Principled Leadership by Tope Popoola

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Virtually everyone I’ve ever met wanted to work with people of impeccable character.

Just as my own character determines my personal ability to generate trust, so it is for the company as a whole. I wonder how many people think of building an entire company that has strength of  character as its foundation. Such a company must  be a compelling place to work” – David Pottruck, (President and co-CEO of The Charles Schwab Corporation)

Ask anyone who has ever taken interest in the subject of leadership to mention five leaders that they admire greatly. Prominent on their list would be names like Jesus Christ, Prophet Mohammed, (for those who are religious), Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama etc. Why? You would say honesty, integrity, authenticity, and credibility, which are results of principled living. Authentic leaders are those who have found their voice and have no qualms taking and expressing their position on issues of collective importance. They stand out because once they take a stand, they stand resolutely by it unless convinced otherwise by superior argument.

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!wer

Credibility is the result of a leader’s authenticity. You cannot tell your truth in another person’s voice. The character of a great leader should never be at variance with his reputation. When a leader’s character is in dissonance with his actual conduct or performance, it sends confusing signals to the people that he leads. Very often, we find leaders whose private demeanour are in conflict with their public manifestation.

For a leader to be credible therefore, he must understand and internalize, for the purpose of ultimate expression, his core values, exemplified by where he stands on vital issues and in times of personal and collective dilemma. Strong leaders don’t just have a commitment to an overarching vision, they are equally committed to the values that will serve as the vehicle of the process. These values are not only the things that anchor relationships within the collective and towards its public, they also flow from the core values that undergird the leader’s personal life. Unless the leader himself as the messenger commands credibility, his message rings hollow. Yet, the leader cannot command credibility if his audience has no clue about what he believes! Principled leadership not only commands credibility, it also projects authority. The boldness that comes from a highly-principled leader is borne out of a character mould that has stood the test of time, demonstrating to all and sundry that what you see with him is what you get. The voice and the touch are in consonance.

Transparency is a forte of principled leadership. Principled leaders don’t grandstand or play to the gallery. They don’t seek popularity. They become famous for the simple reason that they never sought fame. They pursue purpose and relevance. It is in their very simplicity that their strength lies. They simply project to their public, a conviction that is not only authoritative but intensely convincing and ofttimes, infectious! They become noticeable because they stand out like a sore thumb in the midst of pervasive compromise and convenience-driven valueless living that seem to characterize the generality of people.

There had been several teachers in the synagogues of Israel before Jesus showed up and spoke. The moment he opened his mouth, there was such believability that distinguished him from the perfunctory and sometimes peremptory platitudes they were used to hearing. As the Bible records, they were all astonished and marveled at the words that proceeded from his mouth because His words were with authority and not like the Pharisees’!

We don’t know who you are however, until we know what you actually believe. For this reason, leaders must learn to clarify their values in a way that leaves no one around them neutral or indifferent to them. For the most part, when you get to know a principled leader, you either get to admire him passionately or loathe him no less passionately. This will depend on which side of his values divide you are.

Values are guides. They are the compass of a leader’s conduct. They give form and definition to his persona and his leadership style. They help him to define necessary boundaries not only in conduct but in his relational ethos. Values are to a leader what tracks are like to a train. Left to just follow the thrust of its engine without rails, a train has no chance of arriving at a predetermined destination. Without values to guide the journey, the move towards the attainment of a vision is fraught with too many bumps and inconsistencies that could actually make attainment impossible. A leader’s values are the only plausible reason why his followers are able to look up to him, depending on his stability of character to compensate for their own lack of it. As I had cause to say in the recent series “WHY LEADERS FAIL” which ran on this page, one of the main reasons for a leader’s tumble from halcyon heights to the depths of ignominy is a values somersault. When a leader begins to conveniently defend and excuse or perhaps manifest the very things that he once stridently condemned, his leadership takes a hit even as his followers begin to see with clarity that even gods have clay feet!

Clarifying his values are not however sufficient. The leader must give a voice to the espoused values. When he clearly expresses his values, a leader sends a clear signal to everyone around him about the standards of conduct he wants to be held accountable for and for which he intends to hold those under his leadership accountable. From the moment he expresses his principles, he makes it easy for those he leads to make up their minds on whether they want him as their leader or not.

Principled leadership is the bedrock of great organizations. Even through hard times, principled leaders inspire confidence in the people that they lead. A leader without firmly espoused and clearly expressed values is a great danger to anyone or organization that he leads. Untrustworthy and directionless like a river that has overshot its banks, he cannot inspire trust, integrity and credibility in those he leads. Like a loose cannon, such a leader will not only manifest a tendency to land in any direction, he will wreak untold havoc wherever he lands!

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