This week’s headlines encompassed two events that were revealing on a personal level … and highlighted the outcome of a leadership values and principles. The events were President Obama’s address to the nation and the fallout of a spousal abuse incident to the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. Living in the Houston area I thought back to another event where well-intentioned leaders get “off-track”. I suspect Ken Lay was a good man. Likewise, Barack Obama and Roger Goodell.
My “gut” this week craved honesty. What’s the truth, I wondered about each of this week’s events … one for the world stage and the other on an entertainment stage. I was struck by the leadership challenge of pleasing, or not pleasing, select constituencies … political parties … owners/players/fans … and stakeholders/advisors/employees. People are not inclined to be inspired followers of leadership that varies with temporary convenience (shortcuts), principle drift, and the abandonment of yesterday’s beliefs and values.
For leaders of industry today those attributes are paramount. Why? Because we all crave the same human needs for meaning, belonging and contribution … to a worthy endeavor … an endeavor based on truth, not convenience. Whether a nation, a national pastime or once-noble organization they prosper best when following a course I call true North.
When Doug Conant took over Campbell Soup in 2001, he had three constituencies: his board, his employees and shelf space at Kroger and Safeway. Where did you start with the truth? Probably himself. That way people knew what he “stood for” and he meant it … even to the extent that 300 of Campbell’s 350 global leaders had left or had been asked to leave. So, what does the “truth” of Doug’s actions say to “the rest of us”… the 20,000 employees? People don’t hear what you say, however they see what you do.
So how did Doug Conant’s True North turn out? His tenure was an eye-opening success, chronicled in the best-selling book Touch Points. In the book, Doug’s leadership style was labeled “tough-minded and tender-hearted”. Tender-hearted, no wonder I’m a fan! His tough-minded showed up as tougher and measurable leadership standards … his tender-hearted demeanor showed up as “how can I help?” – then “how did it go?”!
Leadership worth following must put in place unwavering tough standards, beliefs and values. They fulfill our highest craving – the desire for significance. We “know” it when it’s missing.