So far, I expect my ideal “leader” to have commitment and vision. A third requirement is calmness under fire. While my life has been blessedly free of actual life threatening combat, I have been around when projects stall out, take a bad piece of scrap, or an angry customer wants to strangle someone. On occasions like that, a leader who increases the stress level through yelling, screaming and threatening people’s jobs is not a plus.
If you have ever been “thrown under the bus” during one of these controversies you know where I am coming from. You also know how appreciated a voice of reason is. Even more welcome is that calming influence who can get everyone to step back from the firing line and figure out a way forward.
Reputations are quickly made — or ruined — in these situations, so a person needs to think carefully before acting. Early in my career I tried to avoid speaking up at all, but eventually I realized it was often safer to formulate a solution and be willing to explain it to the aggrieved party than to wait for others to handle things.
Did I occasionally regret “volunteering?” You betcha! Did I stop? No. Because after the initial tirade, most angry customers will give you credit for taking the call, listening to the complaint, and proposing a solution. No one respects people who shift the blame to others, waffle on the solution, or refuse to communicate at all.
While studying World War II in high school, I was very impressed by General Eisenhower taking the time to write an apology letter to be published in the event the D-Day landings were a disaster. Ike was truly a great leader, something he demonstrated over the rest of his career.
Thankfully, he never had to publish that letter.