Jim Rohn, the famous American entrepreneur, author and motivational speaker once said, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humor, but without folly.”
Rohn’s quote alludes to the idea that in order for a leader to be great, one must combine both character and competence.
David Lapin, founder of Lapin International, Inc., and author of Lead by Greatness, also believes that great leaders must possess both character and competence. Lapin helps executives and leaders discover their greatness, inspire their teams and transform their companies. He believes that the world’s best leaders are purpose-driven, values-centered and results-focused. By integrating these capacities, leaders hone the way they think, act and make decisions.
However, after helping leaders develop for over 25 years, Lapin understands that not all leaders demonstrate both character and competence. Individuals in leadership roles are often evaluated either by how great they are as people or by how competent they are as professionals—but not both.
The importance of both is illustrated by the fact that only 8.9 percent of people who work for “tough” bosses feel highly engaged, while only 6.7 percent of people who work for “nice” bosses are. However, 68 percent of employees feel highly motivated if their bosses are seen as being both nice and tough (having both character and competence).
And, Lapin says that while general employee engagement scores in the U.S. and worldwide remain low—32 percent and 13 percent, respectively—the real picture is even more dismal. Engagement alone doesn’t tell much about a leader because people can be engaged out of fear and intimidation.
More serious than engagement scores is the LRN Organization’s discovery that only 4 percent of employees worldwide feel inspired at work. This, Lapin says, is a more serious indictment of leaders. Particularly, it raises the question of whether leaders are using fear and intimidation to engage people, rather than character and competence to inspire them.
Taking a Closer Look at President Trump’s Leadership
Considering that both character and competence are needed for great leadership, it’s easy to understand the disconnect many Americans feel regarding President Trump’s leadership.
Lapin claims that Trump’s display of dubious character, along with his questionable tweets and “bullying,” have prevented many Americans (who may otherwise approve of some of his initiatives, such as growing the economy by reducing tax and streamlining regulation) from giving him the credit he deserves.
Not only are leaders without strong character less effective, but they also lose the trust of their followers. They can then only get things done through more bullying tactics, which perpetuates a spiral of mistrust.
Lapin also worries about the example being set for America’s youth by a president who bullies his political adversaries. Accomplishments achieved by force of personality should not be confused with the lasting legacies that leaders of character often achieve.
The Key to Evaluating Leadership in Business
As in politics, business leaders also need to be evaluated on more than one coordinate. Lapin believes getting results is one of those coordinates, and the ways in which leaders achieve results is the other.
Are their teams inspired or intimidated? Do their people give their discretionary energy to the company or do they give the minimum demanded by their contractual relationship with their company? How innovative are they? How much trust exists in the team?
“These are some of the things we test for before we begin any engagement with a client company,” Lapin explains.
In the long-term, Lapin has found that Trump-style leadership results not only in fear, but often also in unethical and even fraudulent behavior. As a result, employees do everything they can to deliver the results demanded by an authoritarian, fear-engendering boss. Unfortunately, this only results in a toxic company culture.
For example, Wells Fargo has been under fire for having at least 5,000 employees open more than a million fake bank and credit card accounts on behalf of unknowing customers. What makes this scandal unique is that the low-wage workers responsible for opening these accounts were actually encouraged by supervisors. It was noted that as early as 2010, Wells Fargo imposed extremely aggressive sales goals on employees. Employees have mentioned that managers would yell and threaten that if goals weren’t met, they would “be fired and work at McDonalds.”
The Wells Fargo case is a perfect example of what happens when employees are bullied by leaders. Social science research even suggests that ethical behavior is not only about who you are or the values you hold, but sometimes it is a function of the situation in which decisions are made. This could be a reason why Wells Fargo employees opened fake accounts—they were pressured by leadership to meet unrealistic goals.
Great Leadership for Any Organization
When all is said and done, having both character and competence is the secret sauce for great leadership. The most inspirational leaders, in both politics and business, are capable of being “strong, but not rude; kind, but not weak; bold, but not bully; thoughtful, but not lazy, etc.”
Lapin recognizes this and teaches leaders from all across the globe how to be both competent and self-aware. He worked with Nelson Mandela’s government and South African leadership to transform that country and he has worked with some of the greatest companies in America to help develop inspirational leaders deliver results without fear.
Lapin sincerely believes that by raising awareness on great leadership skills, we will influence our leaders today and in the future. The more we understand how blending great character with super competence yields results, the more we will be able to move forward in endeavors where leadership is needed.