Today’s leaders often find themselves in a valley between irresponsible cheerleaders on the one side and a complacent populace searching for a Santa Claus to parachute all their needs on the other. The letter ‘H’ on the leadership alphabet offers an invitation to ponder two make-or-break pillars for leaders: character and judgment. The latter reveals thought patterns and decision-making processes while the former evinces virtues worthy for leaders to cultivate. Awareness and strengthening of these two pillars affect the structural integrity of what a leader seeks to build.
‘H’ is for Habits
Habits get formed through discipline, repetition, and practice. They do not change quickly nor should we expect them just to evaporate. The fast pace of work, information delivery systems, and impatience all too often defer important decisions and give way to default habits. No explanation will suffice, however, when leaders fail to do what is right. Prudence and discipline are needed to overcome irrational habits in the quest for personal and institutional growth. Bad habits are nursed in the privacy of homes and manifest in the public arena. Knowing more about a leader’s conduct at home often reveals why he/she behaves the way they do in the workplace. Be aware of your habits, work on your imperfections, and you will save those you lead from grief. Moral indiscretions and self-aggrandizement are not unalterable. You can do something about bad habits.
‘H’ is for Honesty
The ‘fake news’ culture has received more attention since Donald Trump became President of the Unites States. Whether it is politicians, the press, or CEOs, people compete online and in the airwaves to explain why they are most trustworthy. The unintended effect is intolerance and distaste for dishonest leaders. The irony is that leaders who complain about falsehood in others are too often culprits of falsity themselves. Games and spin are losing their persuasive power. People have become fatigued by hypocrisy and pretense. It is no longer ‘cool’ to spin. Our modern society is demanding honesty. To paraphrase Jesus: the truth shall set leaders free always. People want to know that they can trust you and count on your words as a leader. Honesty engenders soft power whereas dishonesty perpetuates mistrust. None of us is born with a ‘lying’ gene. Let’s strive for honest leadership.
‘H’ is for Honor
Before money and power became the measure of greatness, desirable values of leaders were honor and dignity. In today's shameless culture the value of decency, respect, and social accountability have been eroded. There was a time when decent leaders chose to resign from their post because of a mere appearance of impropriety. Christian leadership is value-driven. To bear Christian witness is to honor God in this sin-sick world. I have had the privilege of working with Christian leaders in different countries, and I have never ceased to be concerned about the erosion of integrity, humility, and respect. Genuine honor is earned, not willed. It cannot be purchased or obtained by coercion. You know your leadership is God-honoring when you command public respect for your service to humanity. Does God-honoring describe your leadership?
‘H’ is for Health
Too many leaders overwork and barely pay attention to their physical health. When passion for service makes no room for personal health, the result is often physical breakdown, emotional distress, and susceptibility to poor moral judgment. A sound mind resides in a sound body. One of the best gifts you can give yourself is adequate sleep and rest. Lately, I began sleeping more than my usual four hours, and I have been pleasantly surprised by my productivity level. Do your annual health checkup, eat healthy, and exercise. While you don't need to obsess over health and fitness, it is important to be in good health. Attention to what you eat at lunch meetings or cocktail events is part of self-leadership. None of us is irreplaceable. One health problem and nature can force you out of office. It is important to be in good health as far as it depends on you. The human body is a fragile container for incredible brain power and drive. A proper balance will maximize efficiency.
‘H’ is for Hiring
One thing a good leader cannot do without is smart hiring. You can discern how leaders think about their work by looking at who they hire. Some hire for skills, some for friendship, and others for a combination of skills, values, and culture-fit. Leaders cannot take hiring decisions lightly or allow personal politics to get in the way. There are bad people with great talents, great personalities with no skills, and charming individuals with a lousy work ethic. Christian leaders have too often deferred prudence for spiritual discernment, but God will not do for us what he has already given us the ability to do. People who do not share your mission will not suddenly change after you hire them. Do not convince yourself that you can convert pigeons into eagles if what you need is an eagle. I do not sympathize with leaders who complain about employees when all the signs were visible before they hired them. Learn to be a leader who puts the needs of your institution above your desire to gain a friend. Successful leaders recruit successful people to join their team. You know you need to improve if your recent hires are not doing well. You bear the responsibility for the people you recruit so seek help and learn to see hiring for what it is—recruiting for maximum productivity.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on how leaders are supposed to think and manage their business. So can leaders make mistakes in the 21st century? Whether we like it or not we cannot control public perception, but we can certainly strive to mitigate unwarranted criticism. The letter ‘H’ in my leadership alphabet calls for reflection and active pursuit of prudence and good conduct. We may not be perfect, but we can do better each day as we strive for excellence.