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Leadership Thought #404 – You Have To Stand For Something…

John Mellencamp has a great line in one of his songs that goes, “you’ve got to stand for something, or your gonna fall for anything…”  In my experience working with leaders in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors, this couldn’t be more true.  There is nothing more frustrating than working with someone who is not sure what he/she believes in and/or the difference they want to make in the world.  By the way, making more money should be an outcome of doing something else well not the sole objective.  I can sometimes quibble with what people come up with but it is very helpful and informative if I know what someone values and where they stand.  A ship without a rudder will drift anywhere. 

This always becomes especially frustrating to me as we enter the political campaign season.  Even when there is clear documented evidence that someone once ran on and was a strong advocate of a particular point of view, they have no problem taking a counter position in another venue to score political points.  This year in particular we have one candidate who seems to have abandoned a majority of what he once believed in.  How can you trust someone whose moral center seems to be negotiable based on situational opportunity and political circumstance?  It is also seemingly much easier to criticize someone else’s position rather than clearly articulate your own – maybe because you don’t really have one.   As a wise mentor once told me, the best predictor of future performance is past behavior.  How can you feel comfortable with someone who has lied directly to camera on multiple occasions just to get elected and shows no remorse for doing so?  Sadly, voters often have the chore of trying to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Your principles and values make up the core of who you are as an adult (children are still a work in progress).   It is easy to lose sight of this fact and get tempted by opportunity.  Leaders are especially defined by what they choose to say “no” to much more than what they say “yes” to.   If you get caught up in the “ends justifying the means” trap it will eventually come back to haunt you and there will ultimately be a reckoning for your past behavior – actions always have consequences.  There are certain things in life you can’t take back or make amends for once they have happened.  Presidents have the power to start wars, damage international relations, enact policies that wreck the economy, demonize a particular minority group, challenge constitutional constraints, hinder the efforts of government agencies to do their job, make decisions that affect millions of people and ruin professional careers. You learn a great deal about someone’s character once they have assumed the mantle of leadership.

Most leaders don’t have the demands and pressures of the American president.  While the risks, trials and tribulations are real, they pale in comparison to running an entire country.  My guess is only the current and past occupants of the White House can relate to what this feels like.  However, regardless of the scale, every leader gets to make choices on daily basis that reflect their values and impact the lives of other people.  I often tell my clients that it is very important to know two things: what guides you and what grounds you.  Always answer the “why” before you get to the “what” or “how.”  The foundation you work from will be as stable as you make it.


4 Responses

  1. […] Leadership Thought #404 – You Have To Stand For Something… (edrobinson.wordpress.com) […]

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