to assure that they have the right players on the team from both a skill set and a personality perspective. Business managers who inherit a team need to think just as carefully as to whether or not that team is constructed in such a manner as to generate success.
General Electric’s former CEO, Jack Welch knew something about making sure that teams we’re being continually strengthened. He meticulously reviewed his teams and sought to replace the lowest performing 10% or so of the team with new members every year as a mechanism for facilitating constant growth and assuring the team’s ability to thrive.
Giuliani stressed the importance of carefully studying your own personal weaknesses. Not so that you could work to improve them directly but rather so that you could make sure the teams you construct would counter those weaknesses with aplomb. Careful, selective team building early and often can do far more to breed success than attempting to change abilities and realities of existing team members who may have already surpassed their propensity for change.
The setting of expectations was the next on Giuliani’s list of leadership principles. Stated simply, Giuliani emphasized the need to “under promise and over deliver” in all action plans. Enough said.
Lastly, regardless of the strength of all the other principles singing in full harmony, one must communicate within and outside of the team to round out the full role of leadership. The leader has the clear responsibility for seeding the lynchpin of communication success. This means clearly communicating at the individual level, the internal team level, and the external world level. A good team with all the proper working dynamics can still meet with failure if their good deeds, failures, and accomplishments are not shared with others so that the world can appreciate the team as a success.
And so, Giuliani’s words touched quite nicely on the great principles of leadership and he delivered his message with the grace and posture we saw in spades in this hours, days and weeks following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Without a doubt, if leaders and those who wish to become leaders develop and adhere to these principles, then success is assured.